Hood French Professor’s “Mother’s Milk and Male Fantasy” explores history of breastfeeding

Latest publication from Hood College professor and Honors Program Co-Director now available for sale via Oxford and Liverpool University Press

Hood College French Professor and Co-Director of the Hood Honors Program Lisa Algazi Marcus, Ph.D., has published her latest work, “Mother’s Milk and Male Fantasy in Nineteenth-Century French Narrative,” exploring the impact of breastfeeding on French art and literature.

Lisa Algazi Marcus, Ph.D.
Algazi Marcus has studied the topic for more than two decades, but it wasn’t until after breastfeeding her two children that she began writing the book in earnest. The project started with a survey of representations of nursing mothers in 19th-century French works and evolved into research that included a visit to the Museum of Wet Nurses and Public Assistance in Burgundy, France.

“It wasn’t until the book was almost done that I realized the theme,” Algazi Marcus said. “Most of these representations [of breastfeeding] had very little to do with reality, and everything to do with the mostly male authors’ fantasies about the maternal breast.”

Known internationally for her expertise on nursing mothers in French literature, Algazi Marcus collaborated with colleagues from around the world to collect references on breastfeeding from different 19th-century literature and paintings, including a little-known novel published in 1891 that tells the story of a depraved wet-nurse who sexually abuses the boy entrusted to her care.

“Breastfeeding and its alternatives are still very much in the news today, but in the 19th century, if parents couldn’t nurse their children, they had only one safe option: a wet nurse,” Algazi Marcus said.

“Mercenary breastfeeding remained a huge industry in France right up until World War I, when pasteurized milk became more affordable and available. Entire generations of French authors were sent out to a wet nurse, and their mothers’ breasts became a symbol of both comfort and pleasure.”

“Mother’s Milk and Male Fantasy in Nineteenth-Century French Narrative” is now available in hardcover via Oxford University Press in the United States and via Liverpool University Press in the United Kingdom. Algazi Marcus has also been invited to speak to the Nineteenth Century French Studies Association (NCFS) as part of their “NCFS Unbound” series.

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