I love both American Revolution novels and books about midwives. There's a series of mysteries that take place during the American Revolutionary period by Margaret Lawrence whose protagonist is the midwife Hannah Trevor. I am a fan of the Hannah Trevor series, but its perspective on the American Revolution is very different from the perspective of The Midwife's Revolt, the subject of my current review. There seems to be some disagreement about its release date. I obtained it from Net Galley which states that the release date is January 1, 2013, but Amazon says that it was released in October of this year. So I don't know whether this should be considered a pre-publication review.
Lizzie Boylston, the protagonist of The Midwife's Revolt, came from a privileged family and her husband also came from upper class origins. That's how he came to be related to the real historical personage Abigail Adams who is a major character in this novel. The revolutionary leaders were all landowners and most were successful professionals. Lizzie and her husband were poor as newlyweds because they married without the consent of their families, but they owned land and had a reasonable expectation of being prosperous one day. Another woman might have turned against the American Revolution after her husband died in a revolutionary battle. Yet Lizzie remained a staunch revolutionary. Although she was an independent woman of strong principles, I believe that Lizzie's social connections with revolutionaries also insured that her sympathies would remain with them. Lizzie's life was a struggle, and there are points in the narrative when Lizzie felt desperate. Still, she had resources that those on the bottom of the social order didn't possess. In this book, we don't really get to see the perspective of those who were truly poor and desperate as we do in the Hannah Trevor novels which display a very ugly side of colonial and revolutionary America.
Jodi Daynard doesn't completely whitewash the revolution. There are some terrible things done in the name of the revolution in this novel, but the revolutionaries are in general portrayed as admirable, upright and sympathetic. The Hannah Trevor novels were disturbing. They caused me to re-evaluate the revolution, but The Midwife's Revolt doesn't challenge received historical views in any major way.
On the other hand, one of the reasons why I enjoy reading books about the midwives of the past is because they operated outside of the conventional norms for women. They also had knowledge of herbs. Herbalism and other traditional healing practices made them vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft as is shown in Love of Shadows by Zoe Brooks which I reviewed in October. The title of that post is "Love of Shadows: A Novel in Praise of the Persecuted". Lizzie Boylston, like other historical midwives that I've encountered, didn't heed the opinions of others. She rode her horse astride as men did, and engaged in activities that were even more unacceptable in her social milieu.
Another aspect of this novel that I loved was the friendships between women. These were honest relationships that could be ambivalent. I appreciated that complexity. The presence of Abigail Adams as one of Lizzie's friends underlines the feminist emphasis of the novel. She is most remembered for telling her husband, who was to become the second President of the United States, to "Remember the ladies." For this alone, she is honored by modern advocates of women's rights.
A more obscure historical personage who played a role in this novel was the Tory inventor Benjamin Thompson who later became known as Count Rumford. There is a page on Count Rumford with a number of links to further information on this fascinating figure.
A second subject for research that I found in The Midwife's Revolt was an object that Lizzie used called the London Dome. I discovered that it was a hearing trumpet that magnified sound for the hard of hearing. I found a picture of it at London Hearing Trumpet. If you click on a link beneath the image, you will be able to rotate the object and see it from all sides. In the novel, Lizzie acquired it from a Tory doctor who is said to have learned that London physicians utilized it to listen to the heartbeat of a patient, or a fetus in the womb. It sounds like a precursor to the modern stethoscope, but according to The history of stethoscopes , it was invented in 1816 by Rene Theophile-Hyacinthe Laennec who seemed to have known nothing about the use of hearing trumpets by doctors.
My research topics show that a couple of Tory characters in this book are portrayed as innovators. This is highly unusual in an American Revolution novel. So The Midwife's Revolt turned out to be more original than it first appeared.