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Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women's Lives, 1540–1740

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Maids, Wives, Widows is a lively exploration of the everyday lives of women in early modern England, from 1540-1740. The book uncovers details of how women filled their days, what they liked to eat and drink, what jobs they held, and how they raised their children. With chapters devoted to beauty regimes, fashion, and literature, the book also examines the cultural as well Maids, Wives, Widows is a lively exploration of the everyday lives of women in early modern England, from 1540-1740. The book uncovers details of how women filled their days, what they liked to eat and drink, what jobs they held, and how they raised their children. With chapters devoted to beauty regimes, fashion, and literature, the book also examines the cultural as well as the domestic aspect of early modern women's lives. Further, the book answers questions such as how women understood and dealt with their monthly periods and what it was like to give birth in a time before modern obstetric care was available. The book also highlights key moments in women's history such as the publication in 1671, of the first midwifery guide by an English woman, Jane Sharp. The turmoil caused by the Civil Wars of the 1640s gave rise to a number of religious sects in which women participated to a surprising extent and some of their stories are included in this book. Also scrutinised are cases of notorious criminals such as murderer Sarah Malcolm and confidence trickster Mary Toft who pretended to give birth to rabbits. Overall the book describes the experiences of women over a two hundred year period noting the changes and continuities of daily life during this fascinating era.


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Maids, Wives, Widows is a lively exploration of the everyday lives of women in early modern England, from 1540-1740. The book uncovers details of how women filled their days, what they liked to eat and drink, what jobs they held, and how they raised their children. With chapters devoted to beauty regimes, fashion, and literature, the book also examines the cultural as well Maids, Wives, Widows is a lively exploration of the everyday lives of women in early modern England, from 1540-1740. The book uncovers details of how women filled their days, what they liked to eat and drink, what jobs they held, and how they raised their children. With chapters devoted to beauty regimes, fashion, and literature, the book also examines the cultural as well as the domestic aspect of early modern women's lives. Further, the book answers questions such as how women understood and dealt with their monthly periods and what it was like to give birth in a time before modern obstetric care was available. The book also highlights key moments in women's history such as the publication in 1671, of the first midwifery guide by an English woman, Jane Sharp. The turmoil caused by the Civil Wars of the 1640s gave rise to a number of religious sects in which women participated to a surprising extent and some of their stories are included in this book. Also scrutinised are cases of notorious criminals such as murderer Sarah Malcolm and confidence trickster Mary Toft who pretended to give birth to rabbits. Overall the book describes the experiences of women over a two hundred year period noting the changes and continuities of daily life during this fascinating era.

30 review for Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women's Lives, 1540–1740

  1. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Zuvich

    4.5/5 - full review to come on The Seventeenth Century Lady.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lil's Vintage World

    4.5 stars

  3. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    A very engrossing read that covers, in straightforward terms, various elements of women's lives in this period. Some sections were more engaging than others; the chapters on childbirth and menstruation were particularly interesting, while chapters on political and religious activities were somewhat drier. I would have enjoyed a concluding chapter rather than for the book to suddenly stop after the chapter on women's literary work. That said this is an informative text, well sourced and accessibl A very engrossing read that covers, in straightforward terms, various elements of women's lives in this period. Some sections were more engaging than others; the chapters on childbirth and menstruation were particularly interesting, while chapters on political and religious activities were somewhat drier. I would have enjoyed a concluding chapter rather than for the book to suddenly stop after the chapter on women's literary work. That said this is an informative text, well sourced and accessible to readers with no previous knowledge of the subject.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    I thought this was very good and very thorough look at women’s lives during the period.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ariadne

    I found this quite dull and the topics were only explored quite shallowly.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bev

    A very enjoyable and informative read, perhaps not as in depth as I would have liked, but none the less it did come up with new insights. Good bibliography which includes websites, an excellent edition. Recommended to anyone interested in the period or social history generally.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Janalyn Prude

    A great great read! I find most people have a time in history they are most interested in, for me it’s medieval England. I love everything about it and that made this book so much better for me. It was so good, so well researched and so finally put together I couldn’t stop reading it. I have a list of books that is called books to read again and they have seven books on it and this is one of them. If you love history then you’ll love this book. You don’t even have to love women’s history is this A great great read! I find most people have a time in history they are most interested in, for me it’s medieval England. I love everything about it and that made this book so much better for me. It was so good, so well researched and so finally put together I couldn’t stop reading it. I have a list of books that is called books to read again and they have seven books on it and this is one of them. If you love history then you’ll love this book. You don’t even have to love women’s history is this book is so interesting on so many levels. I even learned that in medieval times doctors thought it took women longer to birthday girl baby then a boy it’s so therefore if you gave birth to a girl you had to have 60 days of bedrest, if you had a boy you only got 30 days. They have a Lotta funny and and adults like that in the book into meme very hilarious. I highly recommend this book so much! I loved loved loved it!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Miriam

    I read this over about two months while reading several other books at the same time; it wasn't exactly a page-turner, but the individual sections were very interesting. I felt that there wasn't much of an introduction or conclusion, but there were a lot of interesting insights about what life was like for at least some women in Early Modern England. I thought that the author used an interesting variety of sources. My favorite factoid: women who killed their husbands were guilty not of murder, b I read this over about two months while reading several other books at the same time; it wasn't exactly a page-turner, but the individual sections were very interesting. I felt that there wasn't much of an introduction or conclusion, but there were a lot of interesting insights about what life was like for at least some women in Early Modern England. I thought that the author used an interesting variety of sources. My favorite factoid: women who killed their husbands were guilty not of murder, but of petty treason, since she was seen as his subordinate. However, I liked that although the author did not in any way act like being a woman during that time period wasn't difficult, she did find examples of women owning businesses, writing plays, and in other ways either being a partner with their husbands or making a life for themselves as a widow or single woman.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Radcliff Gregory

    Well written and carefully researched, this is a fascinating and thought-provoking account of the reality of women's lives in early modern England. I It is easy to believe that we know far more about life in past centuries than we actually do. That misogyny was rampant is no surprise, though Sara Read 's book reveals occasional instances where women were not necessarily as hard done by as the overall culture of the time and most historical research suggests. These welcome revelations, though, are Well written and carefully researched, this is a fascinating and thought-provoking account of the reality of women's lives in early modern England. I It is easy to believe that we know far more about life in past centuries than we actually do. That misogyny was rampant is no surprise, though Sara Read 's book reveals occasional instances where women were not necessarily as hard done by as the overall culture of the time and most historical research suggests. These welcome revelations, though, are rare lights in what was mostly an impossibly difficult time for women to live. If ever you have wondered what life was really like, day to day, for adult females, 'Maids, Wives, Widows ' provides an informative insight, rich in detail, and well supported by well -chosen excerpts from contemporary sources. This deserves to be a set text on all modules about women's history.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany Kayt

    This little book is both interesting and enjoyable. It's a whistle-stop tour of women's lives in the early modern period, taking in all aspects - work, marriage, politics, literature. It's not deep, so if you're already well-read in this area it's probably not for you, but if you need an easy-reading primer than this is an excellent place to start. It's also a good book to read if you simply want a bit of background on people's everyday lives during the period; many books concentrate on politica This little book is both interesting and enjoyable. It's a whistle-stop tour of women's lives in the early modern period, taking in all aspects - work, marriage, politics, literature. It's not deep, so if you're already well-read in this area it's probably not for you, but if you need an easy-reading primer than this is an excellent place to start. It's also a good book to read if you simply want a bit of background on people's everyday lives during the period; many books concentrate on political events or famous people's public lives - this book, although it's written about women's lives, gives information that will be useful for understanding anybody's life during the period, because it includes information on the private as well as the public.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bea

    Really good book, quick read and brilliant insight into the lives of women of all classes in the early modern period if you are a casual reader. I found a few mistakes that should have been picked up in editing e.g. 'Power' should be 'powder' (p8) and Henry VIII son succeeded him as Edward VI not V (p121). It has a brilliant focus on source material and gives loads of people's names and books that you don't usually come across. The extensive bibliography was great, however, I don't think this bo Really good book, quick read and brilliant insight into the lives of women of all classes in the early modern period if you are a casual reader. I found a few mistakes that should have been picked up in editing e.g. 'Power' should be 'powder' (p8) and Henry VIII son succeeded him as Edward VI not V (p121). It has a brilliant focus on source material and gives loads of people's names and books that you don't usually come across. The extensive bibliography was great, however, I don't think this book is overly useful for academic use because of the lack of referencing when quoting or mentioning names. Overall though I do not regret reading this and it was definitely interesting.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Cuffel

    Women as they were A lively and interesting book about women's role in English society during this this time period. While it is primarily anecdotal, the author was able to show the extent to which women fit themselves into their male dominated scenarios while in many instances transforming and questioning their imposed positions. Women as they were A lively and interesting book about women's role in English society during this this time period. While it is primarily anecdotal, the author was able to show the extent to which women fit themselves into their male dominated scenarios while in many instances transforming and questioning their imposed positions.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Maureen Gregory

    Shallow This would probably be a good introduction to the subject for those with no prior knowledge of the period. Generally it is a fairly uninteresting compilation of quotations. The timespan is a large one and is somewhat confusing; almost as if the standards and philosophy of a sample generation represent the whole 200 years.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Shelly Boltz-Zito

    Interesting, enlightening Very interesting book about women's lives and how women were treated in every area including marriage, birth, housekeeping, jobs, etc. We have come a long way but this book shows that in some things it was and can still be a man's world. A history lesson for everyone. Interesting, enlightening Very interesting book about women's lives and how women were treated in every area including marriage, birth, housekeeping, jobs, etc. We have come a long way but this book shows that in some things it was and can still be a man's world. A history lesson for everyone.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jenna Limbach

    This book covers a wide range of information on its subject and it is a very interesting read. The only thing I didn't like about it was the ending, as it seemed to just stop. There wasn't really a conclusion. This book covers a wide range of information on its subject and it is a very interesting read. The only thing I didn't like about it was the ending, as it seemed to just stop. There wasn't really a conclusion.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tom Smith

    A very handy overview of the subject An enjoyable overview of women's lives just before Elizabeth 1st and just after Anne II. Most interesting to me were the sections on birth and writings. A very handy overview of the subject An enjoyable overview of women's lives just before Elizabeth 1st and just after Anne II. Most interesting to me were the sections on birth and writings.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Jacobs

    As easy read but takes on too many subjects to be really informative. I would just be getting interested in something when the topic changed. A good starter book for someone who knows nothing about women in this period but not useful for anyone who already knows something about this.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Susanne Alethea Larssen

    An interesting short intro to the era and gives a voice to the women themselves from letters, books, and diaries.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mikay Reimann

    I'm sure that this is a good book, but I got bored way quickly I'm sure that this is a good book, but I got bored way quickly

  20. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    A great overview on a complex topic.

  21. 5 out of 5

    C Burch

    Hhhhhh My cat eats cheese. My dog eats beans. Oh my! Oh my! Why do I have to write this before I am allowed to go to my kindle library that I paid for?

  22. 5 out of 5

    book_bear

    It gets alittle dry at times but is full of great facts! I suggest reading it along with another book so you can take a break from it from time to time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    4.5 stars!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Donald M. Rhodes

    Lives of women from an earlier time Easy to read .. Dispelled thoughts i had concerning how people lived in the d 1600's. Well worth the time to read it. Lives of women from an earlier time Easy to read .. Dispelled thoughts i had concerning how people lived in the d 1600's. Well worth the time to read it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    A.L. Butcher

    Review to follow

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Crosby

    A fascinating book about lifestyle in the seventeenth century. The focus is on women, which adds a slightly nuanced layer to the study. Scholarly and well researched, the book is also readable. I did find myself skimming sections of Part 3. Portions of the book are both informative and entertaining. The is one fascinating exclusion. The author did not include any form of conclusion or summary.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Deestarr

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joann Kunkle

  29. 5 out of 5

    Marlee

  30. 5 out of 5

    Justin

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