The Physician's Daughter, by Martha Conway, is a book that had me crying...a lot. I don't mean just tearing up either. They were real tears, but I'll get to that a little bit later. First, here's what the inside flap tells us it's about:
It is 1865, the American Civil War has just ended, and Vita Tenney is determined to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a country doctor like her father. But when he tells her she must get married, Vita explores every means of escape - and finds one in war veteran Jacob Culhane. Damaged by what he's seen in battle and with all his family gone, Jacob is seeking a new start. Then he meets Vita - and together they hatch a plan.
Months later, Vita seemingly has everything she desired. But alone in a big city and haunted by the mistakes of her past, she wonders if the life she always thought she wanted was too good to be true. When love starts to compete with ambition, what will come out on top?
This was a fascinating book on several levels. First, there was the fact that Jacob was in a Southern prison for much of the Civil War. Martha has done some amazing research to show us what went on behind the scenes while Jacob and his fellow prisoners tried to survive.
Another very interesting aspect of the book is how women became doctors around the middle of the 19th century. Martha's research on this fledgling practice was also a stand-out. We are all so used to having both female and male doctors, that we don't stop to think about how that started. It was very illuminating to see that it was shortly before the time the story takes place that it all began.
I also want to point out that the quotes at the beginning of each chapter are very instructive by themselves. They are quotes from the late 1700s to the late 1800s about the woman's place in this world. Here are just two mid-19th century examples:
"Ladies are all very well in their place, and that is looking after the latest Paris fashions and making tea at home." (The Medical Press and Circular, 1870)
"Study as she likes, and labour as she likes, (the female doctor) will never equal the first-class London surgeon, but she can nevertheless make the village happier, teach hygienic laws which prevent disease, or remove by a little skilled advice the suffering (of a patient)." (The Spectator, 1862)
That brings us back to the crying. It's not unusual for me to cry. However, in this book, I cried back-to-back-to-back at 3 different times toward the end of the book. That IS unusual. But that's how much I was affected.
Do you want to learn something AND care about the characters? Go ahead and grab a copy of The Physician's Daughter by Martha Conway.