The apothecary is a minor figure in ‘Casanova in Paris’ who appears only once in the novel. Nonetheless, she helps to highlight one of the grimmer realities of life for women in eighteenth-century Paris (and Europe) – the unwanted pregnancy. In a world where methods of contraceptive were unreliable to say the least, for many women it was an all too common danger. To avoid disgrace and social ostracism women were faced with two main options: to try to abort the child, with all the risks to the mother that entailed, or to go into hiding and carry the child to term, after which the new-born could be given away or killed (strangling, crushing the skull, poisoning and exposure were methods commonly used). Many ended up at the Paris Foundling Hospital where a baby had only a one-in-twenty chance of surviving into adulthood (frequently, babies were killed by the very nurses employed to care for them). For married women there was the possibility of passing a child off as her husband’s. The most drastic option was suicide, as was contemplated by Giustiniana Wynne, a woman who appealed to Casanova to help her end her pregnancy and who was in part the basis for our Gabrielle sub-plot. It was inevitable, of course, that an illicit trade in abortifacients should become established to meet the demand of such desperate women and who better placed to take advantage of it than the apothecary (the pharmacist of the day).
‘Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ is freely available here.
27 long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.
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