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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The fate of children, 19 Dec 2005
This review is from: The Kindness of Strangers: Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance (Paperback)
This book of Boswell's is a fascinating history of an previously unknown and essentially overlooked piece of history -- the situation for children, and what happened to them should they become orphaned or abandoned. Boswell's particular period and geographic centre is in Europe of Late Antiquity to the Renaissance.
Beginning by looking at the ideal of family structure and responsibilities in the Roman Empire (the dominant model throughout the western world), Boswell proceeds through time periods to the Renaissance, examining literary and legal documents for narrative stories of children and caretakers, and for the general policy of church and state organisations toward care or neglect of such. One such narrative as example will serve to illustrate:
'...in Fresne (The Ash Tree) a married woman has maliciously spread the tale that the birth of twins means that the mother has slept with two men, and when she herself then bears twins, she must face an opprobrium of her own creation. She contemplates killing one, but--significantly--her companions dissuade her from this, arguing that it would be a sin. Abandonment, however, was not...'
The woman gives a child to her maid who then leaves it in a church -- while the story turns out badly, it is not due to the abandonment, which was considered in this High Middle Ages tale quite natural and proper.
Boswell's antipathy toward the Catholic church shows forth a bit in his interpretation (which may nonetheless be valid) with statements such as: 'Christianity may well have increased the rate of abandonment, both by insisting more rigidly than any other moral system on the absolute necessity of procreative purpose in all human sexual acts, and by providing, through churches and monasteries, regular and relatively humane modes of abandoning infants nearly everywhere on the continent.'
A wonderful glimpse into a shadowy world at the sidelines of history, yet one of crucial importance for those of us who live in a 'family values' historical period. If we do not know our past, how can we be sure of our present?
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Location: London, SW1

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