25 July 2015
Jodi Daynard: The Midwife's Revolt
The Midwife's Revolt is one of the most compelling, captivating, and compulsive historical novels that I have read for some time. It is set in Braintree, Massachusetts near Boston from 1775 onwards during the American Revolutionary War. It brought to life a period of history that I, as an Aussie, knew little about.
While the "heroine" is Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bolyston, a strong and independent woman, the story is in part a biography of Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams who played a major role, albeit indirectly, in the founding of the United States. John Adams, a country lawyer, was a key figure in the creation of a the new nation and went on to become Vice President to George Washington and eventually the second President of the USA.
Lizzie was an unconventional woman for her time. As a self-trained midwife she was in constant demand from the very poor local community and mostly paid in kind with linen, food etc. Fearing for her husband fighting for the revolution in a nearby battle with English troops she rides astride (unthinkable for a woman at that time) to find him dead by a single bayonet thrust. Lizzie is only 21.
With the help of a couple of servants, one a well educated young girl who becomes her confidant and trainee midwife, Lizzie works from dawn to dusk to run her farm and keep them alive during the hard winters. From time to time she plays her part in the revolution by spying on local Tories who sympathise with the English, even disguising herself by dressing as a youthful male messenger and riding astride wearing her late husband's breeches.
One of the most compelling factors in the book is Lizzie's friendship with Abigail which gives the reader an understanding of the life of key players during the revolutionary war. Daynard gives a great and apparently authentic fictional account of the tough conditions at the time and immersed me in a time and place of which I had little knowledge.
I listened to the audiobook version which was brilliantly narrated by actress Julia Whelan which further brought the period to life for me. I cannot recommend this book too highly to those who like serious and authentic historical fiction. It is already in my list of top reads of 2015.