An investigation into attitudes towards illegitimate birth as evidenced in the folklore of South West England
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This thesis is a comparative, cross-generic, study of attitudes towards illegitimacy as evidenced in folksong and folk narrative genres. It is a regionally based study, focusing specifically on oral materials collected from the counties of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, in the South West of England since 1970. Hence archival sources, in addition to my own fieldwork, provide the main sources of folklore data for this project. This is the first thesis to draw extensively upon the large body of material known as the Sam Richards Folklore Archive, which includes over 500 hours of taped recordings. The collecting towards this archive was originally inspired by the prolific work of early folksong collectors Sabine Baring-Gould and Cecil Sharp in the South West region. My work on this project is the first broad-based critical analysis of selected materials from the resulting thirty years' collecting. Representations of out-of-wedlock pregnancy in South West folksong are often extremely diverse. Illegitimacy is commonly fused with other types of theme, including seduction and betrayal. By contrast, a fairly narrow depiction of "illegitimate" pregnancy is given in supernatural legends and memorates, local legends and local character anecdotes, where it is consistently seen as having negative repercussions for the woman and sometimes the child, concerned. An extensive overview of folklore scholarship informs my eclectic approach to this study. In the early chapters of this thesis I delineate my source materials in some detail, also setting out the historical context from which my chosen songs and narratives emerged. In my analysis of these materials in Chapters 6, 7, and 8, I have combined the use of detailed textual analysis with a consideration of the creation of meaning in the interaction between text and performance context.
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