*Sigh.* I love Jennifer Worth. What a remarkable and lovely woman. I say with complete sincerity that I wish I had the good fortune to meet her for a cup of tea. That would have been such a highlight.
Thank you Audiobook Jukebox and HighBridge Audio for sending a copy of Shadows Of The Workhouse, which is #2 in the Call The Midwife series. Once again, I was swept into the world of the tireless midwives who worked in the docklands area of East London in the 1950s. Here, the nuns and nurses of Nonnatus House continued their mission of treating and helping the people of London’s poorest regions. Their calling to help the greater good is absolute proof that there are remarkable people in this world; people who give themselves to others time and time again. To learn about their work is to have your faith in humanity restored.
Sorry – was that a bit syrupy? It was. But it’s true.
In Call The Midwife, readers got to glimpse inside the actual work of these nuns and nurses, as the book focused on their midnight calls to births and their treatment of the ill. In Shadows Of The Workhouse, we are offered a different look, as Worth turns her gaze to the people who survived the workhouses of England. Workhouses were places for adults and children who could not care for or support themselves. Originally intended as a home for the poorest citizens, these buildings became the fodder for nightmares as families were separated and people were abused for their labor. I’m sure that when the UK Poor Act was established, they did not foresee what these institutions would become: free labor by the hands of the poor. Abuse was rampant. Children were neglected. And while these places permitted many poor people to have a roof over their heads, food to eat, and basic education provided, there was just too much opportunity for mistreatment. As time wore on, families who lost work or fell on hard times were desperately afraid of having to “go to the workhouse.”
You’ll meet very interesting people in Shadows Of The Workhouse, some of whom will steal your heart. There’s Jane, the meek creature who helps around Nonnatus house, who came from a long workhouse childhood, which started when she was an infant. Her spirit was shattered at the hands of those who ran the workhouse, making her terrified to open her mouth, even as an adult. There’s the brother and sister team Peggy and Frank, whose story will warm your heart. Separated by the workhouse at too early an age, these siblings eventually find one another many years later. Their link, and love was unlike any other. There’s the fabulous Sister Monica Joan, the eccentric 90-year old nun who is brought to trial for stealing. Even in the throes of the court system, Sister Monica Joan never loses her dry wit, and it’s fantastic. Finally, there’s my personal favorite, the elderly gentleman soldier Mr. Joseph Collett, who develops a darling friendship with Jennifer after she starts to treat the wounds on his legs. While I was touched by all of these stories, the latter is the one that made me tear up. That friendship between the soldier and the nurse was one of the most poignant examples of compassion and love that I’ve encountered in a long time. It was moving, and inspiring.
Is Shadows Of The Workhouse as good as Call The Midwife? It’s a difficult call, because they’re vastly different books. I was totally enthralled by Call The Midwife, and deeply touched by Shadows Of The Workhouse. The first in the series had more excitement, while the second was a beautiful collection of character studies. Truly, I would highly recommend both. Know, however, that Shadows Of The Workhouse is a quieter book, but also one that just might leave a slightly deeper imprint on your heart. If you haven’t experienced the work of Jennifer Worth, please don’t wait any longer. She redefines charming.
If you would like to see my review of Call The Midwife, please click here.
This audiobook was once again narrated by the extraordinary Nicola Barber. I’ve raved about this woman’s talents before, and please bear with me while I do it again. Nicola Barber is incredible. Her range will make you wonder if the book is being read by more than one person. From her upper class British accent to her spunky Cockney, she wholeheartedly becomes every character that she reads. In all seriousness, I would listen to Nicola Barber read a phone book. Yes, she’s that good. Grab this audiobook and see for yourself – you’ll love every word.
5 smitten stars for Jennifer Worth’s Shadows Of The Workhouse.