August 27, 2013

“Call the Midwife” Obsession


By Liz Everly

I’ve been watching the PBS series “Call the Midwife” and I love it so much that I read the book on which it’s based. As I have been watching and reading, I could not help ruminate a little about the story elements to the series and why they work so well.

“Call the Midwife” is a series based on the true-life experiences of 22-year-old nurse and midwife (Jennifer Worth) in the late 1950s. She was stationed with nuns all serving the impoverished areas of London. Part of my fascination with the show is that it gives a completely new perspective on the time period with very personal stories. The writers of the series don’t shy away from some of the gritty tales–but it’s done in a very classy way.

This is a “story” lesson I remind myself about often. As an erotic romance writer, I think the details I leave out are as important as the juicy details I write. Sometimes four pages of a sex scene is overkill. I definitely feel that way as a reader as well. Sometimes, it’s just right. Same thing with the suspense elements—do I really need those gory details? As a writer, knowing when to pull back or shoot forward makes all the difference.

“Call the Midwife” brings up issues like incest, prostitution, and abuse from these nuns and midwives perspective, which is sometimes surprising. For example, in the case of incest, a brother and sister who were separated by the workhouse at very young ages and found each other years later and lived together as husband and wife. The nuns knew of the relationship. The main nurse character was furious when she found out. But the nuns offered no judgment. Only that there was love in the house the couple shared. It was extremely well done and thought provoking.

As an erotic romance writer (and reader), I’m attracted to the drama of the midwives being in the midst of emotion and important life and death issues.  I try to evoke this in my writing. Love. Sex. Heartache. Terror. Fear. These are important, write-worthy moments. Erotic romance writers are in the thick of it, but in a different way.

callthemidwifeThroughout the series there are a number of these kinds of issues. Each time the show leaves me in awe. When I get frustrated about a number of feminist issues these days, it’s good to think of how far we’ve come—else I blow a gasket or something. This was 1958. Not that long ago. Thank the universe for birth control and all of the many, many freedoms it afforded women. Many of the women of the day in that area of London were having ten or twelve babies and living in squalor.

One of the other things I love about the series is how innocent everything and everybody seemed on one level—most of the young nurses, midwives, and nuns were virgins with no lover in sight. And yet, there are moments you wonder about the truth of their virginity. Also, while there was all this innocence on one level, they were dealing with so many harsh realities as midwives. A seamy underside of London where nothing was innocent.

I love this, probably more than any other facet to the story-building. Sure, it’s based on a non-fiction life story. But it could have come off way differently. The interplay between innocence and harsh reality adds texture and depth and it hooks me every time.

Oh and I can’t even begin to tell you what endearing, quirky characters are in this series. That would be the subject of another post.

Of course, the main character has a love interest. But here’s the kicker. She loved someone once that she couldn’t have and is pining for him–while this OTHER gorgeous young man practically does head stands for her attention. It doesn’t work out. He eventually tires of waiting for her. I’ve not read all the books or seen the entire series. But I am wondering how she fares in romance. Her bio says she does marry. But I wonder if she marries “Jimmy” or the man in her past. Or maybe a new man?

I gave that some thought: unrequited love is a powerful element in creating tension, isn’t it? I mean, here I am wondering about who it is that she actually married. I wonder how many other followers are wondering the same thing?

Think about the midwife as a story vehicle–and is there really a better one to get at the guts of life stories?  If you’ve not seen this series, please check it out. It will leave you spellbound. Any other fans out there?

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  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    My TV schedule is so full already, but now it looks like there’s something else I’m going to have to add. Darn you, Liz! 🙂 Call the Midwife sounds wonderful.

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore
    • Post authorLizEverly

      It is! I tell you that it’s the best TV I’ve seen in a long time. Of course, it is PBS. You won’t regret watching it. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply to LizEverly
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    I saw the DVD in the video store and thought of you. The period photos remind me of another series I adore — FOYLE’S WAR. Your post proves yet again how strong elements of romance are for creating tension in other genres. I find the same kinds of themes very compelling

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorLizEverly

      FOYLE’S WAR rings a bell with me. Hmmm. I’m going to look that up. I may have already seen it and not remembered the name. I am awful at remembering names.

      Reply to LizEverly
  • Post authorellaquinnauthor

    Really thought provoking post, Madeline. I think so much innocence has been lost, and believe I’m fortunate to be able to remember that time. Of course it was also cruel. Girls kicked out of school if they were married or pregnant. Single women shunned in a town they’d grown up in if they got pregnant. Many women didn’t even know how one did conceive. Even the advent of one’s period was hush, hush. One girl started hers in gym class, and didn’t know what it was. This type of ignorance is almost unheard of today.

    Reply to ellaquinnauthor
    • Post authorLizEverly

      I often think of that time period and it’s cruelties, as well as all of that unhealthy repression. My mom and I discuss this from time to time. Her motto is “A little healthy repression never hurt anybody.” LOL. I think there’s some wisdom to that. In any case, it is a fascinating time and we have come so far in a relatively small amount of time. One of the things I learned in this series is that just before this time period they often would give babies who were born with certain deformities or ailments a “shot” that killed them. It was considered the most merciful thing to do. Some of the nuns in the series discussed it as they were trying to find treatment for a baby with spina bifida (sp?). Some thought the shot was a good option. Yet, God help a woman who tried to get an abortion. Thanks for commenting, Ella.

      Reply to LizEverly
      • Post authorellaquinnauthor

        When there is no cure and much suffering, I can see their point.

        Reply to ellaquinnauthor
  • Post authorLizEverly

    Reblogged this on Liz Everly and commented:

    Watch “Call the Midwife” !

    Reply to LizEverly
  • Post authorMisty Dietz

    This sounds so interesting! I love PBS – my husband and I have chosen to be without cable or satellite or DTV or whatever else there is for more than 14 years now, and most of the time I don’t feel like we’re missing anything. Especially with regards to our kids. This is one show I’ll take a look at. 🙂

    Reply to Misty Dietz
    • Post authorLizEverly

      We are in the same boat Misty. We have basic cable–no HBO or anything like that. But PBS keeps us entertained. I do think you’ love Call the Midwife. Cheers!

      Reply to LizEverly

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