Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Shadows of the Workhouse

My intention of starting this blog was to share children's stories that we love as a family, but sometimes I come across an adult read that I can't help but share.  I finished Shadows of the Workhouse tonight, and it is one that I am not likely to forget soon.

Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse
by Jennifer Worth

My family got me started on the BBC series "Call the Midwife" a few months ago, and it was the only show that I HAD to watch on a weekly basis.   I was thrilled when I discovered that it was based off of a series of memoirs by Jennifer Worth.  Jennifer spent her young nursing years working in a convent in poverty-stricken East London.  She was not a nun, but lived and worked amongst them in their nursing and midwife duties.  She tells many detailed and interesting stories about the people she met at the time, and the conditions she worked in.

Shadows of the Workhouse is the second book out of three, and is divided into three main sections.  The first tells the very harrowing accounts of children who grew up in England's workhouses (one of the earliest attempts at social welfare).  Life in a workhouse was harsh, but it was one of the only options available to a family with no place to live or food to eat.  Jennifer knew these individuals as adults and tells stories from when they were young.

Jennifer then relates the story of Sister Monica Joan, the sister who is in her nineties and is brilliant, mischievous, and showing signs of dementia.  Sister Monica Joan makes for a lively addition to the memoirs, and has an interesting past that she shares with Jennifer.  She also has her fair share of antics.

The final section is the most touching for me.  Jennifer had the opportunity to treat a man by the name of Joe Collett.  I don't know if there has ever been a character in a book that I have come to adore more than Joe.  He has lost all of his family to World War I and World War II, and is without friends, as well.  He and Jennifer form a friendship that brings both of them great joy.  He shares a great deal of world history as he tells her stories of his life.  I couldn't put the book down as I was reading Joe's stories.

As a warning, there is some content in the book that is very honest, and may not be for sensitive readers.  I believe that she approaches the matter in a respectful manner, but there were a couple of parts that I had to graze over.  She has a way of writing that shows her admiration for the people that she is writing about, and the life lessons that she learned from them.

I felt very humbled and touched by this memoir.  I don't think that one can read it without coming away incredibly grateful for the blessings that they have received.  I don't cry often, but I have to admit that I did with this one.  An incredibly touching and interesting look at history from the experiences of individual lives.


1 comment:

  1. I loved, loved, loved the first one. It was definitely a book that made me count my blessings. I'm so glad to know that Sister Monica Joan is in the second one, as well. :) Can't wait to read this one!