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The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance
by John Boswell
University of Chicago Press, 1998
Paper: 978-0-226-06712-4

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.
"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

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

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