Peter Laslett

  • Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County 1649-1699 by Roger Thompson
    Massachusetts, 252 pp, £28.50, October 1986, ISBN 0 87023 516 8
  • Breasts, Bottles and Babies: A History of Infant Feeding by Valerie Fildes
    Edinburgh, 462 pp, £19.75, August 1986, ISBN 0 85224 462 2

These two books are important commentaries on the preoccupations of our own day. We all have expectations about the relationship between puritanism and sex, and therefore about what is likely to be found when the records of a Massachusetts county court in colonial times are searched for evidence on this matter. We are also aware that the first few days and months of life mould the personality. If the claim that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world now seems a little simple-minded, we know well enough that it matters enormously who offers her breast to a baby – if indeed a baby is fortunate enough to be breast-fed at all. It also matters how and at what point after birth breast-feeding begins, and when and how weaning occurs. Since we cannot escape our inheritance from the past when we consider the nurture of children in our own time, it is important that we have access to the facts. Sober, conscientious studies offering evidence on these points from history, sensitively presented in relation to the myriad issues which they inevitably raise, must be of value.

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