The Gossips’ Choice by Sara Read
I am thrilled to be included in the launch of the new book by Sara Read, The Gossips’ Choice. Love Book Tours Group has put together an excellent tour and it is a privilege to take part.
“Call The Midwife for the 17th Century”
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.
It was not just local events that were on people’s minds: news had reached Tupingham, through a letter to Simon with the last two Weekly Bills enclosed, that in the last week of August over six thousand Londoners had succumbed to the plague. Simon’s correspondent claimed that locals were convinced the figure was nearer ten thousand, partly because deaths of members of non-conformist congregations were not entered into the parish records, and also because parish clerks were less than eager to admit the severity of the visitation in their neighbourhood. The second Bill, from the following week, was just as bleak. People would ask one another in the street how many were dying in the country as a whole, as the contagion was processing up and down the land. It was almost unimaginable, because while the plague broke out every generation, the numbers on these bills were unlike anything anyone had seen before. Jasper could just about remember the outbreak back in 1625 when he was an apprentice, but knew nothing like this.
Simon’s correspondent wrote that death was the only topic of conversation, and that everyone looked weary, and wary of one another. It also brought the news that Dr Burnett, a physician of Jasper’s acquaintance, had died. This was a shock, as Burnett’s man had died of the plague some weeks before and Burnett’s house had been recently reopened after the long days of quarantine were up. Physicians and other healers were getting a bad name for fleeing the city – with most of those who could afford to leaving, but the ones who stayed appeared to be paying the highest price. Jasper declared that they needed to pray harder that it stay away from Tupingham. He wasn’t greatly afeared for himself particularly, as he had lived through it as a youth, therefore considered himself less disposed to contract this contagion than others, but he had seen firsthand the destruction and sorrow the pest wrought.
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.
Follow Sara on Twitter @saralread