Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
Jennifer Worth died less than one year ago but left behind a legacy of stories about her time as a midwife during the 1950s. Her language is plain but through evocative storytelling she turned some of the most dire living conditions and unsavoury behaviour into a page-turner. Not all of her stories are such though and despite abject poverty some families basked in strong values with plenty of love. Wearing her starched nurses uniform and the stiletto heels so much in fashion while making her rounds on a bicycle, Nurse Worth attended women in the east end as they progressed through their pregnancy. Called upon to perform an antenatal visit at one home, Jennifer was sure the notes were recorded incorrectly as it said the pregnancy was the woman's twenty-fourth. Surely the nun from St Nonnatus meant to write fourteen but no, upon arrival the basement laundry was chock full of happy offspring helping Mum with the wash. And not a scuffle, argument or brawl amongst them!
Young girls ending up pregnant as a result of prostitution, women fearful that the moment of birth will reveal their relationship with one of the recent black immigrants and stories of the workhouse are heartbreaking. These were the days when social assistance meant a bowl of hot soup or some clothes donated by the church. One character in particular though never failed to make me laugh out loud. Chummy was born into an aristocratic family and christened Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne but at six-foot-two with size eleven shoes she carried off her nickname brilliantly. The poor woman was a bull in a china shop but her positive spirit and upper class cheers of "what-ho" and "good show" were so endearing that I beamed at each of her appearances. In the series Chummy is played by the fabulous Miranda Hart and once the book was finished I had a peek at her in action on youtube, she's brilliant!
Social history fans will absolutely gobble up this book. A lack of interest in the blood and guts of labour and delivery may weed out the odd reader but if the other novels by Worth are half as riveting then you're spoiled for choice.