Sex in an Old Regime City: Young Workers and Intimacy in France, 1660-1789

ISBN : 9780190945183

Julie Hardwick
288 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Nov 2020
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Our ideas about the long histories of young couples' relationships and women's efforts to manage their reproductive health are often premised on the notion of a powerful sexual double standard. In Sex in an Old Regime City, Julie Hardwick offers a major reframing of the history of young people's intimacy. Based on legal records from the city of Lyon, Hardwick uncovers the relationships of young workers before marriage and after pregnancy occurred, even if marriage did not follow, and finds that communities treated these occurrences without stigmatizing or moralizing. She finds a hidden world of strategies young couples enacted when they faced an untimely pregnancy. If they could not or would not marry, they sometimes tried to terminate pregnancies, to make the newborn go away by a variety of measures, or to charge the infant to local welfare institutions. Far from being isolated, couples drew on the resources of local communities and networks. Clerics, midwives, wet nurses, landladies, lawyers, parents, and male partners in and outside the city offered pragmatic, sympathetic ways to help young, unmarried pregnant women deal with their situations and hold young men responsible for the reproductive consequences of their sexual activity. This was not merely emotional work; those involved were financially compensated. These support systems ensured that the women could resume their jobs and usually marry later, without long-term costs. In doing so, communities managed and minimized the disruptions and consequences even of cases of abandonment and unprosecuted infanticide. This richly textured study re-thinks the ways in which fundamental issues of intimacy and gendered power were entwined with families, communities, and religious and secular institutions at all levels from households to neighborhoods to the state.


Introduction A Foundling's Garter and the World of Young People's Intimacy
Ch.. 1. Sourcing Intimate Histories: The Social World of Young Workers
Ch. 2. Peril Stories: Licit Intimacy, Space, and Community Safeguarding
Ch. 3. Holding Men Responsible: Fertility, Community, and Court
Ch. 4. Remedies and Remedies: Managing Out-of-Wedlock Pregnancy
Ch. 5. Intimate Labor: Paid Work and an Intimate Economy of Reproduction
Ch. 6. Foundlings and Makeshift Coffins: Community Complicity and Dead Babies
Conclusion: The End of the Old Regime?

About the author: 

Julie Hardwick is the John E. Green Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Family Business: Litigation and the Political Economies of Daily Life in Seventeenth-Century France (OUP, 2009) and The Practice of Patriarchy: Gender and the Politics of Household Authority in Early Modern France.

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