Shadows of the Workhouse (The Midwife Trilogy, Book 2)

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It was not until the National Assistance Act that the last traces of the Poor Law disappeared, and with them the workhouses.


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Subsequently, until the end of the 20th century and early years of the 21st, there were still many people who had lasting memories of life in the workhouses. Some as young adult, others who had been born there or sent as orphans. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The Guardian.

Publication Order of Midwife Trilogy Books

Retrieved The Scotsman. Sunderland Echo.

Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse

Literary Review. Categories : non-fiction books British memoirs Poor law infirmaries History of London Works about midwifery. While Worth continues her tour of education with Shadows of the Workhouse , it simply took a different turn than most readers would expect.


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As the title suggests, book two of the trilogy discusses workhouses and how they continued to haunt the East End even though they were either abandoned or converted to hospitals by the early part of the 20 th century. Worth is diplomatic in how she describes the workhouses, saying that any attempt to help the poor and needy is good but that the workhouses went wrong, not because the idea itself was bad but because the people who ran the workhouses a thankless job were poorly paid, and so mostly only people who enjoyed the penal aspects of the job took it.

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When people who are looking to assert themselves aggressively are given a position that is unmanaged, they become unchallenged tyrants—very Dickensian. Stories that took up almost pages get reduced to one episode and I really had to question who was right—Worth, for giving them more space, or the show writers for condensing the narratives. In the case of one story, Worth has a passing relationship with a woman and then helps nurse her dying brother, piecing together from very obvious clues that they had an incestuous relationship. While Worth knew the sibling-couple when they were much older and in the case of the brother, dying the majority of the story she shares about them is from their childhoods, most of which was spent in the workhouses in completely separate quarters.

Worth focused primarily on the brother but never tells us how she got all the details from him. Maybe narratively the best decision she could have made was to suspend the first person narration for this book since it kept reminding me of her when I was engaged in a story she had no place in. I liked the information I got from Worth which seemed thorough and well researched; her attempt to stay neutral was appreciated, if unsuccessful. The workhouses became places of physical and psychological torture that kept the horrifically poor too tired, hungry, and depressed to effect any degree of positive change in their lives.

Still, showing us their deprivation especially with incest became exploitative.

Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times Season 2 Audiobook

I had to see a brother made so incapable of genuine human feeling and so obsessive with his sister, that they become lovers. I had to see a child so convinced her illegitimate and noble father was going to come for her that she began making up stories and eventually was driven half-mad by the people in charge—people who took pleasure in mentally breaking a child.

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Of course I felt bad for the vulnerable people, exposed and laid bare before my eyes, but as their stories had already been resolved the workhouses are closed , I was essentially staring at really grotesque scars, and I began to feel very self-conscious about that staring. Worth previously had been an empowering and strong voice, yet this book made me see her as a privileged woman taking on an easy cause—a cause that had already been fixed.

She made me resent the workhouses; she made me uncomfortable that they had ever existed actually, I felt similarly reading about the workhouses as I felt walking through Auschwitz— how did we let it get this bad?

Especially when I had to read about a story from the show that I was dreading reading about: the mother who went into the workhouse with five children and left without children. The children, all under ten, died after various intervals, many of them suffering from illness, malnutrition, and overwork.

Book Reviews: Call the Midwife Trilogy - Stumbling Toward Sainthood

The woman had been forced to kill another baby before even entering the workhouse—how do we, as a society, allow such inhumane treatment of other humans? Still, despite the meaningful if impotent rally against the workhouses, I found myself wondering, where is the midwifery? I have a vague inkling that one must have happened, but it is anonymous.

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