“Call The Midwife for the 17th Century”
Lucie Smith is a respected midwife who is married to Jacob, the town apothecary. They live happily together at the shop with the sign of the Three Doves. But sixteen-sixty-five proves a troublesome year for the couple. Lucie is called to a birth at the local Manor House and Jacob objects to her involvement with their former opponents in the English Civil Wars. Their only-surviving son Simon flees plague-ridden London for his country hometown, only to argue with his father. Lucie also has to manage her husband’s fury at the news of their loyal housemaid’s unplanned pregnancy and its repercussions.
The year draws to a close with the first-ever accusation of malpractice against Lucie, which could see her lose her midwifery licence, or even face ex-communication.
Guest Post : The Gossips Choice- Sara Read
What’s in a name?
The Gossips’ Choice takes its name from the ‘gossips’ or female attendants who a supported a mother in her labour. These women were an important part of the mother’s birth experience and they were there to physically support her by sitting behind her as she sat on the edge of her bed or on a birthing stool to help support her, and to stroke her belly to encourage the baby to move down, and to help the mother to comply with all her midwife’s instructions. But they had another important aspect of their role which was to keep up the mother’s spirits, to encourage her with kind words, to be cheery and to offer her such food and drink as the midwife might recommend. Lucie Smith, my protagonist, is the gossips’ choice because she is the most experienced and trusted midwife in the area. She is the one that the majority of local women trust to safely deliver their babies.
There is a second reason for my choosing this title for my novel. Lucie becomes the subject of town gossip when people start talking about a case where one of the births she attended had an unhappy outcome. As the rumour mill ramps up, Lucie faces a lot of unwelcome attention as townsfolk speculate about what went wrong. As an ageing midwife who has been practising for over thirty years, is it time for her to admit she is no longer up to the job and to think of retiring? The novel explores what it feels like to suddenly find yourself the subject of gossip and to have those families you have served for so long doubt you. Lucie faces a choice between fighting to clear her good name and stepping back from her lifelong vocation.
This title means a lot to me as the author. I had the outline of the story in my head for a long time, but it was not until the title came to me that the story would flow. And then it poured out!
Dr Sara Read is a lecturer in English at Loughborough University. Her research is in the cultural representations of women, bodies and health in the early modern era.
She has published widely in this area with her first book Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England being published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013.
She is a member of the organising committee of the Women’s Studies Group, 1558-1837 and recently co-edited a special collection produced to celebrate the group’s 30th anniversary.
She is also the co-editor of the popular Early Modern Medicine blog. With founding editor Dr Jennifer Evans, Sara wrote a book about health and disease in this era Maladies and Medicine: Exploring Health and Healing, 1540-1740 (Pen and Sword 2017).
Sara regularly writes for history magazines such as Discover Your Ancestors and History Today. In 2017 she published an article ‘My Ancestor was a Midwife’ tracing the history of the midwifery profession for Who Do You Think You Are? magazine in 2017. She has appeared on BBC Radio 3’s Freethinking programme and is often to be heard on BBC Radio Leicester and BBC Radio WM.