Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

There is something about the experience of birth that never grows tiresome and it's all the better if someone else is going through it!  Knowing this series is airing over in Britain at the moment with an audience even larger than the first few episodes of Downton Abbey my interest was piqued.  My husband was given strict orders to return from his trip to London with a copy of the book.  My life (and his come to think of it) would be so much simpler if I lived on the OTHER side, don't you think?  I digress. 

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.


  1. Such a lovely book and I hope you get the TV series soon Darlene!

    I bought my flatmate the next book in the series for her birthday - Shadows of the Workhouse. She said it was good but more about the East End than about the women giving birth.

  2. This one is definitely for me!

  3. What a lovely and useful husband you must have.

  4. Glad to hear you liked it. I do hope the series gets to you.

    The other books are well worth the read.i am currently dipping in and out of her last one which is all about death. Very Interesting at not at all morbid.

  5. bookssnob, There's no sign of it yet, even through a google search but we both know that won't stop me!
    You're such a lovely friend and books do make the best gifts. I'm no shrinking violet but the East End sounded like quite the scary place. I would have been looking for a used nurses cape to travel through the neighbourhood safely!

    Mystica, Oh you would really enjoy it so fingers crossed at some point you'll stumble across it. Despite the hard times and squalor it was an enjoyable read.

    Susan, My husband saw your comment and said it was his you've done it, haha!

    Jo, Fingers crossed! I'm old enough to remember nurses wearing all white...even their hose and those starched caps. Remarkable women.
    Glad to hear you're enjoying the other books in this series!