What a wonderful read, in so many ways. Finding a true story that is truly a page turner is amazing. I learned so much about the London East End and public health in the 1950s. The poverty and struggle are quite graphically portrayed but it is the beauty and the courage of the women that shines through. At a time when much of London had disgustedly turned a blind eye to this region of slums and dockyard tenements, it was the trained midwives of a local convent that bravely laboured to work amongst the poorest of the poor. Visiting homes at all hours of the day and night, often on a bicycle, they offered safety and support to those women who could not afford doctor assisted deliveries. But this book is about so much more than childbirth.
Jennifer Worth was a midwife and she tells her own engaging story. But she doesn’t portray herself as a heroine. Jennifer considered the women she served and delivered to be the true heroines for managing to keep families happily together in unbelievably squalid, cramped, and inadequate conditions. Worth guards against judgment and instead seeks to look deep within and find the good in everyone. She achieves this with a lighthearted style that includes a great deal of good humour, frivolity, and irreverence…even in a convent!
Call the Midwife is the first in the trilogy, followed by Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End. I chose to read the Illustrated Edition, full of original photos and historic posters, which greatly enhanced the reading.
There is also a popular BBC period drama series in two seasons based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs, entitled Call the Midwife. The series has been praised for its sharp blend of period charm and hard-hitting social commentary, also evident in the books.