In Pregnancy in the Victorian Novel—the first book-length study of the topic—Livia Arndal Woods traces the connections between literary treatments of pregnancy and the medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth occurring over the long nineteenth century. Woods uses the problem of pregnancy in the Victorian novel (in which pregnancy is treated modestly as a rule and only rarely as an embodied experience) to advocate for “somatic reading,” a practice attuned to impressions of the body on the page and in our own messy lived experiences.
Examining works by Emily Brontë, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and others, Woods considers instances of pregnancy that are tied to representations of immodesty, poverty, and medical diagnosis. These representations, Woods argues, should be understood in the arc of Anglo-American modernity and its aftershocks, connecting backward to early modern witch trials and forward to the criminalization of women for pregnancy outcomes in twenty-first-century America. Ultimately, she makes the case that by clearing space for the personal and anecdotal in scholarship, somatic reading helps us analyze with uncertainty rather than against it and allows for richer and more relevant textual interpretation.