Most of the British television series that Bonnie and I have watched over the last several decades seem to be based or inspired by books. That holds true with the recent import Call the Midwife, of which two seasons have aired on PBS. As often is the case, the original book, Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times (first published in Britain in 2002), has proved worth reading.
I wondered how faithful I would find the adaptation to television and am pleased to report it is most definitely in the spirit. Most of the nuns, nurses, and other characters are recognizable, except for Cynthia who seems almost totally opposite of her portrayal on television and for Jennifer's admirer Jimmy who is rowdier and more trouble in the book than the sweet young man on the screen. The book also includes a cook at the Nonnatus House who spars frequently with the caretaker Fred; she could have added nicely to the show.
Viewers turned readers will find more stories in the book than were worked into the television series and less emphasis on the profiling of the nuns and nurses, except for Sister Monica Joan, who merits several chapters. Of course, you learn much about the author, for it is her voice telling the story, but the focus is usually on the pregnant women who need the wives service.
I see most libraries are shelving Call the Midwife with pregnancy books at Dewey 618.2. I hope the book is not lost there after the TV series fades from public memory, for it is about much more than childbirth. It is a vivid portrait of the East End of London during the late 1950s and early 1960s and should not be missed by readers interested in that time and place.
I think the book and the series can be viewed in either order. Neither should be missed.
Worth, Jennifer. Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times. Penguin Books, 2012. 340p. ISBN 9780143123255.