I am obsessed with the PBS show Call the Midwife. When it first aired, I wasn’t sure that I really cared about babies and nurses. But I quickly realized, Call the Midwife, like Downton Abbey, is a soapy drama with costumes. There’s really nothing to dislike…except the appalling living conditions of the slums of London’s East End in the 1950s.
Jennifer Worth, whose memoirs the show is based on, says in her introduction that she wrote Call the Midwife because there was a lack of books about midwifery in the world. As a registered nurse, who worked with a group of nuns (and who doesn’t love nuns?) she certainly has many stories to tell.
While Downton Abbey appeals as a tale of the English aristocracy in decline, Call the Midwife is an intercity story. In the United States, the 1950s were a period of post-war prosperity, but much of Europe was still recovering from the war. Worth mentions children playing in bombed out buildings and many of the tenements had no running water. Worth goes out of her way to explain that people in the slums didn’t really know anything else but she doesn’t hide or shy away from her culture shock, which the readers experience with her.
The story is told from Worth’s point of view and it reads more like a first person narrative than a memoir, which I’m sure is on purpose, and no doubt the companionable tone helped it to become a TV show. But let’s get to the questions on everyone’s minds (or at least the ones on mine when I picked up the book) how similar is the book to the TV show? Are the characters the same? Is Chummy there??
Yes, yes she is. Of Chummy, née Camilla Fortescue-Cholmeley-Browne, Worth writes, “The first time I saw [her], I thought it was a bloke in drag.” If anything, Chummy’s more endearing in the book because she says things like “old bean” and “jolly good show, what”, as if she’s some P.G. Wodehouse character.
All in all, Call the Midwife is a great light non-fiction read for the summer. If you don’t watch the show, you will probably want to as some scenes from the book are painstakingly recreated in the show (such as the cake incident when Jenny first meets Sister Monica Joan). And if you love the show, this book is the best cure for Call the Midwife withdrawal.
- Julie Schaeffer, Senior Online Content Coordinator