Meet our PhD students: Catherine Maguire

Catherine took her BA in Modern and Medieval Languages from Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge, and her MPhil with distinction in Medieval and Early Modern European Literature from Clare College, University of Cambridge. She is originally from Northern Ireland and her academic interests lie in motherhood, female religious experience and medicine in the medieval and early modern periods. Her project explores the physical and emotional inflections of motherhood in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain.

Contemporary health and social care practitioners situate maternal processes of within both a physical and emotional framework. In addition to adopting lifestyle patterns that are conducive to good physical health, pre- and post-natal emotional wellbeing is increasingly being identified as a key factor in predicting outcomes for mothers and young children. More broadly, the emotive elements of pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing are also conditioned by the psychological stimuli of mass media, social mores and religious customs. If it is tempting to consider that the emotional upheaval of maternity is a modern construct, my thesis is concerned with the emotional dimensions of motherhood in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain. I shall examine how the holistic experience of motherhood – that is, from gestation to childbirth through the experience of parenting – was articulated as an emotionally significant experience and consider the importance of emotional factors in the construction of the maternal subject.

Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain reveals a sustained preoccupation with how emotional and physical factors intersect in the construction of the maternal subject. The backdrop of the Counter-Reformation was underpinned by a renewed insistence and vigour for affective Marian veneration; in particular, insofar as her status as mother of Heaven and Earth was concerned. There existed a proliferation of didactic literature which sought to appeal to the emotional sensibilities of its readership and a general interest in medical scholarship which attempted to codify maternal medicine and situate it within a physical, emotional and social framework.

Significantly, there has been no attempt to disentangle and reconnect the emotional dimensions of motherhood with the pragmatic concerns of pregnancy, childbirth and child-rearing in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain.  There is a pressing ethical need to develop a holistic understanding of motherhood which acknowledges the affective political, social, economic and religious inflections of maternal matters. To do so will be to offer an embodied view of mental and emotional health with a view to understanding how emotional concerns shape our experience of physical (well)being. The interdisciplinary framework of my thesis will encompass life writing, gender theory, embodiment and theological considerations. This thesis will thus raise questions that resonate beyond the remit of Hispanic Studies and early modern literature.