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Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois's oeuvre and the texts we are studying

Louise Bourgeois published a number of works. Her major contribution to the field of midwifery is the Observations diverses sur la stérilité, perte de fruits, fécondité, accouchements et maladies des femmes et enfants nouveau-nés, first published in 1609 and subsequently expanded in two further editions (1617 and 1626) prior to her death in 1636. The Observations is a very large work that documents Bourgeois's hands-on experience as a practising midwife in the form of numerous case studies and 'recipes' for ailments.

In addition, editions 2 and 3 of the Observations include the publication of two smaller works that are more personal / autobiographical in nature:

  • Instruction à ma fille, which first appears in 1617 (and is also referred to as the Introduction à ma fille at this time). This is a handbook of advice from mother to daughter about the role of midwife in society; values and responsibilities; working with families.
  • Récit véritable de la naissance de messeigneurs et dames les enfans de France, which first appears in 1617. This is a dramatic telling of the royal births that Louise Bourgeois manages (particularly interesting is her managing of male royal figures in a space in which she has prime responsibility)

We will study these two more personal texts, along with two very short prefatory texts from the Observations: the Au lecteur and A La Royne.


    Winn and Rouget's modern edition in the library is recommended for its detailed notes and introductions. You will have access to an online electronic version to use in class (currently on order):

    •  Récit véritable de la naissance de messeigneurs et dames les enfans de France, Instruction a ma fille et autres textes. Edition critique par Colette Winn (Geneva: Droz, 2000).

    The old-print version of the Récit Véritable has now been transcribed and is available to download here.

    The old-print version of the A La Royne and Au Lecteur prefaces have been transcribed and are available to download here.

    useful web sites

    Quick overview

    Find out more about Louise Bourgeois and her contribution to the professionalisation of women and to the profession of midwife in particular in Alison Klairmont Lingo and Stephanie O'Hara, 'Bourgeois (1563–1636): Transforming the Landscape of Medicine and Midwifery' in WOMEN’S STUDIES 2020, VOL. 49, NO. 3, 220–226 read here


    Albrecht Durer: Birth of the Virgin (from the Life of the Virgin series), 1511