UPDATES

“Mapping Desire in Chaucer’s ‘To Rosemounde,’ Shakespeare’s ‘Rape of Lucrece,’ and Donne’s ‘A Valediction: Of Weeping'” by Jane Beal

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My academic essay, “Mapping Desire in Chaucer’s ‘To Rosemounde,’ Shakespeare’s ‘Rape of Lucrece,” and Donne’s ‘A Valediction: Of Weeping,'” now appears in Peregrinations: A Journal of Medieval Art and Architecture 6:3 (2018): 105-29.

EXCERPT: 

“The poets Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and John Donne were aware of the existence of medieval world maps. Evidence from their writings clearly shows that the poets were familiar with the genre and had seen cartographic examples of it. They may also have read prose descriptions of the whole world that sometimes journeyed with, and sometimes journeyed separately from, cartographic mappaemundi. The poets each used such maps metaphorically in their poems about women, juxtaposing woman- as-map in their reader-viewer’s inner eye in poetic contexts they created to represent male desire. That desire is figured in a would-be lover’s lament that turns to satiric complaint in Chaucer’s “To Rosemounde” and in a conqueror’s lust that turns to violent assault in Shakespeare’s “Rape of Lucrece,” while in Donne’s “A Valediction: Of Weeping,” it is expressed with tender empathy in an increasingly complex, metaphorical meditation on the tears shed by both lover and beloved on an occasion of parting.1 In order to understand this thematic sexualization of the mappaemundi, it is relevant first to consider the contemplative and educational functions of world maps in medieval Christian culture.”

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“Ending Dystopia: The Feminist Critique of Culture in Suzanne Collins’ _Hunger Games_ Trilogy” by Jane Beal

WorldsGoneAwry-EssaysonDystopianFictionMy chapter, “Ending Dystopia: The Feminist Critique of Culture in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy” is forthcoming in Worlds Gone Awry: Essays on Dystopian Fiction, eds. John Han, C. Clark Triplett, and Ashley G. Anthony (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2018).

EXCERPT:

More’s purpose in Utopia was not, of course, to inform his highly educated, Latinate, mostly male readers about a “good place,” a utopian country in the New World, but rather to critique a dystopian country in his own Old World: England.

Virtually all subsequent utopian/dystopian fiction in the western tradition is generically defined by elements found in More’s Utopia, and feminist utopian writings and contemporary feminist dystopian fiction are no exceptions. The later development of the genre branches out from its roots (Christian humanist satire), producing distinctly different fruit (literary works), because it hybridizes the tree (the genre).  Whereas More’s Utopia, like Platonic dialogues, is a conversation between men, feminist dystopias expand the conversation that critiques culture by:

  • internalizing it in their female protagonists, where its very interiority can give women power to resist male-dominated cultural forces of violence, deception, manipulation, corruption, and destruction in the dystopian environment;
  • externalizing and articulating it between female as well as male characters;
  • making part of it solely between women in their texts;
  • focusing it on the human rights of women, especially the right to life, the right to freedom of the will, mind, heart, and body, and the right to self-determination in their relationships and roles in the world;
  • and emphasizing the importance of alliance between women and children, women and men, women and women, women and the environment, and women and sources of cultural power in their world.

Authors of feminist dystopian fiction frequently take as a given that the world their female protagonists live in is being represented to those women as utopian, as a “good place” that is culturally and politically organized for their benefit, but they emphasize in no uncertain terms that the world is in fact dystopian.  They show that the male-dominated cultural forces in their fictions consistently seek to exploit women’s bodies, in violation of their will, at the expense of their minds and to the detriment of their emotional wellbeing.  They do not hesitate to show how some female characters living in dystopia accept these forces while others actually become perpetuators of them, and they may also highlight how male characters are not only oppressors but may be oppressed by the mechanisms of injustice in dystopia.

But in response to the “big lie” that women are living in utopia, when the actual conditions of their existence are mercilessly dystopian, authors send their female protagonists on a journey of personal and relational growth.  The journey inevitably includes acquisition of new knowledge, new strength, and new, previously unknown, and virtually unimaginable freedom.This trajectory is especially clear when reading the endings of feminist dystopian fictions.

Because feminist dystopian fiction is very much in keeping not only with utopian satire but also with the fairy-tale tradition, it engages the human psychological realities of hope and fear, but often—quite purposefully—without the consolation of a traditional “happy ending.”  This raises a key question:  since the endings are clearly not wish-fulfillment fantasies, intended for the temporary satisfaction of readers, what purposes are being accomplished by the endings of feminist dystopian fictions?  To explore the question, my chapter focuses on the ending of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy (2008-2010).  As we shall see, her fiction makes new use of the generic elements of the utopian satirical tradition—classical learning, Christian ethics, and the discovery of a new world—in a “bad place” where the development of the psychological complexity of her female protagonist on her journey drives the critique of the real dystopia: the postmodern world inhabited by the author and her readers at the turn of the twenty-first century.

 

Review of Elizabeth Solopova’s _The Wycliffite Bible: Origin, History, and Interpretation_ by Jane Beal

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My review of Elizabeth Solopova’s edited volume, The Wycliffite Bible: Origin, History, and Interpretation (Brill, 2017), now appears in Mediaevistik 30 (2018): 446-48.

EXCERPT: 

The Wycliffite Bible (WB) is the first complete Bible in English, extant in over 250 manuscript copies, and it had an extensive influence on late-medieval and early modern English culture. Translated from the Latin Vulgate, it consists of biblical books in prose and verse along with academic prologues. It is extant in two versions, the earlier (EV) and the later (LV), which often were transmitted with commentaries as well as liturgical and exegetical aids. Elizabeth Solopova’s edited volume contributes significantly to the scholarship of the late medieval English Bible already produced by Henry Ansgar Kelly (The Middle English Bible: A Reassessment, 2016), Mary Dove (The First English Bible, 2007, and The Earliest Advocates of the English Bible, 2011), and Anne Hudson (The Premature Reformation, 1988), work which is well-contextualized by broader studies on the medieval Bible by Frans van Lière (An Introduction to the Medieval Bible, 2014), Susan Boyton, and Diane Reilly (The Practice of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 2011), and the quintessential Beryl Smalley (The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 2nd ed., 1989).

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

 

“‘Desco da parto’: The Birth Tray and Its Cultural Significance in Renaissance Italy” by Jane Beal

MidwiferyToday125My essay “‘Desco da parto’: The Birth Tray and its Cultural Significance in Renaissance Italy,” now appears in Midwifery Today 125 (Spring 2018): 26-28.

ABSTRACT: 

In this essay, I describe the practical and decorative use of the desco da parto or birth tray in Renaissance Italy. After the Black Death, birth trays were used from 1370 to the third quarter of the sixteenth century to serve the mother’s first postpartum meal: They commemorated the life of mother and baby kept safe in childbirth. The deschi featured both secular and sacred scenes, painted in tempera, with gilded borders. They could be round, twelve-sided or sixteen-sided. After serving their primary purpose, they could later be hung upon walls in family homes and passed from one generation to the next.

IMAGES OF DESCHI

UNI205s1

Triumph of Chastity

birth tray presented to Lucrezia di Giovanni Tornbuoni,
mother of Lorenzo de’Medici, “the Magnificent”

Other biblical, allegorical or mythological desci images:

 

 

“The Lais and Fables of Marie de France” by Jane Beal and Michael J. Hartwell

MariedeFranceMy co-authored essay, “The Lais and Fables of Marie de France,” now appears in Major Authors and Movements in British Literature (Gale, 2017), edited by Kirilka Stavreva, accessible through The Gale Researcher. 

Abstract:

“This article provides a brief introduction to the poetic works of Marie de France including her lais, fables, dream vision of Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, and hagiographical poem about Saint Audrey. A survey of Marie’s literary sources and immediate cultural context is followed by a discussion of the role of magic, romance, and gender in her poems. After a look at the major social and political themes of Marie’s writing, the article concludes with an examination of her influence on later medieval literature.”

APPROACHES TO TEACHING THE MIDDLE ENGLISH PEARL edited by Jane Beal and Mark Bradshaw Busbee

My co-edited volume, Approaches to Teaching the Middle English Pearl, is now in print from the Modern Language Association.

Approaches-to-Teaching-the-Middle-English-Pearl-cover_bookstore_large

Abstract

The moving, richly allegorical poem Pearl was written in Middle English by the anonymous who likely also penned Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In it, a man in a garden, grieving the loss of a beloved pearl, dreams of the Pearl-Maiden, who appears across a stream. She teaches him the nature of innocence, God’s grace, meekness, and purity. Though granted a vision of the New Jerusalem by the Pearl-Maiden, the dreamer is pained to discover that he cannot cross the stream himself and join her in bliss—at least not yet. This extraordinary poem is a door into late medieval poetics and Catholic piety.

Part 1 of this volume, “Materials,” introduces instructors to the many resources available for teaching the canonical yet challenging Pearl, including editions, translations, and scholarship on the poem as well as its historical context. The essays in part 2, “Approaches,” offer instructors tools for introducing students to critical issues associated with the poem, such as its authorship, sources and analogues, structure and language, and relation to other works of its time. Contributors draw on interdisciplinary approaches to outline ways of teaching Pearl in a variety of classroom contexts.

Table of Contents

  • With many thanks to my co-editor, our editors at the MLA, and all of our contributors!
  • To learn more about “Pearl,” see Medieval Pearl.

“Jane Wright: A Newly Certified Midwife in London (ca. 1798)”

MT124 (Winter2017) - CVRMy biographical essay, “Jane Wright: A Newly Certified Midwife in London (ca. 1798),” now appears in Midwifery Today 124 (Winter 2017): 24-26.

EXCERPT:

In 1798, the same year that renowned English Romantic poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge published their Lyrical Ballads, Jane Wright published her own unique and valuable work: “An essay to instruct women how to protect themselves in a state of pregnancy from the disorders incident to that period or how to cure them. Also some observations on the treatment of children which, if attended to, may ward off dangerous diseases and prevent future evils” (London, 1798). As her title suggests, Wright wanted to empower women to prevent or treat their diseases themselves when needed in pregnancy, and she wanted to teach them to better care well for their children when those children were ill …

In the fifth section of her “Essay,” Wright includes her thoughts on the essential equality of men and women in their social roles. In so doing, she adds, “Authors of the most eminent abilities, after a comparative review of both sexes, have candidly declared, upon the whole, we [women] are by no means inferior or rather we are superior in acting our parts in all the concerns of life” (31). Wright appears to be thinking of one author in particular here:  Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Right of Woman, which was published just six years earlier in 1792.

Wright’s thoughts on the education of women bear a striking resemblance to those of Mary Wollstonecraft expressed in the Vindication. Although Wright appreciates accomplished young ladies who can sing and dance and who inevitably have good fashion sense, she says:

“I am sometimes sorry to find that these accomplished young ladies are ignorant of the grammar of their own language, they are deficient in understanding the first principles of virtue, and that they have no instruction on the holy Scriptures …If I dared, as a female writer, I would venture to recommend to young ladies of fashion some attention to history, geography, botany, natural history, moral and natural philosophy, etc..” (33)

The benefits of such learning to young women would include mental occupation, agreeable conversations on any subject, the admiration of their acquaintances, and the adoration of their husbands as well as more graceful actions, pleasing beauty and rational religion because it would open their eyes “to the power and goodness of the Almighty in all his works” (33). So Wright’s “Essay,” written to help pregnant women ease their discomforts and find a good midwife, ends with a somewhat surprising emphasis on the importance of a broad general education for all women.

In addition to her familiarity with Wollstonecraft’s argument in her Vindication, Wright later may have become aware of Wollstonecraft’s personal obstetrical history as well. For interestingly, Wright’s predecessor in the position of matron at the Westminster Lying-In Hospital, Mrs. Blenkinsop, had been a midwife-caregiver who made several prenatal visits to Wollstonecraft during her pregnancy with her second daughter, Mary Shelley, the famous author of the novel Frankenstein and the wife of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Mrs. Blenkinsop and Dr. Poignand cared for Wollstonecraft in the postpartum period when she suffered a retained placenta after the birth her daughter. The necessary manual extraction led to hemorrhage and infection, and Wollstonecraft died in 1797, just eleven days after giving birth (Badger 91-92n).

Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas, however, did not die, but apparently lived on in the midwife Jane Wright, who subsequently encouraged the holistic education of women as part of her midwifery practice.

“Judith Wilks: The Queen’s Trusty Midwife” by Jane Beal

MT123My biographical essay on Judith Wilks, royal midwife to Queen Mary of Modena, now appears in Midwifery Today 123 (Fall 2017), 48-51.

EXCERPT:

“When the Catholic Queen Mary of Modena, wife of King James II of England, gave birth on June 10, 1688 to a son, James Francis Edward, the Prince of Wales and heir presumptive to the throne, a vicious rumor sped throughout predominantly Protestant England: that Queen Mary’s own child was stillborn and that the boy presented to the public was a spurious changeling child who had been brought to the birthing room in a warming pan (Haile 190; cf. Corp 184, 190, 200).

This accusation outraged the Queen’s midwife, Judith Wilks, who had delivered the prince. She wrote a letter to her cousin, Mrs. Winifred Wilks, which was later published, that provides a historical document attesting to the legitimate birth and the midwife’s own strong feelings of loyalty to the queen, love for the newborn baby, and fury at the wide-spread slander (Wilks 1-2).

To better understand this letter, it is important first to understand the life of the queen whom Judith Wilks served as a midwife and the historical tensions between Catholics and Protestants that were so exacerbated in England in the seventeenth century.”

UNCAGED by Jane Beal

My new collection of poems
about birding and the spiritual life:

BEAL-Uncaged-BkCvr

UNCAGED
hard-copy * read online

WHAT NEVER FAILS

We went to the water
to see the Pelican –

the one, they say, who stabs her breast
and feeds her young with blood (like Christ),

but there was no bird like that
on the little islands by the pier.

There were Western Gulls instead,
crying out like Alcyone for Ceys,

flying over us like the ragged mists
of dreams we dream at dawn

and, waking, find
have told us the truth.

We were standing close together, just above
the water, like the Light Princess and her Prince,

when I noticed the cliff swallows
darting over the waves, under the pier

where they have hidden their nests
and are feeding the future

with a constant love
that never fails.

jb

 

“Christina of Markyate” by Jane Beal

BWS24-CVR-ChristinaofMarkyateMy biographical essay, “Christina of Markyate,” now appears in British Writers Supplement,Vol. 24, ed. Jay Parini (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale/Cenage Learning, 2018), 59-73.

EXCERPT:

“Born into an ambitious Anglo-Saxon family in Huntingdon, England, not long after the Norman Conquest of 1066, Christina of Markyate was a spiritually-minded child who grew up to resist the marriage her family had planned for her and devote herself instead to a chaste life as a religious recluse and, later, prioress of Markyate. Like other medieval English women writers, such as Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, her autobiographical reflections were shared orally with an amanuensis who preserved them for her, their religious communities, and future readers. A monk of St. Albans Abbey copied Christina’s hagiographical Life in the fourteenth-century manuscript, Cotton Tiberius E1, which was lost for many centuries. It was damaged in an eighteenth-century fire, and only rediscovered, transcribed, translated, edited, and published by C.H. Talbot in 1959. In addition to this rich, textual resource, two other textual sources recall Christina Markyate’s special existence: the Gesta Abbatum, a chronicle of St. Albans Abbey compiled in the 1250s, which mentions her, and the St. Albans Psalter, a richly illuminated manuscript which was altered for her personal use.”

“Destiny” by Jane Beal

ContemporaryPoetry.jpgMy poem, “Destiny,” now appears in the poetry anthology, Contemporary Poetry, Vol. 4, edited by Pradeep Chaswal and Deepak Chaswal (2017), 24-26.

DESTINY

I feel
blown away
like a dry leaf.

Now the rain begins
to fall

on my crackling
skin, so that it softens,
and I cling to the loam
dark as night
beneath me.

I feel
myself
disintegrating,
becoming one with the dirt,
sinking into the earth.

I feel the tender, slender roots
from a nearby patch of grass
reaching into me –

I feel
a dandelion seed.

What will we become,
this tiny seed and me,
entwining in the dark
under the earth
where no one else can see?

When the rain stops,
when my former shape
is unrecognizable,
when I am spread out
and taken in,

when I can’t speak
in the usual way, when the vocal-chord veins
in my skin can’t be played
like a harp, by the wind, the wind I love,
the wind I remember so well,

when I grow
through the new life
of a flower
pushing herself
through the soil to the sun,

opening her green self
to become her yellow self,
feeling the light
to transform into her white self,
clean and pure –

who will I be?
Will the wind come back
and blow through me,
scattering me again,
for the sake of someone else’s wish?

Jane Beal

“‘The Sainted Ann Hutchinson’: Midwife of Grace (1591-1643)” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 5.03.09 PMMy biographical essay, “‘The Sainted Ann Hutchinson’: Midwife of Grace (1591-1643)” now appears in Midwifery Today 122 (Summer 2017): 29-31.

EXCERPT: 

” … After the banishment, the Hutchinson family moved to Rhode Island. While there, Anne Hutchinson gave birth for the fifteenth time not long after the trial—which suggests she had been pregnant during the trial itself (Schutte 85ff). Extant descriptions—one written by her doctor, John Clark—suggest that Hutchinson birthed a hydatidiform mole, which looked like a handful of transparent grapes (Battis). Some of Hutchinson’s detractors saw her pregnancy loss as proof of God’s punishment or of the midwife’s league with Lucifer (Schutte). This sort of thinking had already been evident during the controversy over the relationship between grace and works, when it had been discovered that the midwife, years before, had attended a Quaker woman, Mary Dyer, who had given birth to a deformed baby. At the recommendation of the minister, John Cotton, the family had buried the stillborn quietly, for no one wished the birth to be interpreted as a sign of God’s displeasure.

Nevertheless, the story of the birth became known during the controversy, and it was taken as a sign against Anne Hutchinson. To those for whom good works were directly connected with God’s blessing, and all kinds of human suffering was the result of God’s wrath, it was difficult to imagine that God’s grace might work through an accident in nature. But they had forgotten the lessons of Job.”

“Managing GBS” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 5.03.09 PMMy essay, “Managing GBS,” now appears in Midwifery Today 122 (Summer 2017): 50-52.

FROM THE INTRODUCTION:

“The goal of managing Group B streptococcus (GBS) is prevention of maternal chorioamnionitis and neonatal infection (such as respiratory disease, general sepsis or meningitis). Careful management helps to protect life and health. There are various ways to manage GBS, which we can consider and apply appropriately in midwifery practice.”

“Explaining the Placenta” by Jane Beal

cropped-cropped-cropped-Gilbertson_1-e1457541831757-1-1My poem, “Explaining the Placenta,” now appears in the anthology All We Can Hold: Poems of Motherhood, eds. Elise Gregory and Emily Gwinn (Spokane, WA: Sage Hill Press, 10 May 2017).

POEM:

This is the house your baby lived in
before she was born,
I say –

and I hold up the membranes
of amnion and chorion
(words like notes sung
by cherubim and seraphim)
to show the mother
who now is breastfeeding her newborn babe.

This shiny side was the baby’s side,
and the cord in the center
was connected to the center of her!

I turn the placenta over
in the bowl, and say:
This side was your side, attached
to the inside of the uterus,
and the blood that perfused it
brought life and food to your baby.

The mama knows this was part of her.
Now that she has seen it,
she will remember.
She has understood something about herself
and life when it is first beginning:
unseen, unheard, inside.

She says she will
bury it in the ground.
What will grow from it then?

Jane Beal

Also available in …
Transfiguration: A Midwife’s Birth Poems
(Raleigh, NC: Lulu Press, 2016), 43.

“Three Approaches to Teaching the Middle English ‘Pearl’: Introduction to Literature, British Literature I, and the Mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien” by Jane Beal

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 7.44.11 AMMy pedagogical essay, “Three Approaches to Teaching  ‘Pearl’: Introduction to Literature, British Literature I, and the Mythology of J.R.R. Tolkien” now appears in The Once and Future Classroom (Spring 2016), Art. 6. Ejournal.

EXCERPTS: 

Pearl is an extraordinarily beautiful, fourteenth-century, dream vision poem. It is infinitely rewarding to teach, but notoriously difficult to do so. That is because the poem requires a level of literacy that college students do not always possess. In order to read Pearl, whether in Middle English or in a Modern English translation, students must be brave enough to encounter not only poetry, but medieval poetry; not only medieval poetry, but a specific dream vision poem densely packed with biblical and classical allusion; not only a dream vision with a literal meaning, but one with several layers of meaning: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical. Although students may not come to the poem with the skills to understand the poem at first, by reading key precursor texts and studying Pearl in different contexts, students can learn to read Pearl, and in the process, learn how to become better readers overall.”

•How is the symbol of the pearl transformed throughout the poem?

•What is the nature of the relationship between the Pearl-Maiden and the Dreamer?

•How might we interpret this poem literally, allegorically, morally, and anagogically? What parable, fable, and fairy-tale motifs appear in the poem?

•Is the dreamer consoled at the end of the poem? If not, why not? If so, how?

To learn more about teaching Pearl,

please visit:

https://medievalpearl.wordpress.com/teaching/

“Song of the Selkie” by Jane Beal

AjiMagazine My poem, “Song of the Selkie,” now appears in Aji Magazine 6 (Spring 2017): 66-67.

Song of the Selkie

in honor of Augustine Vegas

I am a singer, and I must sing:
that is what few people understand.
Whether in love or death,
I must sing the enchanting song
that draws listeners closer to me.

You don’t know how many men
I have seen drowned in the deep of the Deep,
the sailors we tried to rescue
as the water filled up their lungs
and they, and their ships, sank to the floor of the sea.

Some wrapped their arms around our necks,
and we swam with them to the surface,
so that they breathed, and lived, and went back to shore
where they told the truth about us and our songs –
the selkies who saved them from storms.

Some told lies. They said that we sang
the enchanting song, a serenade of death,
and filled them with desire to plunge into the flood,
to seek love and death and oblivion in our arms –
like sea-witches, like goddesses or shee-demons.

How little those liars know! What have they seen,
under the waves, of the faces of the pale dead?
The swollen eyes, fully dilated and black,
the mouths open and expressions distorted,
the arms and legs floating, helpless, without strength?

You don’t know why I sing. You don’t know who I have
saved from drowning – or who I couldn’t save.
You never transformed your true self into the image of one
who died, a pregnant woman who flung herself
from the starboard side of an ancient wooden ship

in despair from her pain, to give birth to a dead child,
in the sea, and you don’t know how we carried her
back to the surface, and her baby to an invisible grave
in the heart of the sea, in my heart forever, the stillborn,
and her mother, crying, until she finally stopped.

You never became one of the lost ones
to try to deal with your grief, the incomprehensible
sorrow of watching someone die, before your eyes,
as their pupils open and yours narrow
in the dark beneath the Deep.

You never walked upon the shore, human for the first time,
or wondered about the love of a man in a Lighthouse,
who tries to save the ships by guiding them home
with a beacon to declare the source of safety –
you never thought he might understand.

You never went back from the shore to the sea,
knowing that a man in a Lighthouse
is different from a selkie, from a woman water-creature
who saves men in the sea, who brings the dying
to the surface to breathe.

You never rocked in the cradle of the loving waves
and watched from their embrace as a pirate
held a pistol to the heart of a prince, and pulled the trigger,
so that the prince fell, already dead, blood flowing
from his chest into the sea.

I am a singer, and I must sing –

            that is what few people understand.

Jane Beal
Song of the Selkie 

“Joana Torrellas and the Spanish Inquisition”

MT121-Mothering-Spring2017My essay, “Joana Torrellas and the Spanish Inquisition,” now appears in Midwifery Today 121 (Spring 2017), 42-43.

EXCERPT:

Joana Torrellas was not a witch. She was a Catholic midwife from Valencia, Spain, who lived during the fifteenth century. She married and had five children, three sons and two daughters. After being widowed, she moved to Teruel to live with her daughter, who was married to the town jailer, Joan Gil.

As part of her normal practice of midwifery, Joana recited prayers, such as the Prayer of St. Cyprian, which were contained in a small book that had been given to her by her mother-in-law (who was also a midwife). Joana usually placed nómina (literally, “the names”), a necklace with a pendant on it or in which were written the names of Christ, around the necks of laboring mothers, and she asked for the blessing of the Virgin Mary during the birth. When a woman was about to birth the placenta, she would place a book with a crucifix in it under the woman’s feet in order to help facilitate delivery.

This kind of “spiritual midwifery” was apparently welcome in Valencia, where Joana was from, for it occasioned no scandal. But in Teruel, where Joana was an outsider, her normal practice might have been unusual …”

 

“Floreta d’Ays” by Jane Beal

mt120-winter-2016My biographical essay, “Floreta d’Ays:  The Trial of a Medieval Jewish Midwife of Marseille, France” now appears in Midwifery Today 120 (Winter 2016), 46-48.

Abstract:

Floreta d’Ays was a 15th c. Jewish midwife who lived in Marseille, France. After a maternal death caused by a massive post-partum hemorrhage (PPH), at which Floreta had been present, an anti-Semitic prosecutor accused Floreta of deliberately killing the mother. This is the first known case of “medical malpractice” brought against a midwife. However, careful study of the extant trial record suggests that Floreta was actually attempting the manual extraction of a retained placenta, after which she tried to stop the PPH with bi-manual compression of the uterus. Rather than trying to kill the mother, Floreta was actually trying to save her. However, because the court showed virtually no understanding of the art and science of midwifery, and because the attempt to save the mother had not been successful, Floreta was forced to defend herself by simply denying the charges rather than by explaining the science behind her actions. While the final outcome is unknown, it is clear that Floreta d’Ays actively resisted the accusations brought against her with the help of six lawyers, three Jews and three Christians, and objected to the court’s plan to torture her bodily in order to elicit a confession.

“Stop Cutting: The Right to Bodily Integrity” by Jane Beal

mt120-winter-2016My essay, “Stop Cutting: The Right to Bodily Integrity,” now appears in Midwifery Today 120 (Winter 2016), 38-39.

Abstract:

In this essay, I begin by recalling a certified nurse-midwife who had the responsibility for suturing 3o young girls who were ritually cut in West Africa. Following the World Heath Organization (WHO), I define the four recognized types of female genital mutilation and their complications, note that unnecessary episiotomies and cesareans could be considered types 5 and 6, and review the beliefs in developed and developing countries that lead to the physically and psychologically harmful practices of cutting / FGM. I then discuss effective means of preventing this practice as well as the value of cross-cultural partnerships that intervene when and where necessary. I conclude by giving an overview of the role midwives can play as educators and healers, noting that midwives who know how to suture all kinds of cuts and tears (not just 1st and 2nd degree tears) can be especially helpful when needed.

“The Tree of Your Life” by Jane Beal

mt120-winter-2016 My poem, “The Tree of Your Life,” now appears in Midwifery Today 120 (Winter 2016), 4.

POEM: 

The tree of your life
has deep roots in the earth
and branches sky-high:

like a mother’s placenta
imprinted dark red
on a white piece of paper –
like da Vinci’s Renaissance drawings of man:
a microcosm in the macrocosm
of the universe –
like an ancient parable of a mustard seed
that springs up into eternity
where souls, like birds, find their home.

Every green leaf of your tree
holds the veins of memory,
open and thriving with sap:

so that even when the leaf ages in autumn,
turns red, then golden, then brown,
and falls, crackling under careless feet,
a powerful wind comes and carries away
the precious molecules of your tree-dust,
in which every cell holds the DNA
of the past that fertilizes the future
and the new seeds, the tiny seeds, implanted
and growing in a garden of love.

Today, the tree of your life is already grown tall
in heaven, lifting up its branches with the angels
and singing with the wind because

your birth-dreams are being fulfilled
     in Time and Eternity.

Jane Beal
Commissioned by Cathy Daub
President, BirthWorks International

for Michel Odent

Published by Jan Tritten
Editor, Midwifery Today

“Opening” by Jane Beal

2016-MQA-cover-for-website-199x300.pngMy short story, “Opening,” now appears in Dappled Things: A Quarterly of Ideas, Arts & Faith.

Excerpt: 

The Jeep rolled through a shallow ditch in the road, and Filijee gripped the steering wheel more tightly, saying as he did, “Priez pour moi . . . parce que je veux dire ma famille, mais j’ai puer.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I wasn’t praying much these days. I had just said I was Catholic. The concept of “Catholic, non-practicing,” so prevalent in the States, meant nothing in Sénégal. So, half-heartedly, I nodded and said, “Okay.”

Then he changed the subject and asked me about the birth I attended the night before.

“Qu’est-que ce passé pendant la accouchement de Kurukemeh?”

Kurukemeh.

I didn’t know what to say, so I looked away from him and out at the landscape. We were passing another village. Girls were carrying water jars on their heads as they walked along the side of the road.

His question forced me to remember every painful detail of the night before.