This book is the second book of the Midwife Series Trilogy on which the BBC drama Call the Midwife is based. Whew, that was a mouthful. Suffice it to say that this book is every bit as sad as the title suggests, in the very best possible way. Needless to say, I sobbed until my eyes were puffy and I had a headache. This book was THAT good.
Jenny Lee (Worth) and her midwife friends Trixie, Cynthia, and Chummy continue to practice medicine in the poor streets of London’s East End during the 1950s under the tutelage of the Nuns of Nonnatus House. There they encounter various persons whose lives were affected by the era of the workhouse. The book is divided into three sections, the first dealing with three middle aged adults who had all been children together in the workhouse Jane, Peggy, and Frank. Peggy and Frank were siblings separated and placed in the work house after they were orphaned. Jane had been the bastard daughter of a housemaid. These stories are truly horrifying and heart breaking. As a mother, I can not comprehend the cruelty falsely doled out as charity to separate a mother and her children. I can not comprehend the evil of those running the workhouses and the desire to humiliate and break spirited children. The second section focuses on Sister Monica Joan as she underwent a public trial for theft. The third section follows an old soldier Joseph Collet as he shares his tragic life story with Nurse Lee. Each section is beautifully written and stark. There are some happy endings, but their are some moments of intense sadness. Worth paints an accurate picture of those whose lives had been affected by the workhouse.
This book is challenging as it truly is depressing at times. For those who enjoyed the television series, this might be either too dark, or a wonderful behind the scene explanation of some events portrayed. I enjoyed it. It made me more aware of the sadness, the poverty, and the hopelessness of the workhouse era for those who could not look after themselves. It was the most awful form of government slavery and it happened less than a hundred years ago.