As I mentioned in last week’s life lately post, I’ve been reading [listening to] Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, a memoir by Jennifer Worth. As the first in a series of memoirs, Worth chronicles her time as a midwife in London’s East End in the 1950s. She describes her time living in a convent, known as Nonnatus House, and tells tales of her many birthing experiences as a midwife.
Within Worth’s memoirs she notes the trying times for women pre-birth control, not only were most families poverty-stricken, but they would be poverty-stricken with 15 kids. In one tale she notes a mother who has her 25th child and can’t exactly say when her last menstrual cycle was. Another interesting tale is that of a young women (14/15) who has escaped her life in Ireland, is tricked into prostitution, becomes pregnant, and finds solace in Worth’s character, Jenny Lee. This particular tale does not end well, but I won’t spoil the ending. There are also funny stories, like when she first arrives to Nonnatus house she is offered a piece of cake, which turns into a whole cake, by Sister Monica Joan. Come to find out, when the other nuns arrive home after a long day of delivering babies, they had been saving this cake for their evening supper.
My curiosity about the show peaked pretty quickly when I was half way through the book. I immediately found the first two seasons on Netflix (the show is in its third season currently). My patience couldn’t wait until the completion of the book so I started right in. Each episode is about 40 minutes and receives about 50% of its material from the memoirs, the other 50% they do a nice job of historically depicting what was likely to have happened at the time.
A few days ago I was asked the classic “which is better” question and to be honest I had a difficult time answering. I can say I truly appreciate that the BBC adaptation doesn’t try to follow along to with the book exactly as written. The show appropriately adds its own spin to tales, clarifies where clarification was needed, and even adds a comic relief where one is necessary. In fact, a particular character I didn’t really understand from the memoir was one named “Chummy” who is described in the book is somewhat frumpy and possible blind to the truth. However, what BBC did for Chummy’s character was brilliant; she’s frumpy, but she’s smart, kind, and hilarious in her own right. In the novel she appeared irrelevant, in the show she appeared powerfully necessary to the story.
At the end of her memoir, Jennifer describes the progression she’s made in her overall spiritual journey from the time she entered Nonnatus House as a midwife with agnostic views, to delivering dozens of children – all from different walks of life, to experiencing life with the nuns. She shares that within time her generally agnostic views turn instead to a deep faith and belief in a higher power. It was quite an intimate read learning of how someone came upon their spiritual realization.
Overall I enjoyed Call the Midwife and will be reading Jennifer Worth’s following memoirs: Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End. Please kindly note that Worth passed away in summer of 2011. These memoirs will be the only opportunity for you to read of her trial and tribulations as an East End Midwife.
Have you been reading and/or watching Call the Midwife? Thoughts? xoxo ‘n lols, crystal