Axie Muldoon, the headstrong daughter of Irish immigrants, forced to beg for pennies as a child on the brutal streets of New York City, grows up to become the most successful- and controversial- midwife of her time.
'Saved' from poverty by a well-meaning philanthropist, Axie is sent West with her brother Joe and her sister Dutch. But the kindness of strangers is short-loved and soon Axie returns to the city of her birth- separated from those she loves but determined to one day reunite her family.
When she is taken in by a Manhattan doctor, Axie learns the craft that she will live by- and later fight for. As a purveyor of 'lunar tonic for the relief of female complaints' she rises from the gutter to the glitter of 5th Avenue high society, and discovers that the right way is not always the way of the church or the law.
As Axie's reputation grows she finds herself on a collision course with the crusading official who would be the righteous instrument of her downfall. It will take all of her power to outwit him and save both herself and those she loves from ruin.
Axie Muldoon or the infamous Madam X's story is fascinating from start to finish. Circumstances dictate Axie's life, she finds herself an orphan in New York; her brother and sister lost and no-one to care for her. A Manhattan doctor takes her in and inadvertently she learns the craft of midwifery. Midwifery was far from an honourable profession at this time; contraception was frowned upon and women entirely at the mercy of men. Although Madam X saves many women's lives and delivers hundreds of healthy babies, it is the work she does to prevent conception or to interfere with pregnancy that sees her branded as a devil in society.
Axie has fought her way to the top of society; she is one of the richest women in New York so when someone tries to take it all away from her, she is more than prepared to put up a fight.
Kate Manning fills her story with exquisite and fascinating detail. She presents the full horrors of midwifery and female suffering, of course she also shows the delights of pregnancy and motherhood too. However, it is the negative aspects that drive Axie on to help even when she knows it brings a huge risk to her and her family. Women who already have many children and no money to feed another; victims of rape; mistresses promised the world and then abandoned when with child. Axie has all sorts knocking at her clinic door, peasants and prostitutes, right through
to the wife of the Mayor of New York. Each woman has a story and these all add up and intersperse to make a truly wonderful book.
I had so much admiration for Axie's character; she fights for everything she has and is always determined to do the right thing. Her husband Charles was also an orphan and their relationship highlights the scars left behind by their experiences. They find it so hard to trust each other as they are so used to being abandoned yet they are fiercely loyal to each other and protective; both driven by a passion to better themselves.
My Notorious Life by Madam X is one of those books that I know I will read again and again. The detail included is brilliant, I felt as though I had learnt so much and Kate Manning's careful research abd attention shines through.
Dot Scribbles Rating: 5/5
Many thanks to the lovely Jude at Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of the book, it is available now.