History of the Breast

History of the Breast

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by Marilyn Yalom
     
 

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In this provocative, pioneering, and wholly engrossing cultural history, noted scholar Marilyn Yalom explores twenty-five thousand years of ideas, images, and perceptions of the female breast—in religion, psychology, politics, society, and the arts.

Through the centuries, the breast has been laden with hugely powerful and contradictory meanings. There is the

Overview

In this provocative, pioneering, and wholly engrossing cultural history, noted scholar Marilyn Yalom explores twenty-five thousand years of ideas, images, and perceptions of the female breast—in religion, psychology, politics, society, and the arts.

Through the centuries, the breast has been laden with hugely powerful and contradictory meanings. There is the "good breast" of reverence and life, the breast that nourishes infants and entire communities, as depicted in ancient idols, fifteenth-century Italian Madonnas, and representations of equality in the French Revolution. Then there is the "bad breast" of Ezekiel's wanton harlots, Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, and the torpedo-breasted dominatrix, symbolizing enticement and aggression. Yalom examines these contradictions—and illuminates the implications behind them.

A fascinating, astute, and richly allusive journey from Paleolithic goddesses to modern day feminists, A History of the Breast is full of insight and surprises. As Yalom says, "I intend to make you think about women's breasts as you never have before." In this, she succeeds brilliantly.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Yalom, a senior scholar at the Institute for Women and Gender at Stanford University and the author of three other books (most recently "Blood Sisters: The French Revolution in Women's Memory", LJ 7/93), presents a unique analysis of the role that the human female breast has played throughout Western history. "I intend to make you think about women's breasts as you never have before" is the author's claim. Taking the reader through the cycles of society's view of the breast-as erotic object or as object of materialism-Yalom does indeed make the reader examine the role of the breast by touching upon subjects such as Freudian psychology, fashion, art, literature, and pornography, among others. The sacred and the sexual are also examined and visually rendered by means of 99 illustrations, taken from all manner of media throughout Western history. The bibliography is extensive and proves that Yalom's work indeed offers a unique approach. Highly recommended for all women's studies collections, as well as collections supporting the social sciences and history.-Cynthia D. Bertelsen, Indexing Srvcs., Blacksburg, Va.
Kirkus Reviews
Sacred, erotic, domestic, even civic incarnations of the breast from Paleolithic times to the present in an ambitious catalogue of necessarily selective cultural history.

"I intend to make you think about women's breasts as you never have before." asserts Yalom, senior scholar at Stanford's Institute of Women and Gender ("Blood Sisters: The French Revolution in Women's Memory", 1993, etc.). The late Middle Ages glorified the nursing Madonna, one in a long line of deities symbolizing female nurturance; Renaissance art exalted the erotic breast, to preserve which the upper classes turned to wet nurses; Enlightenment France endorsed Rousseau's campaign to restore breast-feeding, and (apotheosizing what Yalom calls the "political breast"), represented the republic as a woman "opening her breasts to all her citizens." Credit for coming up with the paradigm that united the maternal and erotic breasts goes of course to Freud—target, for the usual feminist reasons, of Yalom's considerable vitriol (up to this point, her text is underinflected). Some passion surfaces again on the subject of pornography (for Yalom the linkage of violence with sex), which appears in a chapter on the commercial breast merging women as buyers (of corsetry throughout the ages) and sellers (Monroe to Madonna and beyond, in what seems like an obligatory litany). In context, perhaps the most original contribution concerns breast cancer, which Yalom sees as affirming women's ownership of what has been variously claimed by and for others: She surveys treatments of today and yesterday, and buoyantly makes room for "the medical breast" again in her upbeat celebration of "the liberated breast" (in politics, poetry, pictures). The conclusion echoes the opening: Attitudes toward breasts have changed variously and radically over time depending on who was observing what, where, and when.

Yalom trains her own lenses—telescopic, microscopic, or just idiosyncratic—on those variables, with uneven results. The bibliography, however, is a gem for any starting student.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345388940
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/28/1998
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)

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4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
PiggityPig More than 1 year ago
Yalom's book constantly make you appreciate the here and now, as well as look forward to how much further we have to go as a society. While Yalom's "A History of the Wife" is still my favorite, I would never hesitate to recommend this book. This book is a drier read at times that Yalom's other works, however, it makes you question to much more. Who is really in control of the image of the breast? Men or Women? As always, the answer is not so simple as she describes here. Its mind boggling how much symbolism the female breast has had over thousands of years of human existence, how it has at times been weak, and other times strong. A truly wonderful book on a subject, that until now, was rarely talked about. I would recommend this book for people interested in art history, advertising, history, women's studies, or human physiology.
Illyrah More than 1 year ago
Again Yalom charts new territory in both historical and feminine studies. This book was absolutely fascinating. Her premises are always well thought, amazingly researched, and fantastically written in her execution. I cannot say enough about this author from whom Ive learned so much. Its not always an easy read, but its well worth it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago