This lecture explores the power of the imagination, as exemplified in the case of Magdeleine d’Auvermont, a noblewoman who dreamed herself pregnant in 1637. The case – at once legal and medical – both draws on a rich body of early modern writing about so-called ‘monstrous’ births, and makes particular sense of the theory of maternal impression. It also generates much new discussion about these questions in a wide range of texts and languages across the next two centuries (and more).
From court records to medical treatises; from private correspondence to public, printed polemic; all the way through to sustained and ferocious efforts at censorship of any and all references to her story … Magdeleine’s case sheds new light on the place, and the power, of fiction in the archives. Her defence both exemplifies and complicates early modern medical and legal anxieties about the force of women’s unregulated imaginations. It also crystallises a new set of questions about ‘libertinage’, and about the management of ‘monstrous’ thinking.
Magdeleine d'Auvermont's powerful dream, her child, and their complex afterlives raise compelling questions about desire and license; the courts and the press; inherited theories and new forms of practical, embodied belief.