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650 Concealed pregnancy: from 18th- and 19th- Century Novels and Scientific Texts to 21st- Century Medicine
  1. Fiona Finlay1,
  2. Tracy Brain2
  1. 1HCRG Care Group
  2. 2Professor of Creative Writing and English Literature, Bath Spa University


Aims The primary objective of this study is to explore the representation of concealed pregnancy in 18th and 19th century novels and medical texts, in order to better understand its persistence into the present time. Subsidiary objectives are to enhance the role of culture in promoting personal development, creativity and well-being for medical practitioners who deal with distressing cases; and to increase understanding of the ways that literature has responded to scientific ideas and progress, and vice versa.

Methods A Literature Research and Suggested Reading and Writing Exercises.

Results This joint presentation draws on the cross-fertilisation in method and subject matter between literary and medical texts. It brings together a novelist and literary critic with a community paediatric consultant to promote connections between literary depictions and medical studies of concealed pregnancy. The narrative of seduction, so powerful in the 18th-century novel, influenced the way concealed pregnancy and infanticide was represented not just in novels but also in the medical texts of the period. Because this area is vast, we will present a brief overview before focusing on two exemplary texts. William Hunter’s 1783 paper, ‘On the Uncertainty of the Signs of Murder, in the Case of Bastard Children’ was of lasting historical importance, and was a probable influence on George Eliot’s compassionate portrayal of concealed pregnancy and possible infanticide in her 1859 novel Adam Bede. We will show how the key ideas in these texts continue to be integral to 21st-century medical research and practice with respect to pregnancy denial, concealed pregnancy and infanticide; they highlight the continued to need for multiple disciplines to intersect in order to make progress in these areas. We will leave participants with a reading exercise and a writing exercise to take away and do on their own, should they wish to.

Conclusion These literary and scientific precursors remain relevant to contemporary practitioners. However, they can be overlooked when we consider how far medical practice has travelled and yet how close it remains to the questions that were being asked about concealed pregnancy, pregnancy denial, and infanticide in the 18th- and 19th- centuries. Despite progress, these tragic outcomes for pregnant women and their new-borns are still with us, and these centuries-old texts remain all too familiar.

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