Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse Info

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The sequel to Jennifer Worth's New York
Times
bestselling memoir and the basis for the PBS series Call
the Midwife

When twenty-two-year-old Jennifer Worth,
from a comfortable middle-class upbringing, went to work as a midwife
in the direst section of postwar London, she not only delivered hundreds
of babies and touched many lives, she also became the neighborhood's
most vivid chronicler. Woven into the ongoing tales of her life in the
East End are the true stories of the people Worth met who grew up in the
dreaded workhouse, a Dickensian institution that limped on into the
middle of the twentieth century.

Orphaned brother and sister Peggy
and Frank lived in the workhouse until Frank got free and returned to
rescue his sister. Bubbly Jane's spirit was broken by the cruelty of the
workhouse master until she found kindness and romance years later at
Nonnatus House. Mr. Collett, a Boer War veteran, lost his family in the
two world wars and died in the workhouse.

Though these are
stories of unimaginable hardship, what shines through each is the
resilience of the human spirit and the strength, courage, and humor of
people determined to build a future for themselves against the odds.
This is an enduring work of literary nonfiction, at once a warmhearted
coming-of-age story and a startling look at people's lives in the
poorest section of postwar London.


Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse:

4

Jul 30, 2008

This is a charming book. It is the memories of a woman who was a young midwife in the 50s in the post-war, poverty-stricken East End of London where little had moved on since Edwardian and even Victorian times. She worked and lived in a convent of nursing nuns and writes both of her patients in the community and their colourful, if difficult lives, and the nuns she lives with.

Generally speaking, memoirs of the religious life show nuns in a somewhat dour, if respectful, light. Jennifer Worth This is a charming book. It is the memories of a woman who was a young midwife in the 50s in the post-war, poverty-stricken East End of London where little had moved on since Edwardian and even Victorian times. She worked and lived in a convent of nursing nuns and writes both of her patients in the community and their colourful, if difficult lives, and the nuns she lives with.

Generally speaking, memoirs of the religious life show nuns in a somewhat dour, if respectful, light. Jennifer Worth rather humanises these good women with individual portraits - the most startling being the well-bred 90 year old nun hauled up in court for kleptomania. The stories of her patients, several of them told in detail, are affectionate, non-judgemental vignettes of those who survived harsh times conventionally and otherwise and whose hard-come-by happiness you will rejoice in as you read this book. ...more
5

Mar 14, 2015

I could kick myself for not having written a review for the first book in Worth’s trilogy (Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times), about her life as an East End London midwife in the 1950s. I guess I could technically write one now, but my memory is so shoddy, and I don’t even have my highlighted and flagged hard copy to reference. What I can tell you about the first book is that I bawled!

This book didn’t make me bawl, but it was an amazing sociological read, and the tears ran I could kick myself for not having written a review for the first book in Worth’s trilogy (Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times), about her life as an East End London midwife in the 1950s. I guess I could technically write one now, but my memory is so shoddy, and I don’t even have my highlighted and flagged hard copy to reference. What I can tell you about the first book is that I bawled!

This book didn’t make me bawl, but it was an amazing sociological read, and the tears ran freely. The night I finished it, wee into the morning hours, my stifled sobs startled my husband. He thought there’d been an emergency in his sleepy state. When he caught sight of my booklight and paperback, he sighed and said into his pillow, “Eve, I don’t know why you do this to yourself. Read something happy!”

This book is not depressing, but history is always filled with sad happenings including war, unfair treatment of the poor, women, children and infirm. This book centers on the workhouse, a Victorian solution to the poor and homeless situation that crept up soon after the Industrial Revolution.

“Victorian England was not the period of complacency and self-satisfaction that is so often portrayed in the media. It was also a time of growing awareness of the divide between the rich and the poor, and of a social conscience. Thousands of good and wealthy men and women…brought many evils to light and sought to remedy them.”

Although created with the best of intentions, the workhouses were soon managed by heartless, ruthless masters set on gaining a profit, and humiliating those seeking refuge. The rules regarding admittance and life inside made my blood run cold. Those children that survived and made it out never recovered from the effects thereafter.

I am a hardcore fan of the television series, but am never sure when the script writers take liberties. Upon completion of this book, I’ve realized that the series does include many of the anecdotes featured in the book, but many are embellished. You also miss out on the history of the times and regional customs by watching the show alone. So this was definitely a worthwhile read, especially if viewed as a companion to the series! Looking forward to the final book in the series. ...more
3

Jul 01, 2012

I thoroughly enjoyed "Call the Midwife" and started this follow up to it with great expectations. The problem was I'd also seen the BBC mini-series based on these books and found too much of the book familiar. But that's not the author's fault, except that her prose this time just didn't seem to grab me as it did in the first book. While I read her first book in a day or so, it took me weeks to get around to finishing this one.

And as another reviewer pointed out, this one just didn't feel as I thoroughly enjoyed "Call the Midwife" and started this follow up to it with great expectations. The problem was I'd also seen the BBC mini-series based on these books and found too much of the book familiar. But that's not the author's fault, except that her prose this time just didn't seem to grab me as it did in the first book. While I read her first book in a day or so, it took me weeks to get around to finishing this one.

And as another reviewer pointed out, this one just didn't feel as true as the former. In this volume, Worth tells us about a handful of people she came into contact with during her stint at Nonnatus Home. Ok, so far so good. But she then regales us with some very detailed scenes from some of these persons' childhoods and earlier lives. Did they really give her this much info during their conversations or did she elaborate on their tales? These parts just didn't ring as true to me as her earlier reminiscences when she wrote about events where she was present.

Having said this, I'm still looking forward to the third volume of memoirs, "Farewell to the East End". I browsed through it and it seems as she goes back to writing about what she witnesses herself. Can't wait to start it! ...more
5

Feb 03, 2017

Early last year (2016), I discovered the first book in 'The Midwife Trilogy' called 'The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times' written by Jennifer Worth. Now that I have finished listening to the audiobook of the second book in this trilogy, I very much regret that I did not take the time to write a review of the first book in the series. This trilogy, a memoir of sorts, describes Jennifer Worth's experiences as a midwife in London's East End in the 1950s. The first book in the series Early last year (2016), I discovered the first book in 'The Midwife Trilogy' called 'The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times' written by Jennifer Worth. Now that I have finished listening to the audiobook of the second book in this trilogy, I very much regret that I did not take the time to write a review of the first book in the series. This trilogy, a memoir of sorts, describes Jennifer Worth's experiences as a midwife in London's East End in the 1950s. The first book in the series introduces the reader to Jennifer Worth and describes how she came, at the age of 22, to join the convent of Saint John the Divine…. an order of Anglican nuns. Ms. Worth describes her life with the nuns at Nonnatus House with the humor, respect and admiration which she developed over the years. The nuns, who had taken a vow of poverty, were devoted to the suffering people of the East End.

Also in the first book, Ms Worth takes the reader with her on a bicycling tour (the nuns used bicycles to get around), witnessing what it was truly like to be a midwife in some of the most harrowing circumstances. Women gave birth in the most deplorable conditions in tenements which were overcrowded and filthy… some of which were the remainders of buildings which had actually suffered damage from German bombs during World War II. Ms Worth relates humorous tales and tales that will absolutely break your heart. I couldn't help but feel such sadness at the thought of each new child fighting his way into a life full of such squalor and desperation. It seems to me that with as difficult as life can be, at the very least, EVERY child should enter the world in much better circumstances.

In this,the second book of the trilogy, Jennifer Worth writes more specifically about a number of the people she met while attending to her duties as midwife. Not only are these stories a personal accounting of the grinding poverty and hardships experienced by the people, they are also a sociological commentary on what was a common practice in the time period at the beginning of the 20th century. She describes the development of workhouses, which to me, were nothing more than the sanctioned institutionalization of the poor.I suppose the intentions in developing the workhouses could have been good ones; but as with many ideas which are based on good intentions, the workhouses turned out to be a horrible, dehumanizing experience for those who were corralled inside of them… mothers, fathers and children… all housed separately so they could not even offer each other the smallest comfort. What began as theoretically a solution to the housing of the poor and homeless became places of imprisonment, overseen by often cruel 'masters'.

In 'Shadows of the Workhouse', Ms. Worth relates a number of heartbreaking stories of people she met who had been housed in these workhouses; and it was clear that if you had the misfortune of entering these institutions as a child, you would come out of the experience forever changed and sometimes irreparably broken. Ms. Worth writes…."For the working class, life was nasty, brutal and short. Hunger and hardships were expected. Men were old at forty. women worn out at thirty-five. The death of children were taken for granted. Poverty was frankly regarded as a moral defect……"

There were many moving stories in this book but the story Ms. Worth tells about Jane was particularly crushing for me. Ms. Worth came to know Jane as she performed domestic duties in Nonnatus House. Jane had grown up in the workhouse. Reportedly, she had been conceived as the result of an affair between her mother and a man of high social standing. It was hinted that Jane's father had been a member of Parliament. When the man's wife discovered the affair, Jane's mother who had been a domestic worker in the household was tossed into the street. Given that it was socially unacceptable for a young woman to be pregnant and unmarried, her family shunned her and she had no choice but enter the workhouse. She gave birth to her daughter, Jane, who was promptly sent to the women in the workhouse who cared for the children. Jane stood out from the beginning. She was mischievous and fiercely intelligent with a huge, bright spirit. As she grew, she heard the whisperings among the women that her father was a 'very important person'. As children often do.. especially lonely ones… she created with her vivid imagination a story that her stay at the workhouse would soon be coming to an end. She was sure her father would show up to take her away. Jane began sharing her fantasy with other girls at the workhouse. after all, it was just too wonderful to keep to herself… and each time, the story made its way back to the master who took her to be disciplined for lying. This discipline was a beating and each time it happened, the beatings became more vicious. Eventually, the brutal and malicious master beat Jane until she lost consciousness… and consequently, he finally got exactly what he had been wanting.He wanted to break the spirit of this bright, intelligent and lively girl whose only crime was wanting a father and a family who would love her.

When Jennifer Worth met Jane many years after her workhouse experience, she could not reconcile the story of that lively child with the woman she saw before her. The Jane that Jennifer Worth met never spoke above a whisper and moved about as if she were expecting someone to strike her. She seemed to live in a perpetual state of anxiety and she was consumed by her need to be approved of by the sisters of Nonnatus House. In the end, Jane's story DID have a happy ending. One of the nuns engaged in a bit of matchmaking and Jane married a kind man… a reverend.. who performed missionary work in Africa. Jane finally belonged to someone.. and he belonged to her.

There are many stories similar to Jane's story in the second book of this trilogy. There were stories that horrified me and angered me… stories that made me cry and stories that made me grateful that despite the pervasive cynicism I feel toward the world and the people in it, that there are kind, compassionate and non-judgmental souls who make their life's work about caring for the poor and the sick and the people whom the rest of the world has cast aside.

I highly recommend this series. And I look forward to book #3. ...more
4

Aug 08, 2013

I included this book on my British Charm shelf, even though some of the stories were not charming at all -- they were gut-wrenching.

Jennifer Worth was a midwife in London's East End in the 1950s. This is the second book in her "Call the Midwife" series, and while the first one focused on stories of pregnant mothers, this one had hardly any childbirth scenes and instead revolved around the memories of those who spent time or grew up in the workhouses.

I had heard of London's workhouses, but had I included this book on my British Charm shelf, even though some of the stories were not charming at all -- they were gut-wrenching.

Jennifer Worth was a midwife in London's East End in the 1950s. This is the second book in her "Call the Midwife" series, and while the first one focused on stories of pregnant mothers, this one had hardly any childbirth scenes and instead revolved around the memories of those who spent time or grew up in the workhouses.

I had heard of London's workhouses, but had never read anything about them. All of the workhouse stories in this book were horrible: families were torn apart, children were beaten senseless for misbehaving, there were miserable living conditions and back-breaking, thankless jobs to do every hour of the day. It makes one shudder to think of it.

This is a good passage from the epilogue:

"In 1930 the workhouses were closed by Act of Parliament -- officially, that is. But in practice it was impossible to close them. They housed thousands of people who had nowhere else to live. Such people could not be turned out into the streets. Apart from that, many of them had been in the workhouses for so long, subject to the discipline and routine, that they were completely institutionalized, and could not have adjusted to the outside world...

We who live comfortable, affluent lives in the twenty-first century cannot begin to imagine what it must have been like to be a pauper in a workhouse. We cannot picture relentless cold with little heating, no adequate clothing or warm bedding, and insufficient food. We cannot imagine our children being taken away from us because we are too poor to feed them, nor our liberty being curtailed for the simple crime of being poor...

But before we condemn the workhouses as an example of 19th-century exploitation and hypocrisy we must remember that the mores of the time were completely different from the standards of today. For the working class, life was nasty, brutish and short. Hunger and hardship were expected. Men were old at forty, women worn out at thirty-five. The death of children was taken for granted. Poverty was frankly regarded as a moral defect. Social Darwinism (the strong adapt and survive, the weak are crushed) was borrowed and distorted from the Origin of Species (1858) and applied to human organisation. These were the standards of society, accepted by rich and poor alike, and the workhouses merely reflected this."

Fortunately, not all of the book was grim. There were some entertaining stories, such as the time Sister Monica Joan was prosecuted for shoplifting, or when an anxious, mousy young woman named Jane fell in love with a nice reverend. There were also good stories about British army life in the early 1900s.

As upsetting as some of the workhouse stories were, overall this is a very good book, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in social history. ...more
4

Feb 24, 2014

Spoilers

This wasn't quite good as Call the Midwife… I still really liked it but it was missing some of the charm and honesty of the first book. The last section (Mr Collett's) though was absolutely wonderful in a deeply depressing sort of way.

-The first book read more like a memoir whereas this one at times read like a fiction book, especially Jane/Frank/Peggy's part. Even though their story was true, I wasn't convinced by Jenny writing from their perspective as if she herself had lived through Spoilers

This wasn't quite good as Call the Midwife… I still really liked it but it was missing some of the charm and honesty of the first book. The last section (Mr Collett's) though was absolutely wonderful in a deeply depressing sort of way.

-The first book read more like a memoir whereas this one at times read like a fiction book, especially Jane/Frank/Peggy's part. Even though their story was true, I wasn't convinced by Jenny writing from their perspective as if she herself had lived through their experiences, it made everything come across as false and exaggerated. I mean, how did Jenny know exactly what Jane was doing/feeling/thinking as a child? How did she know the things that young Jane did? I doubt meek Jane confided in her about things she thought were humiliating and best forgotten. And how did she know about Frank and Peggy's private relationship? I find it highly unlikely that they explained their incestuous relationship in detail to someone they just worked with. Sure, older Jane/Peggy/Frank probably mentioned things in passing about their adult life and childhood in the workhouse but they wouldn't have shared anything deep or meaningful with her. The stuff Jenny wrote was obviously her own take on Jane and co, and because of that it didn't feel like a wholly truthful account.
Jane/Peggy/Frank's story was still interesting and emotional to read but I would have appreciated it more if Jenny stuck with the things she knew for sure instead of filling in the large gaps with her own idea on other people's personal lives/stories.

-There was less focus on patients and midwifery in general in this one. There was just a throwaway sentence here and there about Jenny's midwife duties and that was it. I missed reading about the various cases and people she came across, there just wasn't enough of Jenny being a midwife and interacting with patients. I did enjoy the last third of the book though as it centered on her nursing an elderly patient.

The stories:

-The first section was about the workhouses and the children who were forced to live there. It was awful reading about how the workhouse kids were treated, how their spirits were broken, and how most people believed they deserved to be treated like utter rubbish even though they couldn't help the circumstances they were born in. It was kind of terrifying that such atrocities only occurred in very recent history.

-Reading about young Jane was annoying at first, her stubborn and over the top attitude grated on me and her hero worshipping of her imaginary daddy was just pathetic… I didn't connect with her and I didn't think I'd ever feel sympathy for her situation because she was just that irritating… But I eventually ended up really feeling for her… Especially when she was brutally punished by the workhouse masters for something and nothing and it changed her from a loud, bright, confident girl to a meek, submissive, scared girl. The change in her was staggering and depressing but it was inevitable after the appalling way she was beaten and tortured. I was glad she got a happy ending of sorts.

-Frank and Peggy's relationship was engrossing to read about. They were siblings and also lovers, they didn't read as creepy or perverted though as their love came across as rather pure and beautiful. It wasn't a surprise they ended up being lovers, they didn't grow up together but since they only had each other and had no other love in their life the natural thing for them was to get together, it was the only thing that kept them going day to day. So yea, I was rooting for them to be happy, they should have been allowed that bit of peace. I was pissed that they had such a sad and somewhat bittersweet end.

-I wasn't all that impressed with Sister Monica Joan's story. I didn't find her all that intriguing, although her court case was pretty great. I loved the cockney witness and the confused judge, their exchange was hilarious. The surprise witness at the end was good too.

-Mr Collett's story was the most heartbreaking and moving, I couldn't stop thinking about it afterwards. He had such a hard life filled with so much tragedy, he was all alone and had no friends or family left.
Jenny was wonderful to visit him and strike up a friendship, but even that at the end wasn't enough when he was forced to move from his home to live in a miserable old people institution. He could have had a comfortable and peaceful death in his own home, instead he had nothing but misery… After everything he went through, the loss of his family, and his years of loneliness he deserved so much more. It was such a painful story.

-On a different note, the Cockney rhyming slang was brilliant and genius.

Favourite quote:

"Bah! Suffragettes. I've no time for suffragettes. They made the biggest mistake in history. They went for equality. They Should have gone for power!"
...more
5

Dec 22, 2012

A deeply eye-opening and very emotionally moving book.

Laid out in three parts, this volume essentially contains six true stories: Jane’s life at Nonnatus Convent; the upbringing in the workhouse of Jane, Frank and Peggy; the deaths of Frank and Peggy; the marriage of the Revd. Mr Applebee-Thornton; the court trial of Sister Monica Joan; and the life and death of the old soldier, Mr Joseph Collett. The third, fifth, and sixth of those are covered in the first series (2012) of the BBC television A deeply eye-opening and very emotionally moving book.

Laid out in three parts, this volume essentially contains six true stories: Jane’s life at Nonnatus Convent; the upbringing in the workhouse of Jane, Frank and Peggy; the deaths of Frank and Peggy; the marriage of the Revd. Mr Applebee-Thornton; the court trial of Sister Monica Joan; and the life and death of the old soldier, Mr Joseph Collett. The third, fifth, and sixth of those are covered in the first series (2012) of the BBC television series ‘Call The Midwife’.

I began this book by reading the critics praise of the author, Jennifer Worth. By the last page I found myself strongly empathising with Matthew Parris, who wrote in the Spectator (London) “Worth’s book made me cry in a railway carriage”. On the other hand I reserve uncomprehending bewildement for the unnamed reviewer who supercilliously wrote in Sainsbury’s Magazine (a UK supermarket publication) ”This delightful memoir brings to vivid life London’s East End … full of humour … Worth’s talent shines from every page".

Full of humour?

I decided to charitably assume that the editor of the supermarket magazine had perhaps only watched the first BBCTV series, and most likely hadn’t read this book. For on the whole, the written word here conveys the truth of very gritty, brutal, emotionally-deprived, and punishingly hard lives. Often short lives, too. The horror of extreme cruelty to children, together with the long-term emotional damage sustained, receives neither dumbing-down nor brushing over.
As such, this book might usefully be required educational reading for every budding social worker, nurse, and care worker.

Don’t let me put you off. This is a poignant and heart-wrenching memoir of frighteningly rapid social change (c.1880 onwards, and through two World Wars) written not only from both first and second-hand experience, but also from background material honestly and assiduously researched. A valuable ‘Further Reading’ list is given on the last page.

Despite everything, hope periodically shines through; both man and woman struggle (largely through maintaing their pride) to somehow make the best of the lot that birth has cast to them. Jennifer Worth rightly does not judge them; she achieves so very much more in her deft and honest telling of their, and her, experiences. In our present age, thanks to the National Heath Service (established 1948) and a comparatively extremely generous State Benefits system (largely set up between 1942 – 1948 and now expanding rapidly and unsustainably), such an absolute depth of brutal poverty as described by Jennifer Worth has thankfully become unknown.

A year ago I watched the first television series (BBC, January 2012) of “Call The Midwife.” I was pleased to see an extra programme advertised for broadcast on Christmas Day (2012); which I have recorded, but have not yet watched. Yesterday my attention was drawn to a notice that the BBC will broadcast a second series in January 2013. However, having now read “Shadows of the Workhouse”, I feel that I have gained a deeper and richer appreciation from the written word, rather than from the visual production. Does one medium merely augment the other, or is the imagination owned by any one individual stronger than a filtered image presented on film only? Whatever the answer is to that one, the fictional “Downton Abbey.” with plot-lines that grow ever more improbable, and ever more socially inaccurate; now becomes positively painful to watch in the light of the realities conveyed by Jennifer Worth.
...more
5

Jun 21, 2013

Television dramas cannot compare with the suffering and terrible grief occurring in the East End of London for close to two hundred years. Programs like Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge disguise but only allude to real conditions of ordinary working class people. Ms. Worth tells the actual story of East London Cockneys: horrific, dark, sadistic workhouses where the poor were imprisoned and made to do forced labor, not to mention the all-consuming later grief of survivors from WWII Nazi bombing.

Television dramas cannot compare with the suffering and terrible grief occurring in the East End of London for close to two hundred years. Programs like Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge disguise but only allude to real conditions of ordinary working class people. Ms. Worth tells the actual story of East London Cockneys: horrific, dark, sadistic workhouses where the poor were imprisoned and made to do forced labor, not to mention the all-consuming later grief of survivors from WWII Nazi bombing.

These, along with grinding poverty and government neglect, created an ongoing accumulation of woe. While the original 1815 Poor Law was outlawed in the 1930s, workhouses continued, simply being renamed (not rebuilt) for respectability according to the author. They called them "homes" and warehoused large numbers of the poor: lonely, old and disabled people, well into the end of the 20th century. Many were the last member of their families after military and homeland sacrifices made in two world wars.

Her memoir, a personal history of workhouse Docklands London is relevant today, an American legacy currently unacknowledged, and inspires this question: are we now turning back the clock to conditions similarly productive as our economic situation deteriorates? She describes what happened to local housing before and after WWII saturation bombing (the worst in the country) of the Docklands, then goes on to say 1970s housing redevelopment actually was harder on the local people. It was more inhuman, arrogant and criminal in its implementation; people were relocated and divided from their healthcare, governance, communities, friends, and places they'd known and loved. Cockney culture was wiped out. People died because of the way they were treated. Considering British class discrimination, this is unsurprising but painful, emotionally excruciating and deeply disgusting.

How many Americans today are experiencing similar economic pain due to our housing crash and recession? Our middle class is deteriorating as Americans experience downward mobility. Many are being forced from their homes and losing communities they love to financial bureaucratic maneuvering, unable to find work, becoming impoverished and worse, physically disabled, as they grow older. Thousands in our cities cannot find adequate housing. (For example: there are 25,000 names on San Francisco's waiting list for public housing.) The numbers are legion as our society increasingly becomes fractured and stratified. Are we becoming a country of wealthy elite special interests and ignorant disenfranchised poor like those our ancestors left behind?
Jennifer Worth ...more
2

Feb 09, 2016

This book is unfortunately problematic. I read Worth's first memoir several years ago and I enjoyed it far more, and the reason is simple: while in Call the Midwife you largely follow her personal experiences, here you rarely focus on Worth herself. It is split into three sections, each focusing on a different person (or group of people) that she knew.

As much as I believe her general representation of the era, I admit that her writing style here made me raise a cynical eyebrow far too often for This book is unfortunately problematic. I read Worth's first memoir several years ago and I enjoyed it far more, and the reason is simple: while in Call the Midwife you largely follow her personal experiences, here you rarely focus on Worth herself. It is split into three sections, each focusing on a different person (or group of people) that she knew.

As much as I believe her general representation of the era, I admit that her writing style here made me raise a cynical eyebrow far too often for me to rate the book higher. Why? Well, because there are too many occasions where she recounts actual conversations that we know she did not witness and it is highly improbable she would have ever heard about in such detail. This is particularly prevalent in section one where she quotes employees at the workhouses talking to one another. These are exchanges that even the people the conversations concerned weren't involved in. Of course memoirs are always going to be subjective, but it made me question the truthfulness of what I was reading- how much of it was truth and how much was her filling in the blanks with how she imagined it could have gone? She fares somewhat better in sections two and three where either she was involved (section two) or explains when the story was told to her (section three).

Ultimately, while I continue to find her life interesting, I prefer it when she sticks to just that- her life, because the first section severely damaged my trust in her as a storyteller. ...more
5

Nov 29, 2012

Jennifer Worth worked as a midwife and nurse with an order of nuns in the 1950s. I loved her previous book, The Midwife. In this book, she revisits the setting and many of the same people. It is not all about the workhouse, as I expected from the title, but about the times and culture in which the workhouse existed up into the 1950s. It tells the stories of several people whom the author met while doing her work: Three people who spent their childhoods in the workhouse and were close to each Jennifer Worth worked as a midwife and nurse with an order of nuns in the 1950s. I loved her previous book, The Midwife. In this book, she revisits the setting and many of the same people. It is not all about the workhouse, as I expected from the title, but about the times and culture in which the workhouse existed up into the 1950s. It tells the stories of several people whom the author met while doing her work: Three people who spent their childhoods in the workhouse and were close to each other as adults; 90-year-old Sister Monica Jean, who seems to have a shoplifting habit; and a lonely elderly man who tells her his life history. Although much of the subject matter is grim and sad, the book is cheerful, colorful, and in some places hilarious--as when the author recreates and explains Cockney dialect. These individual histories illuminate the broader history, not (as we more often read) from the viewpoints of the powerful, but from the powerless--the poor, women, children, and cannon-fodder soldiers. Worth is a wonderful writer, and I can't praise this book too highly. ...more
5

Jan 20, 2014

This sequel to Call The Midwife was just as fascinating and touching as the 1st book.
I highly recommend these books to all history lovers.
4

Jun 23, 2010

I love this author - she writes so redemptively. The author chronicles a lot of sadness of the poor in this book and it will take a few days for some of it to sink in, and parts of the book really affected me emotionally.

Interestingly my own mother-in-law, who died in 1997 aged 82, was petrified of going into hospital because she associated with the Workhouse. Eventually she did go into hospital, but she was so terrified and distraught - even though the hospital was very nice - that in the end I love this author - she writes so redemptively. The author chronicles a lot of sadness of the poor in this book and it will take a few days for some of it to sink in, and parts of the book really affected me emotionally.

Interestingly my own mother-in-law, who died in 1997 aged 82, was petrified of going into hospital because she associated with the Workhouse. Eventually she did go into hospital, but she was so terrified and distraught - even though the hospital was very nice - that in the end we had to arrange for her to come and spend her last days in our home with nurses coming in several times a day, and only then did she calm down.

I liked the way the author gives a balanced presentation about workhouses - that the theory behind them was good, and that in some ways this system under good Masters did serve a social purpose, and I liked the ending of the book which recorded how one woman said the workhouse had been her life-line.

The book is informative and well researched and I learnt a lot about many aspects of life for the poor. I also learnt possibly why my own father has all his life said many words backwards - a strange habit I never understood, but one which has rubbed off on me - and it is to do with coster language which he maybe picked up from the backstreets in Birmingham where he grew up where either there were Cockney costers, or coster language was similar in other large cities also.

I loved the feisty Anglican Nuns - serving the poor community, seeing life in all its harsh crude reality, with wisdom and selfless devotion to their calling to bring some degree of social justice for women in the Docklands of London.

I love the way Jennifer cherishes and sees value in the poor people she worked amongst, and in particularly Jennifer's compassion for Joe Collett - a veteran Boer soldier - and I am still trying to comprehend the pain he suffered. I was shocked to learn that hundreds of thousands of Boer women and children were killed at the end of that war as a "solution".

My only criticism of the book would be that parts of it had a little bit too much detail, but then when I write myself I include lots of detail so I can understand the pleasure in recording minute details.

I am now looking forward to reading the last in Jennifer Worth's trilogy "Farewell to the East End" to complete the set.

Interesting Radio interview with the author
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/womanshou... ...more
4

Jun 17, 2019

A fascinating in depth look at the poor during the early part of 1900s England. As a history nerd it’s interesting to see how people lived how war changed lives and a closer look at how people lived. This book was a bit slower than the first because it focused on fewer people but followed the PBS series well.
4

Aug 19, 2018

Continuing the popular “Call the midwife” trilogy, this second book contains many more stories of hardship, resilience, heartbreak, strength and courage featuring memorable characters from Poplar tenements (in London) in the ‘50s.

I loved the use of humor to lighten the tone of otherwise depressing stories, the chatter of the housewives and wordplay of street peddlers, the banter of the young nurses and the grace of the nuns was charming. I am glad that I had the audio version too, because some Continuing the popular “Call the midwife” trilogy, this second book contains many more stories of hardship, resilience, heartbreak, strength and courage featuring memorable characters from Poplar tenements (in London) in the ‘50s.

I loved the use of humor to lighten the tone of otherwise depressing stories, the chatter of the housewives and wordplay of street peddlers, the banter of the young nurses and the grace of the nuns was charming. I am glad that I had the audio version too, because some of the language would have been impossible for me to comprehend.

I did notice however that the audiobook version differs from the printed one, for example the story of an old Boer War veteran, (view spoiler)[in the audio version one of the twin sons is court martialed and executed, while in the printed version one twin dies and the other is missing presumed dead. I wonder why there are two different versions; it is possible that the author included a deserter’s execution to make the story more poignant? (hide spoiler)] this discrepancy makes me question the authenticity of the story, is this a fact or fiction?
Despite my doubts, I enjoyed this second book as much as the first one and I will certainly finish the series.

Fav. quotes:

For the working class, life was nasty, brutish and short. Hunger and hardship were expected. Men were old at forty, women worn out at thirty-five. The death of children was taken for granted.

“Were you a suffragette?” I asked. “Bah! Suffragettes. I’ve no time for suffragettes. They made the biggest mistake in history. They went for equality. They should have gone for power!”

Nothing binds people more strongly than the same sense of humour, and the ability to laugh together.
...more
2

May 27, 2012

This is the weakest of the three books written by Jennifer Worth about her experiences in the East End. I read the other two first. The stories she tells are interesting and sobering in light of the cruel and ignorant statements I see today about those who, for a variety of reasons, cannot make the transition to the economy of the 21st century. The harshness of the work house seems only a step away today. I think we are still dealing with the dislocation of lifestyle and vocation that began in This is the weakest of the three books written by Jennifer Worth about her experiences in the East End. I read the other two first. The stories she tells are interesting and sobering in light of the cruel and ignorant statements I see today about those who, for a variety of reasons, cannot make the transition to the economy of the 21st century. The harshness of the work house seems only a step away today. I think we are still dealing with the dislocation of lifestyle and vocation that began in the late 1700s when factories, assembly line work, mining, etc., pushed humans away from a rural, non-monetized world. Worth shows us how the best of intentions in dealing with the unlucky and incapable human byproducts can lead to terrible cruelty. I think this book did get me thinking more than the other two but it seemed like a cobbled together effort. ...more
3

May 15, 2013

Not quite as gripping as the first book in the series, but still an excellent read.

The first section, dealing most specifically with the children of the workhouse, was horrifying and heartbreaking to read. Unfortunately, the very style that Worth employs to make it more real and personal - telling the stories from the children's perspective - also works against her in making it seem more like fiction. That's the difficulty, I think, in trying to include other people's lives in a memoir. I did Not quite as gripping as the first book in the series, but still an excellent read.

The first section, dealing most specifically with the children of the workhouse, was horrifying and heartbreaking to read. Unfortunately, the very style that Worth employs to make it more real and personal - telling the stories from the children's perspective - also works against her in making it seem more like fiction. That's the difficulty, I think, in trying to include other people's lives in a memoir. I did enjoy her account of Sister Julienne's matchmaking instinct, and Jane's makeover!

The second section focuses on Sister Monica Joan. That was very well-written and much more immediate, dealing as it did with events that happened to and around Worth herself. It was also the part that was the least gripping for me - simply because I find the character of Sister Monica Joan far less interesting than any of the other nuns.

The third part deals with Worth's granddaughterly relationship with Joe Collett, and that was the best of the entire book - one of the finest pieces of writing I've read in a long time. I stayed up far too late past my bedtime to finish it! The kind-hearted, courageous man was obviously an enormous influence on Worth, and I so enjoyed reading her memories of him, the stories he shared, and watching their friendship grow.

I can't wait for my library to get the third volume in! ...more
5

Jun 19, 2014

Jennifer Worth is a first rate story teller. Her memoirs of living and working as a nurse and midwife in the East of London in the 1950's are some of the best books I've read in a long time. These stories are poignant and will bring a tear to your eyes. She tells of the conditions of the poor with straightforward honesty and pulls no punches.

Even though the "work houses" were officially abolished in 1930, they remained in actual practice long after that time, and they functioned under different Jennifer Worth is a first rate story teller. Her memoirs of living and working as a nurse and midwife in the East of London in the 1950's are some of the best books I've read in a long time. These stories are poignant and will bring a tear to your eyes. She tells of the conditions of the poor with straightforward honesty and pulls no punches.

Even though the "work houses" were officially abolished in 1930, they remained in actual practice long after that time, and they functioned under different names. Even though conditions inside the "work houses" did improve, the reputation of the work house cast a long shadow, and fear of ending up in the work house was prevalent well into the 1980's. It is hard for those of us living in the 21st century to believe that human beings were kept in such brutal conditions just for the "crime" of being poor. ...more
5

Jan 02, 2017

Finished this book an hour ago. It was hard to read but don't be misled by that comment. I was gripped from start to finish bu as many other readers have commented, I found myself in tears time and again. It is different in content to 'Call the Midwife' but equally absorbing. Anyone having their children way back in the fifties in other areas of this country must never have realised how horrific the conditions were where Jennifer Worth practised her profession. Truly wonderful and heartbreaking Finished this book an hour ago. It was hard to read but don't be misled by that comment. I was gripped from start to finish bu as many other readers have commented, I found myself in tears time and again. It is different in content to 'Call the Midwife' but equally absorbing. Anyone having their children way back in the fifties in other areas of this country must never have realised how horrific the conditions were where Jennifer Worth practised her profession. Truly wonderful and heartbreaking to read and highly recommended. ...more
3

May 21, 2012

3.5 I didn't like this one quite a much as her first but it was still informative and well written. It actually covered quite a bit, the history of the work houses, the convent of nursing sisters and even parts of the World War II. The parts with the children in the workhouses was heartbreaking, those poor children, but the parts with the sisters was more lighthearted. A matchmaking mother superior and a nun I won't soon forget, Sister Monica Jean. All in all a very good read.
4

Dec 01, 2017

Really liked this book as it goes into more detail on things that happen in the BBC series which is my TV show of all time. Do have to agree with some of the others in that it wasn't as good as her first in this series.
5

Aug 02, 2015

Yet another gorgeously written and utterly captivating book in the “Call the Midwife” series. The characters are truly memorable. Once again, I experienced an entire gamut of emotions – sobbing in some parts and laughing in others.
4

Oct 17, 2015

I seriously love curling up with the stories of the midwives. This particular book was difficult to read though with the descriptions of workhouse conditions. It's hard to believe that these places existed. The book was sprinkled with fun stories throughout as well to combat the sad ones.
5

Sep 01, 2013


After devouring, within 2 days, and very much enjoying the first book in this trilogy entitled Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times, which is presented in a more traditional memoir format, I'm sorry have to admit that I’m ever so slightly irritated with the second book.
Whereas the first book was more expressive of Mrs. Worth’s own personal experiences as both a nurse and midwife and spoke of several of her patients, the second book in the series is more of a social
After devouring, within 2 days, and very much enjoying the first book in this trilogy entitled Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times, which is presented in a more traditional memoir format, I'm sorry have to admit that I’m ever so slightly irritated with the second book.
Whereas the first book was more expressive of Mrs. Worth’s own personal experiences as both a nurse and midwife and spoke of several of her patients, the second book in the series is more of a social commentary, accompanied by second hand stories as well as the author’s own experiences. While I can & did appreciate the social commentary, what I found just a tiny bit irritating was that Mrs. Worth chose to include speculative dialogue in her second book; for she could not have possibly known the thoughts of several of the characters nor been privy to certain conversations such as the ones she writes of having taken place between such persons as Sir Ian and his wife or the workhouse Master & Mistress. However, in continuing to thoroughly enjoy the read, I soon forgave her this.

Mixed genres & speculations aside, I must say, this was an interesting & compelling, if sometimes terribly brutal read. However, as life itself is a mixture of loveliness & brutality, her accounts (a good 98% true overall, I’d say) make her literary works all the more profound. Mrs. Worth succeeds quite well in explaining the reasons behind the emergence of the dreaded workhouses and how, although established through good intentions, they failed abysmally. Most successfully conveyed, with heart-wrenching detail (even if some is speculative) is the way the author brings to life for the reader, how a life of constantly inflicted degradation within the walls of these sorely misguided institutions resulted in the devastating physical, emotional & spiritual crippling of many of societies poorest of the poor.

Mrs. Worth was quite obviously a kind, thoughtful, intelligent & erudite woman with a true gift for writing. Her brilliance shines through in her beautifully poignant (she had me in tears many times), hard hitting (she truly causes a person to engage their brain) & cleverly witty (I woke my husband more than once at night with a burst of laughter) descriptive style. I highly admire her knowledge & obvious appreciation of the many variations, and constant evolution of, the English language. I thoroughly enjoyed reading of her experiences and seeing how she blossomed beautifully from the vain naivety of youth, into a kinder, more thoughtful, and ultimately insightful adult. The world has lost a great asset with the passing of Mrs. Worth.
...more
5

Jul 23, 2013

I loved this memoir just as much as the first installment if not more. I originally picked up the books because I really like the television show based on them, but I confess the books are as always so much better. Ms. Worth's wry sense of humor and sassy quips don't come through in the Jenny Lee character on screen, but they simply make this memoir. This book also contains searing political commentary, accurate historical information, the joys and terror of birth and families, and the best and I loved this memoir just as much as the first installment if not more. I originally picked up the books because I really like the television show based on them, but I confess the books are as always so much better. Ms. Worth's wry sense of humor and sassy quips don't come through in the Jenny Lee character on screen, but they simply make this memoir. This book also contains searing political commentary, accurate historical information, the joys and terror of birth and families, and the best and worst of humanity. But the best part is that I don't feel like I'm reading nonfiction, or even a memoir. This book makes me feel alive and happy to be that way, and it makes me reflect more on life than any other book I've read this year. Ms. Worth's writings are simply a treasure. I even wrote down notes while I was reading! There is so much wit, wisdom, and heart in this book that I'm sure I will be rereading in the future. I would also like to mention that Ms. Worth is a very fair recorder of history. She encourages readers not to put aside the idea of the workhouse as some terrible and inhumane idea of an age long ago, but instead reminds us that it did the system was put in place with the best of intentions and we would do well to remember that so such things won't happen again. She also does an excellent job (from a Sociology major's point of view) of showing the pros and cons of urban renewal and its effects on communities. ...more
5

Feb 03, 2019

There is pretty much nothing about delivering babies in this second Call the Midwife book! It's a series of stories, first about a related set of characters all linked to the workhouse. Then we get into the wonderful story about Sister Monica Joan (deservedly a favorite character in the TV series, and even better on the page) and then about an old soldier Jennifer Worth befriended after meeting him through her district nursing duties.

Others have noticed that the tales of people Worth couldn't There is pretty much nothing about delivering babies in this second Call the Midwife book! It's a series of stories, first about a related set of characters all linked to the workhouse. Then we get into the wonderful story about Sister Monica Joan (deservedly a favorite character in the TV series, and even better on the page) and then about an old soldier Jennifer Worth befriended after meeting him through her district nursing duties.

Others have noticed that the tales of people Worth couldn't possibly have known when they were young have been rather heavily embroidered, and I think we stray more into fiction than memoir at various points. But that doesn't make the stories any less entertaining, indeed compelling, and this book gets five stars simply for being a goldmine of great stories centered around the East End, complete with vivid renderings of dialect and slang.

I always think when watching the TV series that the show runners go out of their way to build tear-jerking stories, but Worth totally sets that tone in her books. She is a master of pathos, mixed in with humor and a heavy dose of gritty reality, usually in the form of bodily fluids or something that will make you itch. The TV series has just translated that tone onto the screen rather well, and I always keep a tissue handy when watching. ...more

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