VIANVI PODCAST BOOK REVIEW #15 by Viga Boland
It’s a bold task to take on writing a 400 page plus book based on the life of an obscure English midwife who lived in the 1600s. But that is the challenge AnneLisa Christensen gave herself with The Popish Midwife, after studying court transcripts about the trial and conviction of the courageous Elizabeth Cellier who dared to write a book disclosing the brutality and inhumane treatment of those imprisoned for even minor offences at Newgate Prison.
The Popish Midwife takes place at the end of the puritanical, strict era of Oliver Cromwell when King Charles 11 was returned to the throne. While people celebrated the new freedom, the country was far from safe or healthy, especially for Catholics. As a Catholic, Elizabeth was ever exposed to danger as she went about her work of helping mothers give birth. She also spent much of her time taking food to prison inmates and as she did so, she saw and heard first hand so much of man’s inhumanity to man. She felt compelled to bring these brutal practices to the attention of those she believed would care as much as she did. The reward for the efforts of this aging, unwell but brave woman, was incarceration in the very place she fought to expose: Newgate.
Historical fiction buffs will love The Popish Midwife, but it is written in first person, as if it were a memoir. That, for me, makes what AnneLisa Christensen has achieved in this book even more impressive: it has all the requirements of great historical fiction, including an adherence to the language of the 1600’s, but it is touching and real the way a well-written memoir should be.
The author spent years researching her story and her attention to detail and fact, the historical period, customs and dialects gives The Popish Midwife authenticity. But it is AnneLisa Christensen’s considerable writing talent that make this an absorbing, worthwhile read even for those, who like me, aren’t fans of historical fiction, but who love a well-written story…one that keeps us turning the pages and wondering what will happen next. Highly recommended.
Additional information on this book as provided by the author, Annelisa Christensen, on her Amazon book page:
One day, several years ago, I bought some pages of a trial, merely to hold a piece of a 300-year-old book. That purchase changed my life. The defendant in the trial captivated me. Her story demanded to be told. My debut novel, The Popish Midwife, is based closely on the true story of Elizabeth Cellier, an extraordinary C17th midwife. My research revealed Elizabeth to be known in three areas of interest – for writing books, being caught in The Popish Plot and as a forward-thinking midwife – but her story was all in pieces and scattered. I wanted to link it all together and share it with people of today. If she could be all she was in a time of such suppression, how much more good could we do now, when we have so much more freedom?
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