Book review, historical, nonfiction

“Shadows of the Workhouse” by Jennifer Worth

Goodreads rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Shadows of the Workhouse is the second book in Jennifer Worth’s, The Midwife Trilogy. As usual, I did not know the book I was reading was a part of a series, so I did not read Call the Midwife first. I can assure you that I am on the wait list for it on Overdrive now though!

The trilogy is a collection of memoirs from the author’s time being a midwife in an East End. She had met many people who dealt with hardships surrounding the workhouses and she wrote down their stories. Since I began with book #2 I don’t think it’s important that you start with the first one with the intent to read them all. There are plenty of stories in Shadows of the Workhouse that will leave you thankful for the life you have.

Instantly, I was intrigued by Jane. The author did a wonderful job at introducing her and making you see Jane from multiple angles. I was amazed at how well Worth did with all the characters. Each one was so clearly represented with a different personality and different speech patterns. It made the story so fun to read although the stories were often grim and depressing. I could easily picture the characters and the locations but in my mind, everything was shades of gray. The dialogue was so easy to read as well. My favorite scene to read was when the girls were playing Monopoly, drinking sherry and discussing what would happen to Sister Monica Joan who was in trouble. The words started to blur together, and I felt like I was sitting on the bed hanging out with the girls. Below is an excerpt from page 150 where you can see a few of the women in the room having a serious conversation while playing the board game.

                 Chummy shook the dice. “I’d say she’s got to the root of the matter. If the jewels             were in your possession, the Robert Peelers would say you’d egged the old lady on.             Bally awkward situation, and you’d be as sore as a gumboil. No. We’ve got to                       prove that she didn’t know what she was doing.” Chummy moved her piece, but                 decided not to buy.

Trixie jumped on it in a flash. “I’ll buy that. Come off it. That old girl’s sharp as a              razor. She’s got it all weighed up. No one suspects a nun, so she’s in the                                  clear—that’s what she thinks.”

“I’m not so sure.” Cynthia moved her piece. “The Angel Islington. I’ll buy that. I               like the blue properties. I think her mind is definitely disturbed.”

I honestly don’t have any complaints about the book. It was a raw piece of nonfiction that demonstrated the lives of people that were affected by the workhouses. I cannot wait to read the rest of the trilogy along with the other books that Jennifer Worth wrote.

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