Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Kindness Of Strangers - John Boswell

The Kindness Of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe From Late Antiquity To The Renaissance
John Boswell
University Of Chicago Press
Copyright: 1988

The amazon.com product description:
In The Kindness of Strangers, John Boswell argues persuasively that child abandonment was a common and morally acceptable practice from antiquity until the Renaissance. Using a wide variety of sources, including drama and mythological-literary texts as well as demographics, Boswell examines the evidence that parents of all classes gave up unwanted children, "exposing" them in public places, donating them to the church, or delivering them in later centuries to foundling hospitals. The Kindness of Strangers presents a startling history of the abandoned child that helps to illustrate the changing meaning of family. 
 The Kindness of Strangers was an interesting read, if one best taken a chapter or so at a time as it covers so much time. The book begins with the Roman Empire and moves forward from there, looking at both legal/historical sources and also at the literature of the periods in question for the entirety of western Europe. Each time period is in a separate section as are also the literature and the other sources.

This is also perhaps more 'academic' than most of the history books in my collection. Certainly there are a lot of pages where the footnotes severely outnumber the actual text on the page (there's one page I know about where there's one line of text and the entire rest of the page is footnote. Half-page footnotes are common too. But, a lot of those footnotes are interesting information. The rest are an even split between citations and the original quotes in Latin and/or other languages. Definitely made me want to brush up on my Latin skills (non-existent as they are).

Although the focus of the book is on the abandonment of children, there's plenty of information on medieval life as a whole from different classes and periods. There's a whole chapter on the topic of Oblation for example - what it was, restrictions, when it was most popular, problems with it etc.

The Kindness of Strangers is most definitely a useful resource for information on everyday medieval life. Although, I did find that the book raised a number of questions that it didn't answer. For example, slavery in the Medieval world. Not much has been said on the subject in my various textbooks, yet Boswell keeps mentioning slavery as being common across parts of Europe.

It also gave me a hint that my history book collection may be getting out of control :). I noted several times that along with giving me a list of books I want to get, that there were several books cited that I already have. Rather a neat feeling. And reassuring for the quality of my collection as I generally don't get them from specialist stores.

Read for the Tournament Of Reading Challenge.


haravee (Book Dilettante) said...

Nice to know that all through history, where there are parents abandoning children, there are others willing to take them in.

Unknown said...

It is. Be they monks, or people who wanted a child, or even those who just wanted to have servants.


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