Louise Bourgeois was midwife to Maria of Medici, Queen of France, from 1601 to 1609, and the first woman in modern times to write about what she calls her "art". This book gives an account of her life, and then goes on to analyze her theories about the workings of the human body in her own particular sphere, before concentrating on her advice about handling the delivery of a child (especially where it was problematic), her relationships with her clients and the way she uses them in case histories, her relations with some of the medical men of her time, and her recipes for a whole range of medical conditions in her book entitled "Recueil des Secrets". The study argues that Bourgeois was an educated, skilled midwife, very alive to the encroachment of medical men into an area which had always been the perserve of women. It shows that she had no scruples in attacking incompetent male practitioners, and that she argued fiercely in her books that all practitioners, whatever their speciality, and whether their expertise was in academic theory or practical skills, should receive the recognition they deserved.
Wendy Perkins is Senior Lecturer in French at the University of Birmingham.