Excerpt from Love and Fury by Samantha Silva, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Love and Fury

A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft

by Samantha Silva

Love and Fury by Samantha Silva X
Love and Fury by Samantha Silva
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  • Published:
    May 2021, 288 pages

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Will Heath
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Print Excerpt

Mrs. B

August 30, 1797

Mrs. Blenkinsop arrived at a neat circle of three-story houses at the edge of North London, surprised to find her charge at the open door, holding her ripe belly with both hands and ushering her inside with an easy smile and no apparent terror of the event to come. The home and its mistress, in a muslin gown and indigo shawl, smelled of apple dumplings. Though they hadn't met, the woman took the midwife's hand and led her past half-furnished rooms, introducing them as she went, waving away stacks of books on a Turkish carpet, anticipating shelves, and the occasional wood box and leather trunk, as "the old life still finding its place in the new." Mrs. Blenkinsop had seen far more disarray in her time, and liked the simple touches, cut flowers in every room and a single oval portrait, just a face (that looked very much like the missus herself) gazing out from over a mantel. In the garden out back, which was enjoying its first late-summer bloom, the midwife caught sight of a little girl, three years old, she guessed, playing with a young woman who seemed to be telling her the names of plants.

It was a fine house, with fresh white walls and open windows, tall as Heaven, inviting a cordial breeze that followed them down a hall, up two steep staircases, and into the airy bedroom where the missus led her, answering each of Mrs. Blenkinsop's questions with an uncanny calm: Her waters had started as a trickle but ended as a gush as she'd stood in the kitchen that morning. She'd felt a dull ache and scattered pains, with no sensible pattern, but she wasn't unwell, and remembered eating, only two hours before, a small breakfast, which she hoped was enough nourishment to sustain her for the labor to come.

"I don't imagine there'll be much for you to do, Mrs. Blenkinsop, but sit by and wait for Nature to do what your art cannot."

"No objection by me." The midwife put her old bag and bottle of gin on the floor.

"I can't abide the lying-in. I was up next day with Fanny."

"Sweet girl in the garden just now?"

"Yes, with our dear Marguerite. Both too sweet for the world, I'm afraid. But Fanny wasn't shy coming into it."

The midwife took off her brown cape and folded it over a chair. "Well, I've never seen two births the same. Not in all my time. But we'll hope for the best."

"I told Mr. Godwin I'd be down for dinner tomorrow afternoon."

"Let's have a look, then," said the midwife, eager to attend to the business at hand. "D'you mind if I take off my cap?"

"Of course, Mrs. Blenkinsop. We don't stand on ceremony here."

"'Mrs. B' ought to do fine," she said, taking some almond oil from her bag and rubbing her hands clean with it. "Shortens things up."

"Mrs. B, then."

A servant appeared with a pressed apron for the midwife, which she wrapped around her own dumpling of a stomach and tied at the back. She removed the woman's slippers, squeezing the arch of each foot before lifting her legs onto the bed, then laid her palms on the great taut womb, and closed her eyes as a way of gathering all her senses to feel the child inside. Satisfied that the baby had fallen down proper and headfirst, she sat on the edge of the bed to raise the missus's knees to a slight bend, rolled her gown to the crest of them, pulled off her underthings, and lightly pressed her legs apart. They had the give of a woman who'd done this before.

As the midwife inquired into her case—dilated only one finger's worth across—the pregnant woman exhaled a slow breath and talked to the ceiling.

"I told Mr. Godwin over breakfast I had no doubt of seeing the animal today, but that I must wait for you to guess the hour. I think he was somewhat alarmed at the prospect of it all, but relieved when I sent him away. Though I promised I'd send word throughout the day."

"Then it'll just be the two of us, for now." The midwife wiped her hands on her apron. The custom of gathering a gaggle of female relatives and friends, as far as she was concerned, did nothing to serve the cause, or the patient. None of them, in her experience, could agree on a best course going forward or backward: Was it oystershell powder for weak digestion, or crushed chamomile flowers? Cayenne pepper or laudanum for morning sickness? A "cooling" or a "heating" diet throughout? (Mrs. B had seen too many women living like a horse on grassy food and water.) If a woman's pains weren't strong enough, her attendants promoted large quantities of strong liquors, and if very strong, even more. The only thing worse, in her mind, was the calling of a doctor, who was always quick with the forceps and short on patience with a woman in pain.

Excerpted from Love and Fury by Samantha Silva. Copyright © 2021 by Samantha Silva. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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