I am not sure who I have to thank for the heads up about Greyladies but thank you all the same because I was immediately intrigued by the publishers strap-line...
'Well mannered books by Ladies Long Gone.'
How cleverly this links into two existing publishers.
Persephone Books and Girls Gone By come to mind, with Greyladies offering an innovative little niche bridge between the two with their remit to publish adult books by children's authors. This is the baby of Shirley Neilson of The Old Children's Bookshelf in Edinburgh, and what a bonny baby it is too with the books swaddled in their soft primrose yellow and grey (dare I say dovegrey) layette.
A perfectly circular link to the notion of Grey Ladies as the ghosts and hauntings, but in this case the very benevolent ones, of women writers past, and a really interesting list including D.E.Stevenson, Lorna Hill, Mabel Esther Allan, plus Noel Streatfeild writing under the pen name of Susan Scarlett, of which I knew nothing.
Well, having discovered Greyladies and perused the books on offer, and having foresworn that now 'retired' (and have you noticed it says as much at the top of the blog) I really don't want to read about anything remotely medical or nurse-like for at least six months. This in order to create a few degrees of separation, so I immediately ordered Sister Anne Resigns by Josephine Elder.
"An enthralling novel of nursing in London's East End in the 1920s and 30s.
From reluctant Probationer to Staff-Nurse and to Sister, the story of Anne Lee’s career is given vivid authenticity by the author’s own experience as one of the very first women medical students at the London Hospital in Whitechapel.
Written at the peak of Josephine Elder’s writing powers, just after the best of her schoolgirl fiction, Sister Anne Resigns allows the author’s main themes of personal integrity and friendship to be developed more fully than girls’ novels allow.
Originally published in 1931 under the pseudonym Margaret Potter."
As you can see nothing remotely of interest to me there...
I subsequently discover that Josephine Elder aka Margaret Potter was actually Dr Olive Potter, born in 1895 in Croydon ( where my mum and I would go shopping from our home in Mitcham), was educated at Croydon High School (who my school regularly played at hockey) and following that medical training at the London Hospital (where I did my general training) and some time spent working as hospital doctor in Plymouth (just fifteen miles from us now and I have worked there too) Dr Potter established herself as a General Practitioner in Sutton in Surrey (where I lived and went to school.). The all-women doctor practice became unusual for its day and even more so for the fact that Dr Olive practised medicine well into her eighties.
Well was I ever in the mood for Josephine Elder and Sister Anne Resigns.
When Anne Lee's father informs her that she won't be returning to school for the Upper Sixth because he won't have any daughter of his wasting time and money on books now she is sixteen..
'There's no sense in book-learning for a woman'...
Anne's future is immediately mapped out for her. She will help keep house with her mother and sisters until a suitable chap steps in from the wings to carrry her off to a life of keeping house for him. I was quite pleased that Dr Olive felt able ( and possibly justified) to quickly write Mr Lee up for a sticky and miserable end. It is a stroke that will do the deed and when Anne's mother, now penniless, suggests that Anne must find a career for herself, it is nursing that appeals just slightly more than other available and limited options.
And in many ways nursing is also considered a limited option, a lowly occupation, a class apart as Anne will quickly discover when she arrives at St Edmunds and on no account must a probabationer make eye contact with the 'tin gods' that are the doctors.
The usual things happen, there will be love and death, plus disasters in the operating theatre. Sister Anne and I are kindred spirits indeed... I had some tonsils thrown at me by an irate surgeon, she just had to cope with swabs. Stints in Casualty and Gynae will produce more horrors and when Anne qualifies and takes up a post as Sister on a children's ward that really needs to pull its socks up, I read it and thought...yes, it is still really only firm and fair discipline, along with a willingness to accept it, that will create the optimum conditions for good patient care. Anne's ward becomes a beacon of best practice, to say nothing of floors you could happily eat your dinner off, whilst sullen and disagreable nurses rise to the challenge and take a pride in their achievements.
But most interesting for me was Dr Olive's portrayal of the hospital. St Edmunds not only a place of the strictest discipline and exceptionally high standards of care, but also a microcosm of all human life, and one predominantly fueled by spite, back-stabbing and revenge amongst the staff. Not the warm friendly 'jolly japes around the bedpans' sort of place that these books usually convey.
Much allowance has to be made for the social context of this book, published in 1931 and the occasional outbreak of purple prose (for which I forgave all, most hospitals were probably very prone to it) and if I have a minor qualm it is that writing as a doctor I am not convinced that Dr Olive really had a firm grip on the real ins and outs of nurse probationer life. Anne is desperately lonely and isolated with little mention of the camaraderie of a group of peers, just one stray friend who flits in and out of her life. Both historically, and in my own experience, nurses have always been exceptionally good at seeking each other out and supporting one another through the tough times. It seems more likely (to me) that the isolation may have been a reflection of Dr Olive's own as one of only four women medical students at the London Hospital at the time. It is a minor detail though because it is refreshing enough to see a doctor even attempting to portray the life of a nurse.
So having made a one-off exception to my rule of no remotely work-related reading for a few months, I immediately ordered the rest of Josephine Elder's medical novels from sources various and have ready and waiting The Encircled Heart (1951)...
Marion Blake is a young doctor with a growing practice living with her pathologist friend, Philippa. She is totally and happily absorbed in her work – of which we are given fascinating descriptions – until she meets and marries Paul Shepherd, a university lecturer and aspiring playwright.
Inevitably conflicts arise when Paul, an indulged only son with his little boy smile, wants “to love you and work for you and have you for myself alone,” but Marion, calm and competent, steadfastly self-reliant, “can’t give the practice up. It’s my child, I made it!” and ‘Dr. Blake’ has to take precedence over ‘Paul’s wife’.
The introduction includes the text of a talk the author gave to the Women’s Institute on her medical training at Girton and the London Hospital in Whitechapel.
and Doctor's Children (1948)...
When Barbara's husband deserts her, she uproots her family of four children to London where she resumes her career as a doctor. Written at the time of the launch of the National Health Service in 1948, and written by a practising GP, this presents an interesting picture of how a single parent who is also a professional woman copes with the prevailing ethos that a woman's place, and certainly a married woman's place, is in the home.
No, not remotely interested in all this anymore me...
Any other good nursingly medical novels you can think of ??