Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women’s Lives, 1540-1740 by Sara Read is a book I’d been wanting to read since it was originally published in 2015 by Pen & Sword. I became acquainted with Dr Read through Twitter, and she subsequently has contributed two popular articles here on The Seventeenth Century Lady.
In her book, which is 192 pages long (including bibliography, a black-and-white image section, and index), Read covers a very interesting and wide spectrum of things associated with early modern women and their day-to-day lives – from marriage, food sourcing and preparation, childbirth, raising children, work, literacy, midwifery, religious belief, criminality, fashion, and much more.
Being as my areas of research have unsurprisingly overlapped with Read’s, there wasn’t a whole lot I hadn’t known about before – but I did indeed learn some new facts, historical figures, and works of literature – which made me happy (I don’t know about you, but learning always makes me excited and giddy). One of the bits of the book I enjoyed most were her giving the probable origins for certain popular sayings, such as “sleep tight” and “left on the shelf” – I didn’t know this before reading her book.
I was very pleased to read that Read shares my opinion that seventeenth-century women did not wear knickers (panties) under their shifts – something I also wrote about in my book, The Stuarts in 100 Facts. This subject had been troubling me for some time, especially after I read a rather critical (albeit indirect) post about this matter from a friend and fellow writer of historical fiction. The fact that Read is an expert in these matters has set my mind at rest, and for that I thank her.
Read, an academic, is neither verbose nor opaque like some works by academics can be (Trevor-Roper comes to mind, sorry!) – her style is clear and enlightening. I was relieved to see she didn’t judge the seventeenth-century people in her book by twenty-first-century standards (I have, in the past, put down some history books in which the author has done this).
I look forward to reading more from Dr Read.
TSCL rating: 4.5/5