21 Oct 2015


Shadows of the Workhouse : The Bestselling Sequel to Call the Midwife ...SHADOWS OF THE WORKHOUSE by JENNIFER WORTH.

BACK COVER BLURB: When Jennifer Worth became a midwife in the 1950's, she moved to an East End where many lives were touched by the shadow of the workhouse. For although the institutions were officially abolished in 1930, in reality many did not close until several decades later.

In the follow-up to her best selling Call the Midwife, Jennifer Worth tells the true stories of the people she met. 

- Due to spoilers this is an abridged version. To read more click on the book title.

FIRST SENTENCE {Part One: Workhouse Children - Nonnatus House}: Nonnatus House* was both a convent and the working base for the nursing and midwifery services of the Sisters of St Raymund Nonnatus. 

MEMORABLE MOMENT {Page 159}: "I vowed I would not follow the pattern of my mother, my aunts and their friends. I would not become a wife whose husband could order that her teeth be pulled out, or who could be locked up like poor Aunt Anne. I would not spend my life counting fish forks. I would not be dominated by a man."

SOURCE: Given to me by a friend.

MY THOUGHTS: To say Shadows Of The Workhouse is all about the resilience of the human spirit is an understatement. A real tear jerker of a read, its definitely one of those books which should come with a box of tissues. And yet it isn't all doom, gloom and depression. Incredibly heartwarming, the authors compassion and personal knowledge of her patients genuinely moving.

Having watched and enjoyed every episode of Call The Midwife (the TV show based on the three books of which this is the second) its hard not compare the two but suffice to say that, as is usually the case, the book though it will undoubtedly be very familiar to television viewers is even better. The episodes that had me crying, gone into in much greater depth here, had me positively bawling. 

Split into three parts. The first (and somewhat disappointingly the only one actually set in the workhouse) featuring the story of three individuals (Jane and brother and sister, Peggy and Frank) who, now adults, were childhood residents of the workhouse. The second (at times quite tedious and frankfully an aspect of the book I personally could take or leave), the story of Sister Monica Joan, a somewhat, shall we say, feisty elderly nun whose 'past time' sees her in court. The last, about ex-military man Joseph, who despite his squalid living conditions considers himself fortunate.

A tremendous insight into the hardship, the poverty of the times, the truly awful conditions in which many found themselves living, of the medical practices of the time, made all the more tragic because this isn't a fictional account but a story of actual people, each of them known to the author who was a midwife/nurse caring for the population of 1950's London's East End tenement houses. 

* In a footnote the author explains that Nonnatus House is a pseudonym taken from St Raymund Nonnatus, the patron saint of midwives, obstertricians, pregnant women , childbirth and newborn babies. 


Literary Feline said...

I have wanted to read Call the Midwife for a while now. I didn't know there were three books. They sound so good! I haven't seen the television show, but it's one I've heard great things about.

Kelly said...

These types of books can be quite difficult (content-wise) to read, but are so often all that much more rewarding.

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

Oh I know the perfect person for this book. I'll have to tell him about the series as well. Bet he finds it online somewhere. :) Thanks for the recommendation!

Suko said...

Tracy, this sounds fascinating. I will try to read this within a reasonable amount of time (a year or so). Excellent review, Tracy! I'm glad you enjoyed this one.

Melliane said...

It's always interesting to have a story during another period like that.

Brian Joseph said...

This sounds really moving. I tend to fall for emotionally charged stories.

I know that Call of The Midwife is a very popular television series. I have never seen it but it seems that it was well worth watching.

Gina R said...

Oh wow...it does sound like it has the potential to break one down to tears. Thanks for the insight!

Claudine G. said...

Hey, I watched this drama, too! I love the way of speech, the dressing, the warmth, kindness and resilience of the women in that period. Nurse Lee and her colleagues are a fabulous bunch. (And I've always liked that the nurses hid in their rooms to share smokes and drinks. Probably so as not to make the sisters uncomfortable?)