The Midwife of Venice

The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich is a historical novel that offers the reader a peep into “women’s business” in the year of 1575 in Venice. Hannah is a Jewish midwife and reputed to be the best. She has a secret. A device she refers to as her “birthing spoons”, a primitive version of forceps. The discovery of a tool like these “birthing spoons” is likely to see the owner labelled as a heretic or a witch, so Hannah guards her secret and her tool carefully. Hannah lives alone in a Jewish ghetto and late one night a member of Venetian nobility, The Conte di Padovani comes knocking at her door and imploring for her assistance. The Conte’s wife is slowly dying in childbirth and also his child, his heir, his chance for inheritance and his hope. Hannah’s expertise is required to save the mother and baby. The problem is, that by Papal edict Jewish midwives are forbidden from delivering Christian babies. Additionally Hannah’s Rabbi forbids her from accepting The Conte’s request. If she accepts she may bring trouble and condemn the entire resident population of the Jewish ghetto. Recklessly, Hannah defies all orders and agrees to assist with the childbirth. “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision” (page 273).

Aiding Hannah to make her rash decision is that fact that she has a problem of her own. Her husband, Isaac is being held as a slave on the island of Malta and his freedom rests in a large ransom price being paid. The Conte’s payment for Hannah’s birth services could buy Isaac’s freedom. This is her primary motive for agreeing.

This novel is not a challenge to read, and admittedly it does have a few glaring issues, oversights and plot holes, however the reader is bound to admire the underdog heroine and be interested in the intrigue and tempo of the novel if they are wiling to be compassionate.