Lost Girls: Sex and Death in Renaissance Florence

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Overview

In 1554, a group of idealistic laywomen founded a home for orphaned and homeless adolescent girls in one of the worst neighborhoods in Florence. Of the 526 girls who lived in the home through its first fourteen years, only 202 survived. Struck by the unusually high mortality rate, Nicholas Terpstra sets out to determine what killed the lost girls of the Casa della Pietà. As he uncovers their sad fate, he also explores broader themes, including gender relations, abortion, syphilis, religious politics, and the challenges adolescent girls faced in Renaissance Florence.

"Terpstra weaves literary evidence, intelligent guesswork, and vivid historical imagination into an eminently readable micro-history that forms part of a growing body of scholarship that challenges long-held historical assumptions about female honor in the Mediterranean world."— American Historical Review

"A masterpiece of historical writing and an invaluable contribution to the study of premodern Italy."— Journal of Modern History

"The book contains fascinating, and sometimes shocking, information about Terpstra’s topic. I appreciated that Terpstra does not exclusively limit himself to the subject of Casa della Pietà, but uses the mystery of what happened to the home’s residents as a way to examine related issues."— Feminist Review

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of Modern History
A masterpiece of historical writing and an invaluable contribution to the study of premodern Italy... This book should be welcomed by anyone interested in social history, gender history, the history of sexuality, religious history or the history of medicine.

— Tamar Herzig

Feminist Review
The book contains fascinating, and sometimes shocking, information about Terpstra’s topic. I appreciated that Terpstra does not exclusively limit himself to the subject of Casa della Pietà, but uses the mystery of what happened to the home’s residents as a way to examine related issues.

— Erin Schowalter

Midwest Book Review

Lost Girls is a fine addition to any history collection, especially those with a focus on the Renaissance.

Choice

The Casa della Pietà, or House of Compassion, was one of Renaissance Florence's earliest shelters for orphaned or otherwise abandoned adolescent girls... Of the 526 girls who lived there during the 14 years it was open, 324 died there. What was killing these girls? Terpstra attempts to solve this mystery.

Reviews in History
[Terpstra's] study of Pietà can be recommended highly not only to those interested in women's history, social history, medical history, and economic history but also to anyone who cares about the historian's craft.

— Jonathan Davies

Literary Review of Canada
Energetic, archival scholarship.

— Elizabeth S. Cohen

Catholic Historical Review
Unusual and ingenious... Those interested in the history of early-modern Catholic Europe and Catholic institutions on the Italian peninsula will find much to think about while reading this book.

— Kate Lowe

Sixteenth-Century Journal
In this finely crafted microhistory he exposes the social and cultural contradictions often lost in more general studies that were critical to the existence and functioning of the Casa della Pietà.

— Duane J. Osheim

Feminist Review - Erin Schowalter

The book contains fascinating, and sometimes shocking, information about Terpstra’s topic. I appreciated that Terpstra does not exclusively limit himself to the subject of Casa della Pietà, but uses the mystery of what happened to the home’s residents as a way to examine related issues.

Reviews in History - Jonathan Davies

[Terpstra's] study of Pietà can be recommended highly not only to those interested in women's history, social history, medical history, and economic history but also to anyone who cares about the historian's craft.

Journal of Modern History - Tamar Herzig

A masterpiece of historical writing and an invaluable contribution to the study of premodern Italy... This book should be welcomed by anyone interested in social history, gender history, the history of sexuality, religious history or the history of medicine.

Literary Review of Canada - Elizabeth S. Cohen

Energetic, archival scholarship.

Catholic Historical Review - Kate Lowe

Unusual and ingenious... Those interested in the history of early-modern Catholic Europe and Catholic institutions on the Italian peninsula will find much to think about while reading this book.

Renaissance Quarterly - R. Burr Litchfield

It is well written and well researched by an established and erudite historian of this period, and it treats a difficult subject: the situation of Florentine orphaned or abandoned adolescent girls in the sixteenth century.

American Historical Review - Philip Gavitt

Terpstra weaves literary evidence, intelligent guesswork, and vivid historical imagination into an eminently readable micro-history that forms part of a growing body of scholarship that challenges long-held historical assumptions about female honor in the Mediterranean world.

Sixteenth Century Journal - Duane J. Osheim

In this finely crafted microhistory he exposes the social and cultural contradictions often lost in more general studies that were critical to the existence and functioning of the Casa della Pietà.

American Historical Review
Terpstra weaves literary evidence, intelligent guesswork, and vivid historical imagination into an eminently readable micro-history that forms part of a growing body of scholarship that challenges long-held historical assumptions about female honor in the Mediterranean world.

— Philip Gavitt

Renaissance Quarterly
It is well written and well researched by an established and erudite historian of this period, and it treats a difficult subject: the situation of Florentine orphaned or abandoned adolescent girls in the sixteenth century.

— R. Burr Litchfield

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781421407722
  • Publisher: Hopkins Fulfillment Service
  • Publication date: 7/11/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 266
  • Sales rank: 799,385
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicholas Terpstra is a professor of history at the University of Toronto and author of Abandoned Children of the Italian Renaissance: Orphan Care in Florence and Bologna, also published by Johns Hopkins, and Cultures of Charity: Women, Politics, and the Reform of Poor Relief in Renaissance Italy.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

List of Figures ix

Acknowledgments xi

Note on Dates, Currency, and Measures xv

1 Mystery and Silence 1

2 The Setting: Sex and the City 12

3 Renaissance Teenagers: Working Girls 51

4 Teenage Girls and Birth Control 85

5 Renaissance Fundamentalists and Girls in Trouble 113

6 Virgin Girls and Venereal Disease 148

7 Conclusion: Friction in the Archives 169

Appendix: Sexual Politics: Giulia and the Crown Prince Gonzaga 183

Notes 191

Bibliography 221

Index 235

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