Women, religion, and early modern life cycles
in Religion and life cycles in early modern England
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The range of under-explored resources available to anyone interested in how early modern women experienced and understood key life-cycle events such as birth, marriage and death is immense. This chapter samples collections of spiritual autobiographies from the mid-seventeenth century, a female-authored midwifery manual (1671), and an extraordinary later story by Aphra Behn, The History of the Nun (1689), to evidence that richness. Demonstrating that ‘non-literary’ materials often neglected by literary critics are especially important, it also argues that a close-reading method is essential if texts are to be understood. Equally important to life-cycle research, however, is Behn’s demonstration that a writer can creatively explode her culture’s dominant conceptions.

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