The publisher’s hype for Call the Midwife does Jennifer Worth few favours. ‘Appeals to the huge market for nostalgia … Jennifer is a natural-born storyteller. She’ll be perfect for publicity … Misery memoir meets a fascinating slice of social history.’ Increasingly convinced that sentimentality is the bane of writing about the recent past, I approached her book with distinct misgivings.
I could hardly have been more wrong. Worth is indeed a natural storyteller – in the best sense of the term, with apparent artlessness in fact concealing high art – and her detailed account of being a midwife in London’s East End during the early 1950s is gripping, moving and convincing from beginning to end. One knows in one’s bones whether one trusts an author, and I felt I could trust her, fortified by passing references to Austen and Trollope. Call the Midwife is apparently the first in a trilogy, and it will be fascinating to see what follows.
Jenny Lee is unmarried, middle-class and in her early twenties when in 1950 she starts work in Poplar at a convent of the Midwives of St Raymund Nonnatus, her pseudonym for an order of Anglican nuns devoted to bringing safer childbirth to the poor – at a time when home