Rabbits, Whigs and Hunters: Women and Protest in Mary Toft’s monstrous births of 1726

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Abstract

This essay is part of this recent reassessment of cultural history and the renewed emphasis on its relationship with the study of social and material relations of power. It situates Mary Toft and her monstrous birth rabbits of 1726 not in the context of eighteenth-century ideas about the body, monsters or human identity, but instead in the economic, social and political contexts of family, neighbourhood, parish, town, county and metropolis. The first part of this essay situates the Toft family in the social and political networks of Godalming, adopting a micro-historical approach to expose the stark inequities and quotidian exclusions that shaped the hoax and responses to it. My argument is that the case was a product of the tense social relations in and around Godalming and was shaped by the politics of social conflict and disaffection amongst the poor. The article then views the case within the social and political context of the 1720s, showing why it was of interest not just to doctors, but to lawmakers and law enforcers. Viewed in this context, Toft’s case invites consideration of how accounts of protest such as Thompson’s – one exclusively about men – might be adjusted to take account of the practices of women and the family within the domestic environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43–83
Number of pages41
JournalPast & Present
Volume238
Issue number1
Early online date23 Jan 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018

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