A pleasure today to join the blog tour for The Gossips’ Choice by Sara Read: published on 1st April by Wild Pressed Books, it’s now available in paperback and for kindle. My thanks to Kelly at #LoveBooksTours for the invitation and support – and I’m sure many have been as intrigued as I was by this “Call The Midwife for the 17th Century”.
Let’s take a closer look:
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.
One for you, maybe? I’m sorry I couldn’t fit this one into my reading list, but you will find some excellent reviews – and a few fascinating articles – via the other bloggers who are part of the ongoing tour. I’m delighted to welcome Sara as my guest today, to tell us more about preparing for motherhood…
In the era The Gossips’ Choice is set, in the seventeenth century, there was no concept of antenatal care as we know it now. Nowadays, women have a structured series of appointments to attend with their community midwife, for scans, and perhaps their GP and obstetrician too. Back then, most women only saw their midwife when labour had started, and a doctor being involved in any aspect of a mother’s care was a very rare thing.
This didn’t mean there was no advice for the expectant mother; it was more that the advice was received informally from mother to daughter or between friends. If a woman had symptoms she was worried about then she might see a midwife before her expected date for remedies and reassurance. Another source of advice was the printed medical treatises which were aimed not just at professionals but all women. For example, the first midwifery guide to be published in English came out in 1540 in the reign of Henry VII and was called The Birth of Mankind: Otherwise Named, the Woman’s Book. This book remained in print for over 100 years, so contains the sorts of recommendations Lucie Smith, my protagonist midwife, would be very familiar with.
The Woman’s Book recommended that in the month leading up to her due date a woman should ‘do all such things which can make her apt and sufficient to her labour’. Things she could do included adapting her diet, she should avoid any foodstuffs which might lead to her becoming constipated , so stick to moist foods, but also that she should avoid eating too much and so becoming overweight – both of which would be likely to make her labour harder. It also advised her to consider using olive oil or duck fat to moisturise her ‘privie place’. Finally, it suggested that in the ten days before her expected due date she should have a bath with warm water infused with water mallows, fenugreek and other such herbs. The treatments, cures and procedures in The Gossips Choice are all taken from guides such as this one, even the most bizarre sounding!
Thank you Sara – wishing you every success with this one…
About the author
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.