Weep Not for Me: Women, Ballads, and Infanticide in Early Modern Scotland

Overview

Ballad singing has long been one of the most powerful expressions of Scottish culture. For hundreds of years, women in Scotland have sung of heroines who are strong, arrogant, canny--the very opposite of the bourgeois stereotype of the good, maternal woman. In Weep Not for Me, Deborah Symonds explores the social world that gave rise to both the popular ballad heroine and her maternal counterpart.

The setting is the Scottish countryside in the eighteenth century--a crucial period...

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Overview

Ballad singing has long been one of the most powerful expressions of Scottish culture. For hundreds of years, women in Scotland have sung of heroines who are strong, arrogant, canny--the very opposite of the bourgeois stereotype of the good, maternal woman. In Weep Not for Me, Deborah Symonds explores the social world that gave rise to both the popular ballad heroine and her maternal counterpart.

The setting is the Scottish countryside in the eighteenth century--a crucial period in Scotland's history, for it witnessed the country's union with England, the Enlightenment, and the flowering of letters. But there were also great economic changes as late-feudal Scotland hurried into capitalist agriculture and textile production. Ballad singing reflected many of these developments. In the ballads, marriage is rare and lovers murder each other, haunted by premarital pregnancy, incest, and infanticide, while relatives argue over dowries. These problems were not fiction. The women in this study lived and died in a period when hopes of marriage and landholding were replaced by the reality of wage labor and disintegrating households.

Using these ballads, together with court records of women tried for infanticide, Symonds makes fascinating points about the shifting meaning of womanhood in the eighteenth century, the roles of politically astute lawyers in that shift, and the significance of ballad singing as a response. She also discusses the political implications of Walter Scott's infanticide novel, The Heart of Mid-Lothian, for women and for the ballad heroine. While some historians have argued that women's history has little to do with the watershed events of textbook history, Symonds convincingly shows us that the democratic and economic revolutions of the late eighteenth century were just as momentous for women as for men, even if their effects on women were quite different.

Deborah A. Symonds is Associate Professor of History at Drake University.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Explores links between the portrayal and reality of infanticide in Scotland from the late 17th to early 19th centuries, how they influenced each other at the time, and how modern scholars can use each to illuminate the other. Includes such topics as ballad singers and collectors, the ballad heroine, women's work in the transformation of the Scottish economy, prosecuting infanticide, and the making of the Scots bourgeois. Appends a version of the classic ballad Mary Hamilton and a list of women investigated and/or prosecuted. Paper edition (unseen), $18.95. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271024981
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 4/8/2004
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah A. Symonds is Associate Professor of History at Drake University.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
List of Illustrations
Chronology
Prologue
Introduction 1
1 Ballad Singers and Ballad Collectors 13
2 The Ballad Heroine 39
3 Reconstructing Rural Infanticide 69
4 Women's Work in the Transformation of the Scottish Economy 95
5 Making the Legal Machinery to Prosecute Infanticide, 1662-1719 127
6 The Demise of the Act Anent Child Murder 139
7 Confessing to Child Murder 161
8 The Bourgeois Novel of Infanticide: Walter Scott's The Heart of Mid-Lothian 179
9 The Making of the Scots Bourgeoise 211
App. I The Ballad Mary Hamilton 233
App. II Women Investigated and/or Prosecuted for Infanticide, 1661-1821 236
Notes 247
Bibliographical Essay 275
Index 283
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