Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Raising Jane

I had read that European gentry used to loan out their babies to country wet nurses, but it brings it home to read of it happening to a particular person. I'm reading Claire Tomalin's biography Jane Austen, and she describes in great length how the practice occurred.

Newborns were generally nursed by their own mother for the first one to three months, after which they went to live in the mud-floor cottage of a peasant family. Some families visited their infants. Others did not. After a period of time, anywhere from eighteen months to three years, the child was then plucked from their foster family and returned to their biological one.

Not long thereafter, sometime between the ages of four and eight, the child would be packed away to boarding school.

I'm not sure whether I'm struck by the resiliency of the human child or certain that I've discovered the origin of the emotionally detached English gentleman.

At any rate, I continue to be fascinated by the vast differences in child rearing around the globe and throughout time. Compared to Jane Austen's mom and dad, who of us doesn't practice attachment parenting?


Susie said...

I just can't imagine! Sending away the babies seems more foreign to me than anything in the Babies Celebrated book. I showed you that, right? Tribal babies?

L said...

Babies Celebrated! I do remember the book, but I couldn't remember the title, and I've been wanting to get a copy of my own.

But... yeah... a pretty "widespread" practice among northern Europeans for hundreds of years. Except it was only among the aristocracy and gentry which, relative to the general population, was a small group of people.