Title: The Midwife's Tale: A Novel by Sam Thomas
Published January 8, 2013; Minotaur Books
Genre: historical fiction set in the 17th century
An English gentlewoman (well born) in 1644, Bridget Hodgson is a midwife in York, helping pregnant women during delivery and helping to ensure their infants survive.
All the women of York called on me when they were in need. I eased new mothers' fears when they became pregnant, swearing to them that with God's help I would deliver them safely.... As a midwife, I helped the women when I could and comforted them when I could not. (ch. 18, from an advance reading copy; final copy may differ.)
Bridget, as a conscientious midwife, follows the laws strictly, no matter how harsh.
I ensured that men who fathered bastards had to pay for their children and that the women who bore them were whipped....Without midwives, lust would reign, and order would turn to chaos. (ch. 18)Over the course of the novel, Bridget seems to mellow and become a little less arrogant, thanks in part to her new deputy, Martha, a woman she hires to help her.
In the mystery novel, Bridget and Martha risk their lives many times over to find the person who killed Stephen Cooper, a man involved in politics who was poisoned in his home. His wife Esther, Bridget's friend, has been jailed and charged with his murder. Bridget believes in her friend's innocence and uses all her influence to probe into the case and help free her friend.
Martha has some mysterious secrets of her own, including a soldier from her past who tries to kill both her and the midwife.
The historical setting is the conflict between the Royalists, supporters of the King, and the rebels, members of Parliament whose armies have surrounded the city of York in 1644. The murdered Stephen Cooper, may have been killed for being sympathetic to the rebels, or he could have been killed for much more domestic reasons.
The book seems true to history and as such is a bit heavy and depressing at times. The condition of women and those belonging to the underclass, the violence, poverty, prejudices and superstitions of the time. Women could be burned at the stake for treason or murder instead of hanged.
I think this is another valuable addition to the list of historical novels that illuminate the past and help us to understand it. It has an excellent character in the midwife and a very good mystery plot.
Sam Thomas is an assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library, and the British Academy and published articles on topics from early modern Britain to colonial Africa.
Connect with Sam Thomas: WEBSITE | TWITTER | BLOG
For other reviews of the book, visit the Tour schedule hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. Thanks to the tour for an ARC review copy of the book.