Zvezdana investigates the book of the week ‘Troubled Blood’ by Robert Galbraith

In a special Facebook event, Robert Galbraith in conversation with Mark Billingham, Galbraith, alias J K Rowling, was asked about ‘unreliable narrators’. 

One version of the crime in Troubled Blood comes from someone with a very warped perception of what happened. Do crime novels need unreliable narrators? 

J K Rowling’s answer was that “crime novels gain from having witnesses who do not perfectly recall, because that’s real life. People tend to remember things that interest them.” 

In preparation for the Book of the Week and my presentation of ‘Troubled Blood’, I visited Clerkenwell. For those who have not read the book, yet, Clerkenwell is the most important location for the latest Strike’s investigation. Forty years ago, a doctor, Margot Bamborough, disappeared from her surgery in Clerkenwell. She was supposed to meet a friend, Oonagh Kennedy, at the nearby pub – The Three Kings, but never arrived.  

As lockdown is lifting, shops and pubs opening, it would be quite probable that the filming of ‘Troubled Blood’ has started.  

True or not true, I do not know, but I can definitely inform you that I recorded some “suspicious” activities in Clerkenwell, in the early afternoon, on Wednesday, 28 April 2021. The Three Kings is still closed. The St James’ Church is under scaffoldings, but a filming on Clerkenwell Green is happening! 

Unfortunately, no signs of Tom Burke or Holliday Grainger. Even the location at Denmark Street did not prove productive.   

By Zvezdana, Your ‘unreliable reporter’.

Books we love…

The Novel ‘The Evening and the Morning’ has been nominated for British Book of the Year 2021, one of our customers has kindly provided a review of the book.

Check out our blog to read Ben’s review…

‘Ken Follett is once again on fine form in this prequel to “Pillars of the Earth” part of his Kingsbridge Series. It is 997 ,The world is a violent place were power rules.

A Viking raid in South West England forces Edgar and his family to relocate to Hamlet Deng’s Ferry. Edgar discovers he has a talent for building things, the plot centre’s around him and his friendship with a Norman noble woman Ragna (who is locked in a loveless marriage with the local Lord Wilf ), a priest Aldred and their dealings with Wilf’s brother, a scheming and ruthless bishop, Wynstan.

Follett meticulously researches his books, for example in his previous novel – Pillars of the Earth – he spent two days or more in each Cathedral whilst researching it.

The story in “The Evening and the Morning” takes place over ten years. It does not reach the standard of “Pillars of the Earth” which takes place over decades. It is however a page turner and one can identify with the main characters. The seeds and structure that readers love of the later books in the series are set out in this book. The book also works as a standalone novel.

I would give it 3.5/5’

Have you read ‘The Evening and the Morning’, let us know what you thought down below…

Follett’s novel is also available to borrow from our catalogue –

The History of Vaccinations

Every time I hear that someone I know has had their Covid 19 vaccination, I feel a sense of relief, and I was delighted to have my own first dose the other day.  Though the situation continues to be challenging for us all, and has brought so much sad loss, the vaccine gives us hope.

The history of humanity has been the history of a struggle against infectious disease.  Just a generation or two ago, diseases we now know only from history books and period dramas ravaged the population of this country and our lives have been transformed by our access to vaccinations against them.  Many of our older books in the Biography Collection still have notices pasted inside about what to do if the books have been exposed to infectious diseases. (Pic 1) (Until last year, these labels seemed like quaint relics of a distant reality – none of us imagined having to put books in quarantine again – but they show the prevalence of many serious contagious diseases not very long ago.)  Talk to someone in their 70s or 80s, and the chances are they will recall the death of someone they knew from these once all too common infections. My mother recalls with horror the death of her three year old cousin from diptheria at a time when it killed an average of 3,500 children a year in England and Wales, and my mother-in-law lost her father far too young due to TB (tuberculosis); a generation earlier, two of my grandmother’s siblings died in young adulthood from the same disease.  No family was untouched by the tragedies wrought by these lethal infections.

In the Special Collection of Biographies, we can find the stories of many of the people who developed vaccines, thereby saving millions of lives.  It would take too long to look at the inventors of all the most important vaccines, but here is a whistle-stop tour of just a few of them:

Edward Jenner

Edward Jenner was the father of vaccination; in the 1790s he investigated the fact that milkmaids had a far lower rate of smallpox infection than average, and worked out that the cow pox they were catching from cattle was making them immune to the much deadlier smallpox (killer of 10% of the population at the time).  He had the revolutionary idea of introducing just the right amount of disease to produce immunity in healthy people.  Amongst many books about him, we have the earliest biography, published by his friend John Baron in 1838 (Pics 2 and 3)

Louis Tompkins Wright

Over a century later, Louis Tompkins Wright revisited smallpox vaccination in a military setting and invented the procedure of interdermal vaccination.(Pic 4) He was inspired by his doctor father, Ceah Ketchan Wright, whose achievements would have been impressive in any context, but were particularly remarkable given that he was born into slavery in Georgia. Wright followed his father into the profession, graduating from Harvard in 1915.  Serving as an Army Medical Corps Lieutenant in France during the Great War, he perfected the method whereby vaccine is injected into the skin rather than more deeply, which enabled him to vaccinate soldiers quickly and with reduced risk of infection. He was awarded the Purple Heart for his war service, and was subject to poison gas attack which affected his health for the rest of his life, and caused his death aged 61. He became a civil rights activist and was president of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) from 1935 until his death in 1952.  As the first African American to serve both as surgeon on the staff of a desegregated hospital (Harlem Hospital, where he eventually became Chief Surgeon) and as a police surgeon, Wright fought racism throughout his career, and protested against segregated medical care.  As his father had inspired him, so he inspired his two daughters, who both went on to become ground-breaking doctors and cancer researchers.

Jonas Salk

Polio was a huge problem in the twentieth century; panic would erupt, and public swimming pools be closed, when the disease went through a community.  It could be fatal, and could lead to permanent paralysis, sometimes meaning that the only way the sufferer could survive would be to live inside an “iron lung”, which enabled them to breathe but made any kind of normal life impossible.  Jonas Salk, the son of uneducated Russian Jewish immigrants to the USA, developed the vaccination in 1955. (Pic 5) He had previously developed a vaccine for flu, which the pandemic of 1918 had shown was a viral infection rather than a bacterial one, as had been believed.  He struggled with the huge fame and adulation he experienced after making his life-saving discoveries.

Many of us will remember having the BCG vaccination against TB as school children – but may not know that the “BCG” stands for Bacillus Calmette Guerin, after Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin, the  French immunologists who created the vaccine in 1921 – of whom unfortunately only French language biographies have as yet been published. (Pic 6) Robert Koch had won the Nobel Prize in 1905 for his work identifying the TB bacillus, which made a vaccine possible – it is extraordinary to realise that at one time, 1 in 7 of all deaths throughout the whole of global humanity was caused by this disease. (Pic 7)

Grace Elderling

At the Michigan Department of Health, Pearl Kendrick and Grace Elderling (pic 8) developed the vaccination for whooping cough (pertussis). It caused violent paroxysms of coughing, with the characteristic sound that gave it its name, which could be fatal, especially in children who were 95% of its victims.  Both women had survived the disease as children and were keenly aware of how easily they might not have done. As the Great Depression had led to the department being starved of funds and staff, the women undertook their research unpaid and outside their normal working hours.

Maurice Hilleman grew up on a farm in Montana, and later said that the deaths of his mother and twin sister shortly after his birth made him want to save lives, and that working with the chickens as a boy had led to his interest in biology. (pic 9) He went on to develop an incredible 40 different vaccines, including those for measles, mumps, and hepatitis A and B.  It is estimated that his work saves 8 million lives worldwide every single year.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about these people whose discoveries have saved so many lives, and may be inspired to read their stories.  Check out our BioEpic podcast available on Anchor, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Pocket Casts and Radio Public for more stories of fascinating people.

Books we love…

Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo reviewed by Anton from Victoria Library!

Book cover of Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo

Pedro Páramo is a short book (less than 150 pages), but it is a very important book.  

Published in 1955 it is a precursor of the “magic realism” movement so important in latin-american literature and is cited as an important influence by authors such as García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes or Jorge Luis Borges. The author, Juan Rulfo is admired by writers all around the world, from Susan Sontag or Günter Grass to Gao Xingjian or Kenzaburo Oe. 

In the beginning of the book we follow Juan Preciado, who promises her mother on her deathbed to travel back to her childhood town of Comala and look for his father (“Pedro Páramo” hence the title).  

Comala is a kind of purgatory, a place where the present and the past mix, the people that we meet there are mostly ghosts from the past of the town when it was a lively place and not the dusty desert that it has become. Through their voices we hear the story of Pedro Páramo, or Don Pedro as he was known at the time. He was a successful landowner who would always get what he wanted through money, intimidation or violence. But he was also an unhappy man, unable to have enjoyment or connect with others. We find that he had one true love in his life, Susana San Juan, which was his childhood sweetheart but then moved away from Comala. When Susana returns to the town as a widow Pedro is determined to “get her” one way or another…spoiler ahead…it doesn’t end well. 

Rulfo’s prose is mostly straightforward but this is a complex work; the fragmentary perspective defines the book, going from first person to third person, from the present to the past. The story becomes complicated with many voices interrupting the main narrative to tell their little own tales. It’s a book about hopes and dreams, death and redemption. 

There aren’t many books quite like this: a really small work but with a large lasting impact in literature throughout the world. 

If you would like to borrow a copy from our libraries, use our catalogue to make a reservation:

https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/?

You can also visit one of our branches (which are currently operating with a reduced service).

Book Awards Announced Recently

With award season in full swing the longlist for the Women’s Fiction prize has been announced.

*Copies of the books are available for Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea Libraries.

To search the Kensington and Chelsea Libraries catalogue, click the link below: https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/

You can select and collect the book or alternatively many are available to download via our new Libby app or via Cloud Library.

This year’s longlist honours both new and well-established writers and a range of genres and themes – family (twins and siblings, mother-daughter relationships); motherhood; rural poverty and isolation; addiction; identity and belonging; race, class and gender; grief and happiness; coming-of-age and later life. The novels span a range of different global settings, from South London to Deep South US; Ghana, Hong Kong, Barbados, Brooklyn and a fantasy realm.

*some books will be available soon or are currently on a waiting list.

Shortlist to be announced 28th April Winner announced 7th July

BOOKSELLER “NIBBIES” AWARDS

The Bookseller has shortlisted its books of the year in various categories:

Fiction:

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell

The Evening and the Morning – Ken Follett

The Lying Life of Adults – Elena Ferrante

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

The Mirror and the Light – Hilary Mantel

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett

Fiction: Debut

Exciting Times – Naosie Dolan

Ghosts – Dolly Alderton

Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart

The Girl with the Louding Voice – Abi Dare

Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid

Rainbow Milk  – Paul Mendez

Fiction: Crime and thriller:

The Guest List – Lucy Foley

Troubled Blood – Robert Galbraith

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman

The Sentinal – Lee Child

The Patient Man – Joy Ellis

A Song for Dark Times – Ian Rankin

Audiobook:

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

Troubled Blood – Robert Galbraith

A Promised Land -Barack Obama

Grown Ups – Marion Keyes

Greenlights – Matthew Mcconaughy

Piranesi- Susanna Clarke

Think like a Monk – Jay Shetty

Sandman – Neil Gaiman

Non-Fiction: Narrative

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

Tomorrow Will Be A Good Day by Captain Sir Tom Moore

Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake

Me And White Supremacy by Layla F Saad

Non-Fiction: Lifestyle

Not a Diet Book by James Smith

Skincare by Caroline Hirons

Nadiya Bakes by Nadiya Hussain

Think Like a Monk – Jay Shetty

Five Minute Mum: Give Me Five by Daisy Upton

What Mummy Makes by Rebecca Wilson

Check out these great titles from Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea Libraries.

YA (YOUNG ADULT) BOOK PRIZE 2021 SHORTLIST

10 titles have been nominated for The Bookseller’s YA book of the year, with the winner being announced on 6th May 2021 during the Hay festival. Wide ranging subjects feature in the books, and all titles are available from Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea libraries.

International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Thursday 25 March is the International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The United Nations will commemorate this Day under the theme “Ending Slavery’s Legacy of Racism: A Global Imperative for Justice”.

Today is not a public holiday, but a day for global observance. It gives us the opportunity to honour and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system. It also rises the awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice today.

The International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade gives us an occasion to educate ourselves and our children about the effects of racism, slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

Last August I took my eight- and thirteen-year-old nephews to the National Gallery (and for pizza, of course). While preparing for the outing, two paintings caught my attention – Sir Joshua Reynolds’ ‘Colonel Tarleton’, and ‘The Sharp Family’ by Johann Zoffany. Granville Sharp was a leading British abolitionist and instigator of the first settlement of freed African slaves in Sierra Leone. As well as his campaign for the abolition of slavery, Sharp held other radical political opinions, supporting parliamentary reform and better wages for labourers. These two paintings, displayed close to each other, in Rooms 33 and 35, they talk very different stories of slavery, abolition of slavery and racism.

Zvezdana and her nephew viewing ‘The Sharp Family’ at the National Gallery

Thanks to Jason Isaacs’ portrayal of British Colonel Tavington (based on Tarleton)in the film ‘The Patriot’, I was much better acquainted with the “flamboyant and controversial figure” of Sir Banestre Tarleton. He was a cavalry officer, famous for his cruelty during the American war of independence. Tarleton was known as commander of the ‘Tarleton Raiders’, and for ‘Tarleton Quarters’ (shooting after surrender).  

Unlike in the film where this odious character was killed on the battlefield, the real Sir Banestre Tarleton returned to Great Britain in 1781 as a hero, at the age of twenty-seven.  Moreover, he was elected a Member of Parliament for Liverpool. Given the importance of the slave trade to the British shipping industry in Liverpool, Tarleton strongly supported slavery as an economic means. He was working to preserve the slavery business with his brothers Clayton and Thomas and became well known for his taunting and mockery of the abolitionists.

‘Colonel Tarleton’ by Joshua Reynolds
‘The Sharp Family’ by Johann Zoffany

Whether we are studying, reading, enjoying football matches, working, shopping, travelling, or taking part in the Black Lives Matter movement, we are aware of racism lurking everywhere. Even an innocent visit to the gallery cannot steer clear of these issues. I was disappointed that the information next to these paintings at the National Gallery did not give more, proper insight into the subjects of these paintings. (Luckily, I was ready to step in.) Although I appreciate and like Joshua Reynold’s art, today’s visitors need more honest and critical information and galleries, museums and historic houses must adapt and address the visitors’ needs.

“By the time of abolition, slavery was widely seen as a shameful thing.” Historian David Olusoga comments in the documentary programme Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners. “Many slave owners went out of their way to avoid admitting their involvement. But the lure of compensation drew them out of shadows. Every single slave owner who came forward is recorded in the national archives in Kew in London, 46,000 of them. It’s a complete census of ownership, at the point when slavery was taking its last gasp.” The slave owners walked with millions, while the enslaved received nothing.

by Zvezdana Popovic

For more information about this subject:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/teach/class-clips-video/history-ks3-ks4-britains-forgotten-slave-owners-compensation/zdvmhbk

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b063db18

Read more of David Olusoga’s books through our cloudLibrary site:

https://ebook.yourcloudlibrary.com/library/RBKCL/Search/david%20olusoga

Books we love…

To celebrate Shakespeare Week, we are reviewing a play we love…HAMLET – the best ever written who-done-it tragedy!

This week’s blog post is written by Zvezdana, revealing some interesting facts and background about classic Shakespearean mystery story. 

He is young, handsome, clever, eloquent, honest, well-educated; he is rich, and he is a prince. What could possibly go wrong in this young man’s life?  

Well, firstly, his father dies in suspicious circumstances.  

Secondly, only two months later, his mother re-marries; swept from her feet, like a teenage girl, full of love – for her brother-in-law!   

Spies are everywhere, and the prince is suddenly questioning everything and everyone – his mother, his uncle/ “father”, his girlfriend, his friends from university, the ghost of his late father, and even questions his own existence!

The murderers of his father will not cease at anything. His life is in imminent danger, unless, he could fake his madness.   

Will he be able to solve his father’s murder and punish the culprits, before they silence him?  

Wow! The best Nordic Noir crime writers could not have done it better!  

William Shakespeare wrote ‘The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’, often shortened to ‘Hamlet’, between 1599 and 1601.  

This revenge tragedy is Shakespeare’s longest play and it is considered one of the most powerful and influential works of world literature.  

Richard Burbage, from the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was the first actor to play Hamlet in 1601.

Since that time, for the next four hundred years (and counting), it has been every famous actor’s dream to play that role.  

Hamlet is available to borrow from our libraries in multiple formats. Click on the follow link to view our catalogue:  https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/search/results?qu=hamlet&te=  

Obtain your free library card here: https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/search/registration/$N?pc=ILSWS_RBKC

Books we love…

…Playwrights we love!

In preparation for Shakespeare Week, Zvezdana from Chelsea Library has given us the context, history and importance of Shakespeare in today’s world, as well as her experience of using Shakespeare’s works to engage with our communities.  We’ve also got an intriguing activity too! 

Over to Zvezdana to tell us more… 

If you were not aware, Shakespeare Week is almost upon us (15-21 March 2021). It is a national annual celebration giving primary school children opportunities to enrich their early experiences of Shakespeare. This celebration has been organised by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in collaboration with many other organisations, writers, actors, illustrators… The most important partnership is with the schools, parents and children.  

This year all the activities are online. Visit the website, register and enjoy the stories, art, craft and various fun materials prepared for you, available all year round – perfect whether school is in, or out. (https://www.shakespeareweek.org.uk/

Perhaps someone would ask – why Celebrate Shakespeare? 

He lived 400 years ago, and his language and his style of writing are so old-fashioned, so complicated and difficult to understand. NO! Completely wrong assumption!  “Shakespeare’s language can cast a light on the complexity of human emotions and is a wonderful way to explore and understand our own and others’ feelings.” 

Many British children encounter Shakespeare only in their teens as a mandatory topic in secondary schools. Therefore, Shakespeare Week opens the door to Shakespeare and ensures that children are given a chance to have a great first experience with one of the world’s most famous playwrights. 

Do you know that Shakespeare is a named author on the curriculum in 65% of countries, studied by around half of the world’s schoolchildren every year? And if you were not aware, William Shakespeare has been hailed as the UK’s greatest cultural export?  

And what about Shakespeare’s language!? Many words were invented by Shakespeare, introduced to the us through his plays! Can you spot in this short text any words that were coined by Shakespeare? 

Maria’s birthplace was an old farmhouse. She shared her bedroom with two siblings. It was a gloomy and noiseless late evening when she tiptoed downstairs and heard her aunt’s gossip about an alligator found in the well.”  

                                                              You will find the answer at the bottom of this blog. 

If you are too young to read Shakespeare’s plays, find in libraries retold versions, or read information books about his life and life in the Elizabethan era. Arguably, Shakespeare’s biggest achievement was not writing the sonnets or Hamlet, but, plainly surviving his first year in plague-ridden England. We do not even know for sure when he was born. By tradition, it is agreed to be 23 April, St George’s Day. This is the national day of England and, coincidentally also the date on which Shakespeare died fifty-two years later. Since Shakespeare was born under the old Julian calendar, not the Gregorian, there are many very curious combinations coming out of the calendar chaos! Check Bill Bryson’s book “Shakespeare” about that and many other interesting, inquisitive and eccentric facts from that time. 

To conclude, I am happy and privileged to meet some young enthusiastic readers while running Chatterbooks. On 6th of March we had a great Shakespeare themed Chatterbooks session- All the World’s a Stage. The children showed great knowledge about Shakespeare’s time, his comedies and his tragedies. Twelve years old, Maximilian Lubin recorded Puck’s famous soliloquy, ‘If we shadows have offended’, from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. You can listen to his audio on Our Community is Reading. Thank you, Max.   

To reward the Chatterbookers, I invited a special guest – an actress, Maya Barcot, who has performed a few Shakespeare roles in the theatre – Titania and Hermia in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Rosalind in ‘As you Like it’ and Lady Macbeth.  

Image of staff with special guest Maya Barcot!

Maya talked about why we’re still doing Shakespeare today and performed, especially for us, Titania’s “forgeries of jealousy” monologue.  Titania and Oberon’s quarrel can be seen as the driving forces behind the climate change.   

So, if you didn’t know, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is not “only” about love and mischief! Titania certainly knows the best! 

Why not have a browse of the rest of our Shakespeare collection in our libraries catalogue – https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/search/results?qu=shakespeare&te=

Please join us next week for more interesting insights into the world of Shakespeare! 

ANSWER: Maria’s birthplace was an old farmhouse. She shared her bedroom with two siblings.  It was a gloomy and noiseless late evening when she tiptoed downstairs and  heard her aunt’s gossip about an alligator found in the well. 

International Women’s Day – 8 March 2021

March 8th is International Women’s Day, and the theme this year is Choose to Challenge. Our Special Collection of Biographies is full of the stories of inspiring and extraordinary women who challenged the norms of the societies they lived in, and improved the lives of their fellow women in vital ways. I have selected three women from very different backgrounds, whose work changed the experience of other women for the better, in three different areas of their lives. 

Amelia Bloomer changed the way women dressed. Next time you put on tracksuit bottoms to go for a run (or just to relax on the sofa), spare a thought for Amelia Bloomer. Born in New York, she lived a life that spanned almost the whole of the nineteenth century, becoming the first woman to ever own and edit a newspaper specifically aimed at other women, in 1849. Amongst her lifelong advocacy for women’s rights, she is best remembered for her commitment to the cause of women’s dress reform. Bloomer felt strongly that the restrictive clothing women wore could only impede all aspects of their lives, cause them unnecessary discomfort, and operate as a form of oppression. Well off women were encumbered by elaborately decorative clothing and punishing corsetry. Even poor women were continually hampered by the length of their skirts. It seems amazing now that in the West, trousers for women were not really respectable until the middle of the 20th century, and their previous modes of dress made all kinds of activities from riding bikes to participating in sports to simply running for a (horse drawn) bus impossible. Bloomer championed the idea of loose gathered trousers worn under a shorter dress, allowing women to move more easily – these trousers became known as “bloomers”. A courageous group of like-minded women began to wear them in public, but were often harassed, mocked and even assaulted. But they had begun a century of slow progress towards the time when women could wear trousers without raising an eyebrow, and so be enabled to enjoy the same freedom of movement as men.  

Onnie Lee Logan changed the way women gave birth As Bloomer’s life almost spanned the 19th century, Logan’s did the 20th. In her farming community in Alabama, black women did not have access to clinical maternity care and they were helped to deliver their babies by “granny midwives”, who had no formal training but who were repositories of wisdom passed down for centuries. Logan came from a family where women had been practising as “granny midwives” for generations. Her heritage was both African American and Native American, and when she began to practise midwifery herself, aged 21, she drew on the traditions of both cultures. In 1949 Logan undertook formal training and was licensed by the Board of Health. She was able to give her patients the benefit of a new mixture of modern medical practice and family-centred care based on long experience and first-hand knowledge. These women benefited from as many modern medical safety measures as Logan could provide, while being reassured by the sensitivity of a woman who understood their community and cultural traditions at the deepest level. For a period of half a century, ending in the mid-80s, she is credited with delivering almost every baby born in two black neighbourhoods of Mobile, Alabama. She also delivered the babies of poor white women, and became a beloved figure throughout the community, though her autobiography does not gloss over the virulent racism she encountered. Logan emphasised practices that were still being seen as new and innovative by orthodox midwifery many years later, such as the participation of fathers, the use of relaxation and breathing techniques and the application of oils, and she encouraged women to give birth in different positions rather than flat on their backs, as was the conventional and often damaging expectation. Her autobiography is a fascinating record of a working life that spanned enormous changes – an unsentimental “Call the Midwife” of the Deep South, and a testament to an extraordinarily humane and expert woman.  

Caroline Norton changed women’s rights in marriage. Norton left her unhappy marriage in 1836, and her husband sued her friend, the Prime Minister and future close confidante of Queen Victoria Lord Melbourne for adultery, involving all of them in an enormous scandal. Although he lost his case, he refused to divorce Lady Norton, and refused to let her see her sons. At a time when women who left their husbands were generally condemned and when it was perfectly legal for a man to beat his wife, Norton campaigned tirelessly to change the law relating to custody, divorce and property (married women were not allowed to legally own any property until 1870, when an Act of Parliament Norton had campaigned for was passed). A new biography of this courageous woman by Antonia Fraser will be published in May, and we have a clutch of books in our collection from Diane Atkinson’s excellent biography of 2012, to books from the 1940s and 1960s (see the cover illustration so characteristic of that period) – and Norton also makes an appearance in some sumptuous Edwardian collected biographies of “Queens of Beauty” and “Famous Women of Wit and Beauty”, where her celebrated beauty is recorded in wonderful engraved illustrations.  

Check out our monthly podcast BioEpic, where we delve into the lives of fascinating people through our Special Collection of Biographies.  Available on Anchor, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Radio Public and Breaker.