Farewell to the East End

Thursday, September 6, 2012
Do you remember the first book you read that made you cry?

I do. It was Charlotte's Web by EB White and I think I must have been about 9 years old. I remember lying in my bed on a Saturday morning (probably), and tears rolling down my face when Charlotte died. I also remember thinking at the time that it was rather extraordinary to be crying over a book.

But I have cried over many books since then, and not the least of which is the book I have just finished. Yesterday I was driving into town, listening to the reading of this book on audio. I was at the part of the book which tells the story of a family of 7 children who all died, one by one, of tuberculosis, leaving only the youngest and least-favoured daughter surviving to live with her publican-father. Jennifer Worth wove the story with such skill and told the tale of the father and daughter's tragic lives with such poignancy that I found tears filling my eyes rapidly, just as I came up to a traffic light in the busy midday rush. I had to force myself to push the stop button on the audio, just so I could drive safely - not much good trying to drive a car, and crying my eyes out at the same time. How would I explain that to a policeman!

Farewell to the East End by Jennifer Worth.

Some of you may have watched the BBC production of Call the Midwife that recently played on television here in New Zealand.

Call the Midwife is the first book in a trilogy of books written by Jennifer Worth on her experiences working as a young midwife in the East End of London in the 1950's.

I have been enthralled by her writing. She grips the reader from the very first page and I have been devouring anything I can get my hands on that she has written, and this book did not disappoint.

However, I must warn you - it is not a pretty book. It is real life, with real life issues, and the brutality, sadness, tragedy and total desperation of the poor. But also the stocism, fortitude, love and loyalty of human nature.

She interweaves her often sad stories with humour and character so full of life and personality that they almost jump out of the pages. But she is graphic, in a pragmatic way, of the social issues surrounding the East End of that day and in English history. Back-street abortions, prostitution, suicide, infanticide, tuberculosis, even the selling of children into brothels in Europe in the early 20th century- it can hardly be born to listen to these atrocities, but I made myself hear it, beccause I wanted to learn about it. It made me think of people like Amy Carmichael who gave her life to save the lives of innocent children, and General Booth of the Salvation Army. I believe Worth even mentions the Salvation Army in her books as the tireless saviours of many lives so desperate in their poverty. Where would the world be without these God-fearing people who were heroic and dauntless and unjudgemental in dealing with these issues.

Jennifer Worth touches on the devastation that rampant prostitution had on the East End community, destroying families and increasing the rise of venereal disease. It makes me think that the lawmakers of our day need to read these stories as a sharp lesson in how history can, and will repeat itself.
Blind, blind mankind.

I have always been drawn to stories of midwives and their experiences. I think, perhaps, because some members of my family have said that I would have made a good midwife. But I think not. I don't know that I could handle the tragic side of birth. Instead, I love to read about it and especially the way Jennifer Worth (who passed away in 2011) weaves the stories of such interesting people and the history of their lives. I found myself growing fond of the midwives, and the Nuns that they lived with, and I love how in the last chapter of this book she tells of how their lives developed, what they ended up doing or how they died.

So, I recommend this book as an entertaining, educational work of literature, that will make you cry, but will also make you laugh. But it is not for the faint-hearted, nor for the prudish.

In reading it, you will run the gamut of human emotion. But it is worth it, for all that.


Heather L. said...

These books and the series sound so good. I have just suggested them for purchase to our library and hope they think they might be a good addition to the collection. Then, maybe I can read them!!

Sandy Addison said...

Iam really enjoying the series and did not know it was a book - will have to put it on my reading list for the end of the year after exams!

Mrs M said...

They all sound good... must put some on 'the list' ....
How is your quilt coming along? Would love to see how you are using those beautiful fabrics.

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