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Paperback Kindness of Strangers: The Abandoment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissa Nce Book

ISBN: 0679724990

ISBN13: 9780679724995

Kindness of Strangers: The Abandoment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissa Nce

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Book Overview

Biff, Chip and Kipper Stories: Decode and Develop are exciting new titles in the Oxford Reading Tree series. The stories continue to provide storylines full of humour and drama, with familiar settings and characters. They also support children's transition from fully decodable readers, such as Floppy's Phonics, to a richer, wider reading experience with high-interest vocabulary. The new-style inside cover notes provide advice to help adults read and...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

The Strangeness of Times Past

If you read thsi book at all, read it slowly and thoughtfully. Don't rush to assume that it reveals an anti-Catholic bias, as other reviewers have, and don't facilely dismiss the author's theses about long-term trends of illegitimacy, child abandonment, and infanticide being in lock-step with the structures of the Christian religion. Boswell is a very thorough scholar; before you challenge his conclusions, you'd better try the same research. This is a study of oblation and the historical attitudes toward childhood that the practice of oblation exposes. An "oblate" is by definition any person who gives her/himself to the church, but in Boswell's sense an oblate was a child given or abandoned to the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. The majority of oblates grew up in and became lifetime members of monastic communities. Conversely, in some cases, the majority of the inhabitants of monasteries had entered the Church as oblates, often as infants. Imagine! A Medieval monastery was not just a cloister of chanting monks or nuns. It was also an economic community, with only a select elite of chanters and scribes, and a larger population of workers and servants not in tonsured sanctity, and of all things, a throng of children! a nursery! "Them that's got shall get," goes the old blues song. It was surely so in the case of oblates. Families who could donate resources - land especially, or money - along with their child could insure that child a place of status in the religious community. Infants left in the baptismal font would wind up as "lay brothers" tending the grange, milling, or manufacturing the products their monastery sold to outsiders. Boswell discusses the reasons for oblation, the role of oblation in dealing with inheritance problems of land-owning families, the possibility that oblation was effectively a method of population control, and the eventual abuse and decline of the practice in later centuries. One of the striking effects of oblation was the frequency of handicapped and deformed persons in monastic settings, since imperfect children were routinely abandoned, killed, or given to the Church! Boswell also describes the conditions of life that oblates enjoyed or endured, and the mutual obligations between cloistered monks/nuns and their birth families, especially those of the nobility. Like the practices of money-lending, land-leasing, and endowment-after-death, oblation created linkages between the "religious" and the secular, of great importance in both directions. The Medieval monastery was not as isolated or insulated from the world as many of us imagine. The monasteries of the Middle Ages were enormously important in the total social economy of the regions where they grew, to a degree that hugely differentiates their world from ours. This dense, challenging, unaccomodating book is perhaps one of the best introductions to the real Middle Ages precisely because it is unabashed in detailing those differences. The Kindness of Stran

Excellent History of the abandonment of Children

I picked up this book at a thrift store with no real idea of what it was about. The topic sounded interesting and I thought it was worth a try. What a shock it was to read how children where abandoned in the past because they were defective, illegitimate, inconvenient and threaded to mess up inheritance laws. When we read history we tend to assume our current values applied in the past too....this is not the case...we learned from out mistakes and made changes in our life's to try to put value on human life. I recommend this book to anyone; including will open your eyes and your heart.

The fate of children

This book of Boswell's is a fascinating history of an previously unknown and essentially overlooked piece of history -- the situation for children, and what happened to them should they become orphaned or abandoned. Boswell's particular period and geographic centre is in Europe of Late Antiquity to the Renaissance. Beginning by looking at the ideal of family structure and responsibilities in the Roman Empire (the dominant model throughout the western world), Boswell proceeds through time periods to the Renaissance, examining literary and legal documents for narrative stories of children and caretakers, and for the general policy of church and state organisations toward care or neglect of such. One such narrative as example will serve to illustrate:' Fresne (The Ash Tree) a married woman has maliciously spread the tale that the birth of twins means that the mother has slept with two men, and when she herself then bears twins, she must face an opprobrium of her own creation. She contemplates killing one, but--significantly--her companions dissuade her from this, arguing that it would be a sin. Abandonment, however, was not...' The woman gives a child to her maid who then leaves it in a church -- while the story turns out badly, it is not due to the abandonment, which was considered in this High Middle Ages tale quite natural and proper.Boswell's antipathy toward the Catholic church shows forth a bit in his interpretation (which may nonetheless be valid) with statements such as: 'Christianity may well have increased the rate of abandonment, both by insisting more rigidly than any other moral system on the absolute necessity of procreative purpose in all human sexual acts, and by providing, through churches and monasteries, regular and relatively humane modes of abandoning infants nearly everywhere on the continent.'A wonderful glimpse into a shadowy world at the sidelines of history, yet one of crucial importance for those of us who live in a 'family values' historical period. If we do not know our past, how can we be sure of our present?

Staggering Erudition

First, let me explain that I am not using this book in any class I teach(unlike the other 2 previous reviewers). I read this out of my own interest. Second, it is odd that only 2 prior reviews exist on this site, since I believe this to be an important book by the author of two well-known and controversial works about homosexuality and Christianity.Third, allow me to rebut the negative review below. It is unclear how "college students" could fully evaluate Boswell's scholarship. While his numerous and lengthy footnotes can be a chore, his meticulous referencing of sources is admirable. And he quotes those sources in their ORIGINAL languages in many cases:Greek, Latin, Italian, Irish, Norse, Icelandic etc. How did the college students mentioned above possibly find his references "contradictory and wrong??"In sum, this book is provocative and original. It would take scholars in the field of child history (granted a small field, if it indeed could be deemed one)an entire year to fully digest this tome and scrutinize its sources. Any thinking person interested in the evolution of human attitudes towards adoption, the protection and rearing of children, and child abuse MUST reckon with this marvelous work.

Original, Provocative and Persuasive

I assigned the text in my upper-division graduate and graduate courses, and students rave about it. They encounter a world they can hardly imagine, one where families and parents must make quite heinous (to the modern reader) decisions to abandon their children. Boswell documents the widespread character of the practice. I found the work quite well written and informative.
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