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The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits: Stories

3.55  ·  Rating Details ·  1,001 Ratings  ·  97 Reviews
Emma Donoghue, celebrated author of Slammerskin, vividly animates hidden scraps of the past in this remarkable collection. An engraving of a woman giving birth to rabbits, a plague ballad, theological pamphlets, and an articulated skeleton are ingeniously fleshed out into rollicking tales. Whether she's spinning the tale of a soldier tricked into marrying a dowdy spinster, ...more
Paperback, First Harvest edition, 272 pages
Published June 1st 2003 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2002)
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Jan 19, 2011 Julai rated it it was ok
After reading Room, I had to go back and remind myself just how much Emma Donoghue's prose has changed direction, and this little book of medieval-inspired tales certainly couldn't be any farther from her recent "ripped from today's headlines" novel.

The title tale concerns the first in a rash of 14th century women to pretend to give birth to rabbits, mostly seeking to exhibit themselves in order to escape starvation. And in my expert opinion, you'd have to be pretty hungry to stuff a bunny up y
Sara ✨サラ
Sep 11, 2016 Sara ✨サラ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shoutout to my fellow virgo, Pucca, for getting me this wonderful, wonderful book.

The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits is a short story collection based on various, interesting history facts from England and Ireland. From cross-dressing contesses to desperate hoaxes, this book is pouring life into fun facts that might have came into your life, bring a passing smile on your face and then disappear forever from your mind. From amusing, little reminiscenses to goose-bumping fervour, this book stand
Pixie Dust
Jan 22, 2013 Pixie Dust rated it really liked it
The more I read of Donoghue, the more I am convinced she is a ventriloquist of sorts. In the short stories collected in this book, she gives voice to a whole host of period characters that she had researched and embellished, switching register and tone with graceful ease. Selecting one interesting or defining moment in their lives, she weaves compelling tales about these figures of the past – some more well-known than others.

Most of her stories in this collection are set in eighteenth century E
Dec 01, 2009 Emily rated it liked it
A mixed bag of short stories based on 18-19th-c (with a smattering of other eras) british history. Since many of the stories are in the first person, one if the treats of the book is figuring out who and when before you get to the endnotes.

The stories themselves range from okay to wonderful. Stories such as "Revelations," "Words for Things," The Necessity of Burning," and "Looking for Petronilla" are well-paced page-turners. Others fell a bit flat. The most disappointing (perhaps because it had
Dec 22, 2014 Eduardo rated it it was ok
Donoghue uses Irish and English historical events, anecdotes, to imagine situations (her stories) that would justify or illustrate them.
At the end of each story she gives us her references (books, letters, documents) on which she based her recreations. It is not clear what is her purpose, what is Donoghue trying to tell us: That she knows how to research her sources? That she is not inventing too much? That she has this special ability to fill the gaps of history with her imagination? That hist
Feb 01, 2008 Jacob rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010-2011
Okay, I admit it: I got this one because of the title. Seemed quirky enough. In this collection, Emma Donoghue fleshed out seventeen stories about real, but obscure and nearly forgotten, people and events from several centuries of British history: the woman in the title story, Mary Toft, managed to convince the 18th century medical profession (albeit briefly) that she had given birth to a vast number of rabbits; in the 1850s and 60s, Dr. Isaac Baker Brown used clitoridectomies as a way to “cure” ...more
Sep 10, 2009 Shaindel rated it it was amazing
Emma Donoghue is a fabulous author. I'm not normally a fan of historical fiction because a lot of it tends to be cheesy/romance sort of stuff, but Donoghue has a Ph.D. specializing in 18th Century British literature and history, and her work is always spot on and fascinating!

In _The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits_, Donoghue takes actual historical figures and expands on their stories, writing speculative short fiction about their lives. For instance, she writes a story about a girl who was a ch
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jan 03, 2009 Jenny (Reading Envy) marked it as did-not-finish
Shelves: short-stories, own
This was one of the books I speed-dated to try to weed my to-read list a bit. I would rate this as just not for me - it reminds me of another Donoghue book I tried to read once, Slammerkin, which received that same verdict. I just don't like the forced period writing, it feels too inauthentic the way she does it. I liked Room very much and would still try a future novel, but these stories will be passed on elsewhere.
Jan 25, 2017 Simona rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015
A brilliant collection of historically-based short stories. I can't believe the time & research it must have taken to unveil these. Really humanizes the people of the past. In history books, they're just statistics. This shows that they were human and no different in essence than the people of today.
Angj Brooks
Jan 27, 2017 Angj Brooks rated it it was amazing
A great selection of short stories which are also kinda true! Each story is based on actual events although obviously artistic licence is taken with the stories. There is also notes after each story which gives insights into the event that inspired them. Would highly recommend as not only do you get some interesting stories but a mini history lesson as well
Oct 31, 2016 Carly rated it liked it
3.5 stars. Truly fascinating premise for a collection of short stories. The execution could've been better, however. I still really enjoyed it.

Stand-outs: "The Last Rabbit"; "Cured"; "Figures of Speech"
Mar 16, 2013 Frances rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Really quite enjoyed this collection of short stories. I liked the history behind them all and finding where the thread for the story started. Plucking a single moment or name from history and moulded a story around it. Reminds me of a writing exercise, one that I should set for myself in the coming weeks, so watch the blogasphere.

The Last Rabbit
This is the story that gave the book its title, the story of a women who embarks on a plot to make the whole of England believe that she gives birth to
Sep 02, 2014 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
Have I ever been so in love with a book of short stories as this? The only one I can think of that would come close is Margaret Atwood's Good Bones, but that was less a book of short stories than it was a collection of prose poems and reimagined faerie tales. No, this is it. And Emma Donoghue is a delightful genius. Her writing takes part of what I love best about Jane Austen, colours it with a decidedly feminist sensibility, and mixes in a fascination with obscure historical details, especially ...more
Nov 21, 2012 Chaitra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hmm. I've forgotten some of the stories in this collection, but I remember I liked them well enough. This format that Donoghue uses, of weaving into stories obscure news items from the 18th century works well with me. It's when she makes these snippets into long novels - see Life Mask, The Sealed Letter - that's when I have a problem.

Out of the stories I remember and I still think of fondly, the best one has got to be Looking for Petronilla. The last story of the collection, this one is a stunne
I read Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins recently, but I think this collection is better, partly because there's no awkward linking of the stories together and I found the subject matter more interesting.

This is probably one of the better short stories collection I've read, simply because I didn't find any true duds in it, although some stories didn't work for me as well as others.

My absolute favourite story in this book has to be 'How a Lady Dies'. The imagery of Bath as a place for th
Dec 22, 2016 Ally rated it did not like it
I loved the premise of the stories but didn't end up enjoying any of them. Very disappointing :(
Jan 10, 2008 Jojo rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book has been on my to be read shelf for at least a couple years, and I decided to finally get around to reading it. I bought it because a couple other Emma Donoghue books had been recommended to me; they were not at the store the day I went to look for them, but this one was and was cheap, so I got it instead. I probably should have just kept on looking for the others.

It's not exactly bad; there were a couple stories I quite liked (the last one! and the one about the blind girl). But the c
Louise (A Strong Belief in Wicker)
I had to buy this book. I had been captivated by the story of Mary Tofts last year after reading a tiny piece in the paper about her, and her mysterious ability to birth pieces of dead baby rabbits. It's a fascinating tale. I fully understand why Emma Donoghue was fascinated with her. I was too. What's not to be fascinated about? Mary was an illiterate 18th century maid who started birthing bits of dead rabbits. Perhaps because I was familiar with Mary's story, I was disappointed with Emma Donog ...more
Jan 30, 2013 Therese rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So, I'm not generally a fan of short stories in the literary genre. Neil Gaiman and Stephen King? Yes they can rock a short story. But "literary" short stories are usually just character studies. Where "mother and I drove unti the dashboard grew hot. We parked on a red clay road. The sun hung and mother's eyes were damp. THE END." And that crap does nothing for me.

So I was de-freakin'-lighted by The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits. Donoghue took little snippets of real history, little barely re
Apr 28, 2008 K. rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
I was intrigued by the concept of this book: the author usew her imagination to flesh out short stories lurking behind various textual catalysts: an historical event, a piece of art, or a work of fiction--for example. However, I found that the prose style did not mesmerize me as much as the project itself.

Although not clear from the beginning, these stories primarily champion female characters, many of whom were social activists of some kind. Unfortunately, many of the male characters are flat
Aug 15, 2009 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Emma Donoghue is fast becoming one of my favourite authors - I adored Slammerkin and read the Booker nominated Room just a couple of weeks ago, so was interested to see what this collection of short stories would be like.

This is a book of fictions that are also true, over the years Emma Donoghue has come across snippets of history that are so bizarre, yet true that she felt the urge to write a story around the facts and this is the collection of those stories.

Like most short story collections, s
Mark Desrosiers
Jan 22, 2008 Mark Desrosiers rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Each story is a well-researched excursion into some minor realm of Irish (or Brit or Welsh or Scottish) Verified History and Anecdotage. But nearly all of them are a snooze, which proves that trying to grow stories around an eccentric chrestomathy ain't worth trying. I checked this out of the library because I heard "Come, Gentle Night" was about John Ruskin's wedding night, wherein the sight of Effie's pubic hair detumesced him and put consummation off indefinitely. But Donoghue's version of th ...more
Sarah Ann

I liked the historical aspect of this short story collection, especially with the notes after each story where Emma Donoghue cites her sources.

My favourite story by far in the collection was, 'Come, Gentle Night' because it is a perfectly crafted short story that captures you in the short space of time it has to do so.

I also enjoyed the last story, 'Looking for Petronilla' because it was markedly different to the rest of the collection and I think it was well-placed at the end.

The reason f
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]A fascinating set of short stories with a theme of how we live in our own bodies. I bought it because I had spotted her as an Irish author of occasionally sff-type stuff. The last story in this collection, "Looking for Petronilla", does turn out to have fantasy elements and to my great annoyance takes an idea for a short story I have been working on recently and does it much better than I could hope to. The whole collection is excellent. The t ...more
Paul Long
Aug 18, 2014 Paul Long rated it it was amazing
A great book of short stories by one of my favorite authors.

Donoghue takes snippets of history gleaned from various sources -- sometimes from a mention in another book, sometimes via a piece of artwork -- does some research, and returns with a short piece of fiction proposing what might have happened.

The title story is about a woman in 18th Century England who managed to persuade half of the country she had given birth to several rabbits. One stroy I particularly liked was Revelations, about a f
Nov 28, 2009 Kerry rated it really liked it
In this collection, Emma Donoghue elaborates on 17 strange and unexplainable events throughout the history of the British Isles. Her unique perspective breathes life into these remote historical figures in a way that I never could have before imagined.

My personal favorite is "Dido," the tale of Elizabeth Dido Lindsay, the daughter of Sir John Lindsay with an African slave woman he rescued from a Spanish ship in the West Indies. Despite her acceptance by Lord Mansfield as a family member and her
Dec 26, 2013 Fiona rated it really liked it
I cannot attest to the historical veracity of the details in this, but the fact that it never crossed my mind attests to the skill in which she crafted these remarkable collection of short stories to suspend the reader's disbelief. The premises of the various historical documents/periods she bases these works of fiction are perhaps more unbelievable than the short stories she spins of it. Another interesting thing is the repeated mention of rabbits throughout the various short stories, which was ...more
Mar 12, 2012 Melinda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Vicky
A collection of short stories, well written and engaging, bringing snippets of untold English/Irish/Scottish history to life. Subtly feminist and some glimpses of queerness from history. I enjoyed Donoghue’s narration and prose very much.


Some quotes I liked:

“Silence, like quicksand, under their feet.” (p. 47)

“When I sit up, cold air worms its way into the bed; Martha burrows down deeper.” (p. 71)

“Scotland is plague-stricken. Folk wear bruises of mauve and orange and yellow for
Jul 02, 2011 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits is a collection of historical short stories – based on scraps of evidence. 'The Necessity of Burning' is, for example, inspired by one line in the account of the Peasants' Uprising in 1381.

It's a nice collection of stories – I'm not in awe of them, but I like them a lot. I think Donoghue is a better writer of short stories than she is a novelist. While I have liked the novels of hers I have read (Slammerkin, Room), it is her short stories that I love.
Aug 19, 2016 Graham rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this little collection of short stories. Each feels real, and sheds some light on a woman whose life has been noted in history, albeit (in some cases) as the briefest of footnotes. This ability to see the sketch of a person, and then, by imagination and alchemy, to add flesh and bones to the ghost of a memory is a real skill. What is also lovely is the addition of the footnotes - 'these are from where I drank inspiration' - and obviously some quiet time at the British Library (or ...more
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Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of ...more
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“I have tried to use memory and invention together, like two hands engaged in the same muddy work of digging up the past.” 2 likes
“It stands to reason that those who assault nature will suffer at her hands in the end.” 0 likes
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