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The Kindness of Strangers

The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance

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.

506 pages | 17 halftones | 5-1/4 x 8 | © 1988

History: General History


"Highly original, learned, and skillfully written. . . . A mine of fascinating and surprising information about every aspect of the history of family limitation in ancient, medieval, and Renaissance Europe."

Bernard Knox | New York Review of Books

"A formidably learned, ingenious, at times eloquent investigation. Professor Boswell is a young historian of rare force and originality."

George Steiner | New Yorker

"Bold, original and, very likely, controversial. . . . This is a pioneering work of large importance, the first to map out and explore a tangled, mysterious region of human experience."

Mary Martin McLaughlin | New York Times Book Review

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Pt. I: Ancient Patterns
1. Rome: The Historical Skeleton
2. Rome: Literary Flesh and Blood
3. Fathers of the Church and Parents of Children
Pt. II: The Early Middle Ages
4. Variations on Familiar Patterns
5. A Christian Innovation: Oblation
6. Demographic Overview
Pt. III: The High Middle Ages
7. New Demographics: 1000-1200
8. Oblation at Its Zenith
9. The Thirteenth Century: Abandonment Resumes
10. Literary Witnesses
Pt. IV: The Later Middle Ages
11. Continuities and Unintended Tragedy
12. Conclusions
Appendix of Translations
Frequently Cited Works

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