Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse
Author: Jennifer Worth
Published: June 30, 2008
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
In this follow up to CALL THE MIDWIFE, Jennifer Worth, a midwife working in the docklands area of East London in the 1950s tells more stories about the people she encountered.
There’s Jane, who cleaned and generally helped out at Nonnatus House – she was taken to the workhouse as a baby and was allegedly the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat. Peggy and Frank’s parents both died within 6 months of each other and the children were left destitute. At the time, there was no other option for them but the workhouse. The Reverend Thornton-Appleby-Thorton, a missionary in Africa, visits the Nonnatus nuns and Sister Julienne acts as matchmaker. And Sister Monica Joan, the eccentric ninety-year-old nun, is accused of shoplifting some small items from the local market. She is let off with a warning, but then Jennifer finds stolen jewels from Hatton Garden in the nun’s room.
These stories give a fascinating insight into the resilience and spirit that enabled ordinary people to overcome their difficulties.
Jennifer Worth is so good at portraying history in a way that helps you visualize it all happening. As a historian, there are some problems I have with her revelations . . . it’s hard to write about what another person is thinking when you weren’t there, but her storytelling methods are sound and effective.
This book focused more on the district nurses’ side of things in the East End of London. Learning about individuals who actually lived in the workhouses was fascinating. I am so jealous that she got to talk and interact with these people; I would give my right arm to have been able to meet them!
The long-term effect that the workhouses had on society astounded me. Older people refused to go to hospitals simply because those buildings used to be workhouses, all nearly thirty years since the workhouses closed! And my favorite figure in this collection of stories is old Mr. Collett. He was a war hero and a sweet, lonely old gentleman. The relationship that Jenny develops with him is heartwarming and informative and I found myself in tears when she wrote of his death. I absolutely recommend this as an educational tool in high school classrooms and to anyone who is interested in honest history.