Having thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Call the Midwife I didn’t hesitate to buy the second book in the series. Second books do have a tendency to fall short of the quality of the first but I’m glad to say that this was not the case here. If anything it was even more thought provoking than the first book.

Shadows of the Workhouse: The Drama of Life in Postwar London
Shadows of the Workhouse: The Drama of Life in Post-war London

Sister Monica Joan

According to the author Sister Monica Joan (an elderly nun) mentions that her mothers ailing health was considered due to her tight corsets. Jennifer Worth calls them an instrument of torture.

Is this yet another example of the arrogance of medical practitioners?

Whilst corset wearing was very common among the upper classes, tight lacing as it is known was certainly not the norm. It is this practice of tight lacing that may have cause issues.

This being the case why would the doctors of the day identify this as the cause of her poor health? The woman in question was a mother of 35, not likely to be tight lacing.

I’m guessing that the male doctors of the day had very little knowledge of female undergarments. They simply assumed that they would be restrictive and backed up their conclusion with the rare cases of damage caused by tight lacing.

Therefore instead of actually trying to ascertain the cause of this lady’s poor health they simply put it down to her own behaviour, thereby shifting the blame squarely onto her shoulders.

This sort of thing still happens today and unfortunately it’s not at all uncommon.

For example in childbirth there is a very common diagnosis known as “failure to progress”. The very name clearly implies that the mother has failed to progress labour effectively. The blame is placed squarely on the mother. No responsibility is borne by the medical professionals who have interrupted and interferred with the natural progression of labour.

Polycystic ovaries is a very common condition in modern women. One of the symptoms is a tendency to gain weight. For those with the condition losing weight involves near starvation dieting. Any sensible medical practitioner would advise against such extreme diets. And yet ladies who suffer from this condition are typically instructed to loose weight in order to manage the symptoms. Yet again the blame is placed on the patient and the medical practitioner is absolved of any responsibility to actually treat the condition.

Shadows Of The Workhouse: The Drama Of Life In Postwar London (Call The Midwife Book 2) Kindle Edition
Shadows Of The Workhouse: The Drama Of Life In Post-war London (Call The Midwife Book 2)

It seems that we haven’t made much progress in the last 100 years. You’d think with more female doctors more progress would have been made. Unfortunately these ladies are still taught from textbooks written by their male predecessors. The arrogance and condescending attitude which seems to be typical of the profession seems to rub off on them.

Please let me be clear that there are some amazing doctors who actually listen to their patients without preformed judgements. Unfortunately in my experience as a woman, this is the exception and not the rule.

Women suffered through man’s ignorance

sister monica Joan, Shaows of the Workshouse

Jeseph Collett

The story of Jeseph Collett really touched me. It isn’t so much his experiences as much as his unfailing optimism. His gratitude for every tiny thing he had left.

Such a positive attitude seems like a very rare thing in modern times.

One of his stories in particular, brought me to tears. I’m not normally given to such emotional responses so this was unusual for me. In the book Joe remembers digging a little boy out of a bombed house. He was trapped under his mothers dead body. She had thrown herself on top of him, giving her life to protect her son.

Shadows Of The Workhouse: The Drama Of Life In Postwar London Hardcover
Shadows Of The Workhouse: The Drama Of Life In Post-war London Hardcover

As a mother I can understand her reaction. I wont say choice because I’m certain that her actions were completely based on instinct and her conscious mind had little involvement. I’m also certain that had her conscious mind had any influence over her actions, she would have done the same regardless.

As a modern mother I have apsolutley no experience of such actions being nesseccary.

I feel very guilty for not being more grateful for that fact.

My children have never known real hunger. They go without sweets all the time and if they don’t eat their dinner there’s nothing else. But they have never, not once, gone without being offered a square meal.

They work hard in school and walk nearly a mile to get there followed by homework and helping round the house. But my children will never know a days real hard labour, nor have I for that matter.

Shadows Of The Workhouse: The Drama Of Life In Postwar London (Call The Midwife) Paperback
Shadows Of The Workhouse: The Drama Of Life In Post-war London (Call The Midwife) Paperback


I love reading stories like this. They make me so grateful for everything I have. If these people can remain so positive in the face of such adversity then I certainly can be thankful for my privileged life.

I do find myself wondering how accurate the stories are. They are beautifully well written and deeply touching. However, many of these stories detail events when the author wasn’t present. They also contain details that I feel would be unlikely to be disclosed by those who were present.

Clearly the author has employed some artistic licence in order to make the stories flow nicely and I can’t blame her at all. I do hope she has stuck broadly to the facts and I certainly imagine that she has.

I am looking forward to reading the third instalment of Jennifer Worth’s memoirs.

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Thank you so much for stopping by my corner little of the interweb. I’m Bridie, mum to two small humans, full time homemaker and full time craftaholic – which totally explains why I’m always short on time!

Bridie @ Heart Hearth and Crafting

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