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Call the midwife: A True Story Of the East End in the 1950s [Paperback]

Jennifer Worth
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (804 customer reviews)
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Product Description

Review

Re-released to tie in with a new BBC adaptation, you must read this superbly moving but also witty story. (CLOSER)

This is a funny, at times disturbing, memoir of a world that has now changed beyond measure. (HUDDERSFIELD DAILY EXAMINER)

A poignant, funny and enlightening book (Charlotte Vowden DAILY EXPRESS)

If you loved the TV adaptation, why not read the original books of Jennifer Worth's stories of being a midwife in London in the '50s? The characters you will meet, both colleagues and patients, stay with you for a long time (WOMAN)

Book Description

Tie-in edition of Jennifer Worth's tales of being a midwife in 1950s London, now a major BBC TV series.

From the Author

Comedy and tragedy are the faces of the double mask of the ‘Commedia dell’Arte’. This is the Theatre of Life where the writer must start. Writers with no experience of life have nothing to say. The writer must dwell in the thick of human life and get the hands dirty. Truth is always richer and stranger than fiction.
What is more central to life than birth? A midwife is always present, yet a midwife’s role has never before been documented. I was a district midwife fifty years ago, going around the slums of the London Docklands on a bicycle.
The docks were fully operational and employed most of the men. The bug- infested tenements (those that were still standing after the Blitz) housed tens of thousands of people, and overcrowding was chronic. There was no Pill, and families were large, sometimes huge. None of the flats or houses had a telephone. Few of them had running water or even a lavatory. Babies were born by gaslight, lamplight, or the meter ran out in the middle of labour.
The setting is rich material for the Commedia dell’Arte tradition. The fever-ridden slums of Naples or the dark, sinister canals of mediaeval Venice could not be more redolent of atmosphere for drama and melodrama. Yet time and place alone are of limited interest. There can be no comedy or tragedy without people.
The Cockneys are the people I write about. I knew and loved them. I entered their crowded homes at the most intimate times of life – the birth of new babies. I saw their strengths and weaknesses, their open-heartedness and narrow prejudices, their humour and courage, their irresistible passion for enjoyment.
The book is teeming with unforgettable characters: Conchita and Len who produced twenty-five babies between them, the last one born prematurely in a London smog; Brenda who had rickets; Lilly who had syphilis; Molly, beaten up and on the game a fortnight after delivery; a breach delivery on Christmas day; Margaret, who died of eclampsia; Mary, a fourteen year-old Irish girl dragged into the seamy brothels of Cable Street (I am told that the strip show in a brothel is amongst my most powerful writing!); Fred, the boiler man at the Convent; and Mrs. Jenkins, who had spent eighteen years in the workhouse. And how does a white man deal with his wife (also white) after the birth of a half-black baby? How would any man react today? There are three such stories in Call the Midwife. We are not talking about an IVF error. This is not racism. This is adultery. This is the Commedia dell’Arte.
I have mentioned a convent. I worked with an order of nuns, heroic nuns who had been nursing in the slums of London since the 1870s, when no-one would go into those areas, except the police. The nuns are central to the book. They are saintly and wise, worldly and witty, sometimes infuriating, often eccentric. Sister Monica Joan’s verbal battles with Sister Evangelina are among the funniest things in the book, I am told.
The book is social history in story form. It is not a dull chronicle of events. It is about the living, breathing, suffering, laughing people whose lives were shaped by the docklands in which they lived fifty years ago.
As we grow older the days of our youth are illuminated by a golden glow that seems to grow ever brighter as the years pass. My memories of midwifery in Poplar approach high romance: the great cargo boats coming and going ceaselessly, with thousands of men entering the dock gates, loading and unloading; the pilots guiding a great white vessel as big as an iceberg through a narrow canal to her resting wharf; the constant deep-throated growls of the ships’ funnels and the shrill of the sirens. I recall the open-hearted friendliness of the people who lived cheerfully in grim conditions, who never locked their doors and who kept open house to just about everyone. I remember cycling home in the grey light of dawn when the docks were beginning to stir, my body tired after eighteen hours work, but my mind alight with the thrill of having achieved the safe delivery of a beautiful baby to a joyous mother --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Jennifer Worth trained as a nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, and was later ward sister at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in London, then the Marie Curie Hospital, also in London. Music had always been her passion, and in 1973 she left nursing in order to study music intensively, teaching piano and singing for about twenty-five years. Jennifer died in May 2011 after a short illness, leaving her husband Philip, two daughters and three grandchildren. Her books have all been bestsellers.
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