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  • Published: 19 May 2020
  • ISBN: 9780241972748
  • Imprint: Penguin General UK
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $26.00


An Unconventional History

'A timely and fascinating investigation into one of the most overlooked and yet fundamental human experiences' Amanda Foreman

What was mothering like in the past? When acclaimed historian Sarah Knott became pregnant, she asked herself this question. But accounts of motherhood are hard to find. For centuries, historians have concerned themselves with wars, politics and revolutions, not the everyday details of carrying and caring for a baby. Much to do with becoming a mother, past or present, is lost or forgotten.

Using the arc of her own experience, from miscarriage to the birth and early babyhood of her two children, Sarah Knott explores the ever-changing habits and experiences of motherhood across the ages.

From the labour pains felt by a South Carolina field slave to the triumphant smile of a royal mistress pregnant with a king's first son; from a 1950s suburban housewife to a working-class East Ender taking her baby to the factory; these remarkable tales of mothering create a moving depiction of an endlessly various human experience.

  • Published: 19 May 2020
  • ISBN: 9780241972748
  • Imprint: Penguin General UK
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $26.00

Praise for Mother

A stunning book. Mother: An Unconventional History is a dextrous blend of autobiography and anthropology and social history, but above all love and a woman's desire to be a mother. It is riveting from beginning to end

Diane Atkinson, author of 'Rise Up Women!: The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes'

Fascinating and beautifully written. A book I will feverishly press on others - both as an exploration of unheard histories and as a companion to pregnancy and early motherhood

Rebecca Schiller, author of Your No-Guilt Pregnancy Plan

In this innovative, grippingly readable history, Sarah Knott has woven a scintillating tapestry of ideas and experiences across time. Mother is a moving and enlightening meditation on the most elemental, yet ceaselessly varied, of all human bonds.

Fara Dabhoiwala, author of 'The Origins of Sex'

A remarkable book. Sarah Knott weaves an intimate account of becoming a mother into a richly-documented history of maternity. Eloquent and evocative, this is a book to savour and share with anyone who loves great history-writing.

Barbara Taylor, author of 'Eve and the New Jerusalem' and 'The Last Asylum'

This fabulous book manages both to recreate what those extraordinary early months of motherhood are like, and make sense of them by placing them in history. Knott's diary of motherhood is poetic: she conveys that sense that time has stopped, that only the baby's reflux matters, the heightened power of smell, the loss of self. The historical anecdotes Knott provides are riveting, and open up new ways of understanding what motherhood can be. The pace of it all is perfect - slow, and focused,- just as growth has its own imperceptible rhythms. This is a new kind of history-writing. A truly original, inspiring book.

Lyndal Roper, Regius Professor of History, Oxford

In this beautifully written book, Sarah Knott speaks from the vantage point of a mother and a historian. Full of stories ranging across time, space, and ethnicity, with imagery that touches all our senses, Mother captures the physicality and emotions of motherhood, so that even those of us who have never experienced it ourselves feel what it is like to get pregnant, give birth, and raise a child.

Nancy Shoemaker, author of 'A Strange Likeness'

Lyrically evocative and richly textured, Mother sets fragments of female lives over the last four centuries in Britain and North America within a narrative of Sarah Knott's own experiences to produce a remarkable history - exploratory, pointillist, and intensely personal - of what it is, and has been, to be a mother.

Helen Castor, author of 'She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth'

This lyrical book-one-third memoir, two-thirds history-guides us through centuries of pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care. Knott stitches her personal story to vignettes from the past and shows us how everyday mothering differed in time and place. With stunning prose, she gives us the sensory shorn of the sentimental. A riveting read

Joanne Meyerowitz, author of 'How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States'

Which mother hasn't wondered how other mothers have managed, in different circumstances? Sarah Knott describes, for example, how a mother looked after her baby in a seventeenth-century East Anglian village; how another was a mistress of King Charles II; and a third was a slave on a North Carolina plantation. She has read through an extraordinary amount of rare diaries and letters, and then used her own sensitive imagination to bring these fragments to life. Each description is short, often only a page or two, so a mother who has just a few minutes to read before the next interruption can realistically hope to get to the end of one example, and then take that mother's situation with her, to think about, as she returns to her own. Sarah Knott had two children while she was researching and writing. Her examples are grouped in chronological order of her experience, but with unusual headings, such as 'Finding Out' that a woman is pregnant, 'Quickening', 'Damp Cloth', and 'The Middle of the Night'. The focus throughout is on mothers, and there is very little on how their babies are responding. But perhaps we readers are required to wake up some imagination of our own.

Naomi Stadlen, bestselling author of 'What Mothers Do'

With the skill of a twenty-first-century mother juggling numerous professional and caring responsibilities, Sarah Knott's Mother expertly pulls off a delicate balancing act. Knott's poignant personal memoir of pregnancy, birth, feeding and beyond encapsulates its bloody, milky, hormonal immediacy, whilst, at the same time, she finds in each moment an echo of history, a thread situating her among women - their bodies, communities and cultural practices - across centuries and continents.

Dr Rachel Hewitt

Mother is a timely and fascinating investigation into one of the most overlooked and yet fundamental human experiences. Sarah Knott expertly weaves together a narrative that succeeds in being both intensely personal but also reassuringly historical.

Amanda Foreman, bestselling author of 'Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire'

Knott manages to combine scholarship with personal experience in a heartfelt and original way. Every mother-to-be should read it

Sunday Times

An original and important account of a universal but neglected experience. Mother powerfully conveys the thrilling, bewildering, and fuzzy-headed atmosphere that surrounds pregnancy and childbirth, and offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of our mothering predecessors.


Wonderful... utterly compelling. This is history at its best: writing that unfolds the past and sheds light on the present

Financial Times

A joy to read, borne of raw curiosity and intelligence, nurtured into the world to fill a gap in understanding.

New York Times

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