Monday, September 14, 2020

Nurse in Charge

By Elizabeth Gilzean, ©1959

When Jane was put temporarily in charge of Rossiter Ward, the senior surgeon thought her too young for the job, and said so. It was an irresistible challenge and Jane was determined to prove to him that—just for once—he was mistaken.



“Were all men fools, or did they really enjoy being offered the obvious?”

“Jane knew her prayer was not only for Sister Meadows’ sake but for the tall surgeon who had winced when he had had to offer her a small prick …”

“I never knew my ward sister had a brain as well! I see where I’ll have to watch my step.”



Jane Scott has just been promoted to staff nurse (a step up from junior nurse in the United Kingdom) when three months later, the ward sister (chief nurse) of Rossiter Ward, Sister Meadows (who unfortunately is never given a first name) is stricken with some sort of spinal tumor and Jane, at the tender age of 24, is made ward sister—something almost scandalous given her mere three years of experience. Certainly Dr. Ian Crawford, the 38-year-old surgical chief, thinks so; “You’re very young to be in charge,” he tells her condescendingly at their first meeting. Not the most vicious of put-downs, but “she still quivered with indignation at the memory of the way he had told her by look and word that she was too young for the job.” Nonetheless, just a few pages later, when resident Dr. Douglas Stievers, a bit of a cad who has been chasing Jane with an intensity that in today’s world would be called harassment, tells Jane that he’s in love with her and Ian overhears, “she had the odd sensation that his words were shutting and locking a door that had never really been open.” Don’t you worry, you silly little VNRN heroine! Never mind that he’s 14 years older and perpetually looking at you with “coldness in his face,” it’s simply meant to be!

I’m not convinced that there’s any real need to review the ensuing 160 pages of plot, but there’s a nasty nurse nemesis named Megan, who’s been kicked off the ward previously due to bad behavior—the details of which are puzzled over frequently but never revealed—who repeats a lot of gossipy lies about Jane and her platonic men friends; there’s wealthy, beautiful patient Gail who seems to be scheming to capture both Douglas and Ian; there’s Douglas persisting at virtually every page that Jane marry him and her pathetic if short-lived attempts to talk herself into marrying him given what she  believes to be her non-existent chances with Ian; there’s Ian’s increasing interest in Jane that she stupidly cannot be convinced of despite how incredibly obvious it is; there’s the ongoing obstacle of misunderstanding about Jane and Douglas’ relationship that impedes her progress with Ian. In other words, same old, same old.

The writing is easy and pleasant, with interesting characters—Jane, fortunately, a competent, efficient, admirable nurse being one of them; Ian, as per the VNRN norm, not—but more than 50 pages from the end Ian asks Jane to dinner at his house, and from then on their mutual regard is mostly assured, outside of a few pages of Jane’s quite irritating and baseless insecurities. Ian doesn’t help matters by running hot and frigid toward her for the rest of the book—perennially apologizing when hot: “Poor little Jane! Was I sounding cross again? I must watch myself,” and then doing it again five pages later. The last quarter of the book is contriving to whip up crises that quickly come to nothing and so drags not a little. Which means that if mostly easygoing and engaging, the book does creep into dull and irritating at the end. We’re spared the knowledge that Jane will be quitting her job after marriage—that decision is never discussed with us—but I can’t heartily endorse this book as anything special or a must-read. If “pleasant enough” is damning with faint praise, then damn I  must.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Much-Loved Nurse

By Pauline Ash, ©1967

Nurse Leila possessed a rare quality—the ability to draw people out. Wherever she went, within the hospital or outside it, people found themselves falling in love with her. All except the one person she really cared about. Was there anything she could do to change the way he felt?


“I think you’d be wretched without something of your very own to keep you occupied, but I can’t help feeling, sometimes, that you ought to have a family to raise, instead of just a job.”

“I wish you nurses would just nurse, and not talk to the patients at all!”

“This young man was going to kick against the pricks, every inch of the way.”

“If he could have shrugged, he would have, but he couldn’t because of his injuries.”

Poor Nurse Leila Richmond. She really likes taking care of patients, which in this case means running errands for them, giving advice about their personal lives, carrying secret messages to the secret people in their lives—and unfortunately, as she’s on the men’s ward, all these patients soon come to feel they’re in love with her. And why wouldn’t they? “She was a golden girl. Golden of skin, golden of hair—and her eyes—they caught the sunlight, and they danced, and it was the happiest, the most beautiful face he had seen for a long time.”

A number of patients are yearning for her tragically: Dudley Marchmont, a wealthy young painter, whose hands were burned in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue a child from the fire that burned his apartment building to the ground (an especially gruesome backstory that is barely commented upon); Jeffrey Philbey, a mountaineer with an unhappy marriage who had forced his reluctant wife to come on a climb with him, and in the accident that ensued he’d become a “spinal case”—though it seems likely that he will regain some use of his legs—and his wife was killed, leaving his 7-year-old ward, herself the orphan of his brother, in his disinterested custody; and Marwood Tappender, a travelling businessman with a habit of taking typists to dinner (but nothing more!) when he’s on the road, but he has not told his wife of his hobby, and is being blackmailed by one of the typists. Phew! And did I mention that Marwood’s wife Arabella is the sister of surgeon Kearney Holdstock, “a big man, with massive shoulders and a fine head which he held rather high,” with whom Leila is actually in love?

It’s not hard to see that nothing but serious trouble and hospital gossip is going to come of Leila’s heartfelt desire to help her patients struggling with despair—“You’ve only got to say you need something, and she’ll come galloping to do it for you!” exclaims one patient. Kearney’s feelings for Leila cause him to be sucked in to Leila’s efforts to help her patients, and it isn’t long before he’s in love with her too, but as the hot water rises around Leila’s neck, she’s convinced that the only way out—once she’s solved everyone else’s problems, naturally—is to quit her job and go work at another hospital. The women’s ward, apparently, where she would cause much less collateral damage, has no need for a dedicated nurse.

As she’s running away from the hospital with Kearney in enamored pursuit, her train crashes, which of course leads to the rapprochement of the heroine and her man. This involves her promise to marry him and quit working, even after earlier consideration of quitting her post at the hospital was described as quite a burden to bear: “With the end in sight, St. Mary’s assumed a new atmosphere, an atmosphere she didn’t want to lose. She had  been a part of this great family for long enough to be a little scared and very sad at losing it.” But with a man to be gained, she’ll chuck it all! “No more trying to arrange other people’s lives, my sweet,” says her surgeon, drastically arranging her life for her without a flicker of irony. “You’ll have quite enough on your hands managing your own,” he tells her, implying her life will revolve around him and their future children. She hesitates—and he says, “Leila, if you want to go on carrying the burdens of your patients, you have to make a choice. It’s them or me.” Well, the choice seemed obvious enough to me! While it is true that Leila gets herself excessively involved with her patients and needs to be redirected, she’s clearly a great nurse who turns hopeless patients around, and it does not stand to reason that she shouldn’t be a nurse at all. I felt the loss to the hospital, the patients, and to Leila herself—will she really be happy puttering at home with little to do (until the babies start cranking out) waiting for her surgeon husband, who will be working 60-plus hours a week, to show up?

It turns out I had read this book before but had failed somehow to write the review, and now, remembering nothing of it, I was forced to wade through it again. I can’t really say it was worth a second go-through. There’s a lot of drama in the plot, and as each patient tumbles for Leila she is completely incapable of telling them that she does not love them and that they need to pull themselves together, only compounding her problems. We’re told that Kearney is a good guy—he loves his sister very much, and he agrees to play along with several of Leila’s escapades—but she largely thinks he does not care for her and just enjoys yelling at her, not completely without reason. In the end we have a fiancé 13 years older than our 20-year-old heroine and who has few outward charms to put the reader on his side. The story is entertaining enough, but there’s not enough in this book to love as much as the fellas who all love this nurse.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Youngest Night Nurse

By Anne Durham
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

Beth Halliday didn’t know how she could have coped with all the bewildering details of hospital life without the kindly help of the Senior Surgical Registrar, Desmond Angrave … but she must beware of feeling too grateful to him, as she realized when his old friend, the beautiful Frandora Nye, became a patient in her ward.


“Perhaps it was even possible to make disaster happen, because of one’s state of mind.”

“Awful waste of nurse-power goes on in hospitals. Lots of girls get fed up and leave, to go into other  jobs or to get married. Not the best way of getting married, come to think of it.”

“Alas, we men don’t always look to the best in our womenfolk. We are foolish at rock bottom, and to be pitied.”

“A pretty woman should be clinging, anxious to please, but only too ready to take guidance from a man.”

Beth Halliday is another VNRN orphan who, after her Gran died, took up nursing. She’s apparently a full-fledged nurse but is still so green they don’t let her care for patients—good thing, too, because she’s quite a bungler: “If anyone was going to drop the metal BPs as they were taken out of the cleansing machine, it would surely be Beth. If there was going to be burnt fingers or boiling water slopped on the floor when a hot water bottle was filled from the sterilizer, that, too, would be Beth.” As a result, she’s constantly being chewed out by the senior staff, and her gaffes are known throughout the hospital. The reason for this, one fellow nurse tells her, is that “you care so much and everyone can see it, and it just challenges them to nag at you for something or other.” She’s so good, she sucks.

Outside of the hospital, though, she’s confident, outgoing and friendly, to the point that she takes Dr. Overton, a “silly, pompous” pathologist “who shrank from social contacts” under her wing, and soon she’s having a friendly dinner with him, encouraging him to get out more and throw off the beaten mantle he wears. That’s a particular theme of the book, and Beth is always dishing out this sort of advice when she herself could use a big dose of her own medicine. To wit: Dr. Desmond Angrave, who has her heart turning somersaults from the book’s early pages, clearly has an interest in her that she cannot bring herself to see. Though he takes her to tea at the home of a dear elderly woman friend of his from his childhood, takes her to dinner and the theater and fishing, solicits her advice about gifts for an acquaintance, and regularly acknowledges that he’s looked up her work schedule to find out when she’s off, she’s convinced he’s in love with Frandora Nye, a beautiful young woman who is hospitalized with burns after a fire in a theater.

And that’s basically the plot. There’s more in the periphery as Frandora jerks around a number of men—she’s the beautiful, rich, and cruel type—and a loud, pretty, selfish male actor whom all the women—Beth herself included, briefly, until she spends time with him and realizes how shallow he is—are crushing on. There’s Christmas to plan for, and Beth’s misunderstanding that Desmond and Frandora are engaged—which a fall in the river followed by a two-day apparent coma quickly put to rights. While she’s out, she misses the Christmas concert where she’s supposed to play the harmonica for the children’s ward, but she’s engaged ten minutes after she wakes, so maybe that’s not such a bad trade-off.

The best thing about this book is its characters, most of whom are complex and interesting, and most of whom are saved by love in the end. The hero is not as strong as some—he has some nice quirks, like his deep interest in fishing, and he’s quite nice, but he seems to be about 15 years older than Beth, calls her “little Beth,” and early on refers to her as “this appealing child,” which gives me the creeps. He invites her to go fishing with him, but this means she sits on the bank for hours and watches him—as if fishing in itself weren’t dull enough! Furthermore, in another odd scene, after she invites him to “tell me about fishing,” he blathers on while Beth, completely inattentive, is hypocritically chastising herself for being a “good listener! That was all she was fit for! It was no use Mrs. Mackie trying to persuade her that beauty and glamour didn’t count, and that a man just wanted a good listener, a woman to consider him, make him comfortable.” Finally, nearly caught out in her inconsideration of him, she’s “alarmed in case the appropriate noises she had been making at intervals had been the wrong ones or in the wrong places.” This scene doesn’t give me a lot of confidence that their marriage will be an enduring success. At least Beth herself settles down as a nurse, starts to seem slightly less hopeless, and by the end of the book she “had stopped looking so drawn and anxious.” I waited with dread for the announcement at the end that she would be giving up nursing after marriage, but no such pronouncement is made on that point, though it would surprise me not at all if she did. So while overall this is a pleasant enough book, there’s not enough meat here to make it a satisfying meal.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Jane Arden, Student Nurse

Book 1 of 7
By Kathleen Harris, ©1955

Jane Arden, student nurse, had heard a lot about Dr. Robin Crandall, but it wasn’t until a crisis arose and she was sent to assist in “Emergency” that she came face to face with the handsome young doctor—and in her first test as a nurse, and a woman, began to wonder if love and a career are an impossible combination.


Jane Arden, age 19, has begun nursing school at the hospital overlooking her small town, Elmwood, Ohio. At book’s open she hasn’t really told her sort-of boyfriend, David Hyatt, 23-year-old boy next door who before leaving to join the Air Force told her—essentially out of the blue—“You’re my gal” in a “blithe manner,” adding that if she looks at any other man he will “turn you over my knee and paddle you, or lock you in a dark closet and keep you there.” Apparently he takes this ownership thing very seriously. 

Eventually she breaks her treachery to him when he’s home on leave—and he tells her that if she wants to be a nurse, she must not love him the way he loves her: “A woman should be satisfied to be with the man she loves—to go where he goes, do what he wants to do.” Remarkably, his face remains unslapped, and even more remarkably for a VNRN, Jane recognizes the absurdity of his opinion. “Why should her being a woman make the difference he spoke of—why shouldn’t a woman choose what she did with her life?” she thinks, but rather than break her relationship with him off immediately, she decides that if he loves her, he will wait the three years for her to finish her training. Unfortunately she never bothers to tell him what she’s decided, so it’s unclear if David is going to play along, even though he does bring her a diamond so small “it almost took a magnifying glass to see.” Not surprisingly, the catty Jane pockets the thing when she’s at work.

So Dr. Robin Crandall, hospital heartthrob, has no idea she’s theoretically engaged when at the New Year’s gala he pulls her out to that den of iniquity, the ballroom verandah, and the two find there are fireworks exploding over Ohio. Oh, wait, that’s just their “very long kiss.”

Jane’s sister Roberta, the beautiful but cold model from New York, arrives home in an epic funk, slams the bedroom door and doesn’t come out for days. The family is too polite to inquire, but after a month of moping Roberta reveals she had inadvertently been involved with a married man whose wife finally showed up sporting a revolver to put her wise. The only thing that raises her spirits is a nasty bout of appendicitis—or, rather, that luscious Dr. Robin Crandall who is managing her care. After her two weeks in the hospital are up, she starts dating Dr. Robin. In the interim, he has pulled the classic yank-her-into-the-linen-closet maneuver to tell Jane that he’s absolutely mad about her, so she too agrees to date him, deciding that she feels “the mature kind of love only a grown woman could feel for a man. She had never felt this way toward David.”

Unfortunately the busybody nurse Millie Brooks sees them slipping disheveled out of the closet and reports Jane to the nursing supervisor, who tells Jane that unless Dr. Crandall vouches for her, she will be kicked out of the program. When she tells him this, he answers that he’d be glad to, except that it might “jeopardize my medical career”—and there’s no reason why they “should both risk our necks.” Furious, Jane breaks off what passes for a romance with him.

Fortunately for the doctor, he never stopped seeing Roberta, so he’s not completely alone—but Roberta, cold but not stupid, quickly figures out that the good doctor has done her sister wrong. Roberta surprisingly feels she owes something to her sister and flexes some muscle to get Robin to do right, at least by Jane—though naturally neither Roberta nor Robin tell her that she’s off the hook; Jane only realizes when the days pass and she isn’t called to the principal’s office. When the penny drops that her nursing career is not over, she’s only relieved “that David would never know that there had been a time when she had not been so certain. She would get out his ring and put it back on her finger. And when she did, she would have that old feeling of security again.” So here we have another VNRN that puts dull affection for the familiar ahead of passion and true love—though she certainly didn’t have the latter with Dr. Robin, either. However, there are seven more books in the Jane Arden series, so hopefully Jane will figure things out before she comes back to roost in Jane Arden’s Home-Coming.

Jane Arden Registered Nurse

Book 2 of 7
By Kathleen Harris, ©1956
Cover illustration by Victor Kalin

For three years Jane Arden had put her career before the only man she’d ever wanted. And now, when she was ready to combine the two, she discovered that this high-flying jet pilot had his head in the clouds, and his eyes on another girl. Jane had always claimed that a nurse was also a woman. Now she would have to prove it …


“As you must know, your sister is employed. Most commendable in one so beautiful.”

“There’s no reason why she should slave, when she’s so ornamental.”

“I thought from the first minute we met that I wouldn’t mid dying if little Jane could be  my nurse and I could die in her arms.”

As we pick up with Jane Arden, she has just completed her training and is looking around the world to decide what to do next. Her longtime young man, David Hyatt, is in Florida flying jets for the military, and it happens her haughty, self-centered older sister Roberta, who works as a model, lives in Miami, so Jane decides to surprise David by going to visit Roberta for a two-week vacation, and popping in to visit. David had never been wild about Jane enrolling in nursing school, feeling that he should be her “job”—so you not will be shocked to find out that he is also not pleased to find that Jane is in town, and he tells her that he has no time to see her. This gives Jane some pause about her relationship with David, but nowhere near enough.

In the meantime, Jane is hanging out with Nicky Powers, an artistic gadabout who is the nephew of millionaires, on whose estate the three are living. He’s actually the most interesting character in the book, and by far the most witty—all the Best Quotes above are from his lips; his only serious flaw is that he unfailing calls her “little Jane.” Jane, her heart mistakenly committed elsewhere, has no interest in Nicky but does like him a lot—and he of course is in love with Jane. To help pass Jane’s time, Nicky’s aunt Julia Friedmont has a convenient stroke, so Jane can step in to manage her care, extending her vacation indefinitely. Eventually David condescends to see Jane, and is cool to her, but Janes continues her unswerving and unexplained devotion to David; though “David had grown more and more surly,” “her heart seemed almost bursting with love.” Go figure.

David is working hard at his own career, which includes dating his commanding officer’s daughter, and he has failed to mention to that young lady that he’s engaged to Jane. After many, many pages of bad behavior from David—indeed, we see him demonstrate not one admirable quality—Jane and her friends drive out to see him, who based on the afternoon’s visit finally decides that Jane is the gal for him, and insists that they get married immediately. “She did hesitate, but only for a moment. Why should there be any uncertainty about her own love?” Well, any reader who’s been paying a modicum of attention could outline a goodly number of reasons why she should run screaming—and to add to the list, he demands “harshly” that she give up nursing. “I have to come first with the girl I marry,” he says. Jane thinks, “David would never be able to understand that nursing  meant as much to her as flying did to him,” and then agrees to marry him as soon as he gets back from this cross-country flight he has to make on an experimental aircraft, which I am absolutely positive is going to go off without even a hint of turbulence. “She must never let him know how big a sacrifice she had made,” she decides, and basically pins all her hopes on his eventually changing his mind: “Given time, he might come to see how important her nursing was to her and that it had nothing to do with her love for him.” Good luck with that. Even Roberta, who is never really kind on a day-to-day basis but comes through when the boys are treating her kid sister badly, is concerned that Jane is rushing into marriage with a man who has treated her “pretty shabbily.”

Back at the mansion, though, she’s realizing she has no time to plan a wedding that is so soon that her own parents can’t make it, and she’s having second thoughts—121 pages after the reader has seen the writing on the wall. She ponders whether she should tell David that she won’t give up working? No, let’s not get totally crazy. Instead she decides she will tell David they need to postpone the wedding and have a serious discussion of their plans, and that she’s going home and he must transfer to a base closer to her. Before she has a chance to demonstrate that she really can stand up for herself, even in this limited way, she is given the easy way out when David’s plane crashes and he is killed. Two pages later she’s headed home, with Nicky flying her there on his own plane (he’s a military veteran himself)—and that’s the end, to be continued in Jane Arden, Staff Nurse, and four more Jane Arden novels after that.

It’s hard to imagine that there is going to be all that much more to say about Jane Arden, who at this point in her life has proven herself to be shallow and immature with a shocking lack of self-knowledge, incapable of personal growth. In fact, we instead hear a lot about Jane’s promise to David, made as she was starting nursing school, “not to change”—despite the fact that “three years had changed him” into a “new David whom she felt she scarcely knew,” a “snob.” “If David were really like that, he could not be the man she wanted to marry, or the kind of man she could love”—the man she did with little hesitation agree to marry in the penultimate chapter. In this book Jane has proved herself to be thoroughly stunted as a human being, and the reader is left with all the frustration inherent in following such a person as they fail again and again to know their own mind, let alone say what they really think and follow through with action. There are five more Jane Arden books to go, and at this point I’m not optimistic they are going to improve.

Jane Arden Staff Nurse

Book 3 of 7
By Kathleen Harris, ©1957
Cover illustration by Victor Kalin

As staff nurse in a fast-paced university hospital, Jane Arden was sure her new job would leave her no time for men. She was also sure she’ never forget the man she’d loved all her life, and had lost in a tragic plane accident. But then she learned that time has a way of healing all wounds … and a new love a way of replacing the old.


“He would have wanted her to make a new life for herself, as she might have done even if the jet he had been testing on a trial flight had not burst into flames.”

“There were even more of the young men studying to be doctors. They seemed, with a few exceptions, utterly indifferent to the young women; the day was not too far distant when they would be the dictators and the nurses their humble disciples.”

“If she said she was looking for John Eastman, the blonde might jump to the wrong conclusion. A nice girl did not visit a man in his room.”

“Why wouldn’t a girl have you? Of course you’re not much to look at, and you’d probably forget half the time that you had a wife, but women are funny creatures.”

“An artist could do things the average person could not, and get away with it.”

Jane Arden rides again in this, the third of what I am apprehensive to tell you is a seven-part series, but I can assure you that this book is a lot better than the last one. Curiously, this book seems as eager to forget Jane Arden Registered Nurse as much as we are, for it rewrites a crucial detail—at the end of the last installment, Jane’s idiot boyfriend David had proposed, and she had accepted, though with not enough major reservations. David, however, conveniently got himself killed before Jane had to go to the trouble of growing an entirely new central nervous system, brain and spine chiefly, to realize that her betrothed was an ass and she should throw his miniscule diamond in the nearest bed pan. Here, however, we are told repeatedly that David “had confessed that he had found someone new to take her place in his heart,” so it’s “the hurt that had been dealt her pride” that is her main heartbreak and what makes her believe “she might never fall in love again”—not the tragic early death of her fiancé (in fact, that particular word is never used to describe David in this book, though another F-word certainly applied in the last one).

But facts, schmacts, here we are with Jane in a new city, rooming with her nursing school chum Clarabelle Smith, who goes out of the frying pan and into the fire by calling herself Smitty. Amazingly, Jane has wangled a position as nursing supervisor on her first job out of school! The adventure, if we’re feeling generous enough to use that word, that fills these pages is the evolution of Smitty and Jane’s friendship with lab technician John Eastman. In what I suspect is supposed to be a sort of joke, Smitty has decided to get John and Jane together, while Jane is trying to push Smitty on the same man! Ha! How will this crazy affair end?

Eventually Smitty—at the same time as she realizes that she actually is in love with John—convinces Jane that John loves her. Fortunately, author Kathleen Harris has the sense to hold this unhappy turn at bay until page 103, at which point Jane immediately sets Smitty straight and says that she doesn’t love John and so could not marry him. Oh, wait, that’s not what happens at all—even though Jane feels nothing but friendship for John, she tells Smitty, her best friend, “I won’t say yes or no” until John proposes, which will give her “time in which to get used to the idea that John was in love with her.” Now Jane has a major relapse, back into that irritating circular monologue that so plagued JARN about whether she should marry someone she doesn’t love. “Was being needed the basis for an enduring relationship?” Uh, no, but Jane has never been one to recognize a dumb idea, so we are treated to lots more of the same pointless navel-gazing. “She admired John and respected him; the deep pity he aroused in her almost demanded that she give him what she could in return,” which is a pretty astonishing statement: You are obliged to marry someone you feel sorry for? Can anyone actually believe this? 

Anyway, poor Nicky Powers, wealthy playboy-turned-serious-artist-through-his-unrequited-love-for-Jane, is hanging around the page margins, phoning now and then to tell her that his art is attracting more notice. While Jane is wrestling with her moral dilemma about whether she should ruin poor John Eastman’s life by marrying him, Nicky offers what might be construed in more barbaric times—for which the 1960s appear to qualify—as a proposal: “You must realize that someday I will have to ask you to give up your career,” says the sweet-talking fool, who in JARN was kind, understanding, and supportive, so it appears that he, too, has been rewritten for book three. Back to square one goes Jane. “Maybe she was in love with him, but being still afraid of love, she could not acknowledge it. Yet how could she be in love with Nicky and consider marrying John? The only answer to this question was that she felt John needed her more than Nicky. And if she was never to love again as she had the first time, she ought to choose the man who needed her the most; out of that need, out of her giving, surely something good would come.” Marriage being apparently akin to charity work. She should just organize a bake sale and be done with it.

AGAIN!!! Jane is saved from undergoing any actual growth as a human being when all the other characters step in to do the heavy lifting for her: (1) Smitty is injured during an attempted mugging (she beats down the mugger worse than she got, and keeps her handbag to boot) and John, in the throes of his concern for Smitty, proposes; (2) Nicky takes himself off to Paris to study under an important artist for an unspecified but surely lengthy period of time; and (3) Jane’s brother Jay is severely burned while at sea for the Navy and Jane instantly must go to him, removing herself from the scene. But I am saving the very best for last! The toy prize at the bottom of this box of Cracker Jack is that Jay needs skin grafts and only Jane can provide these—because she is his identical twin!!!! Honestly, I cannot stop laughing even as I type this. Jane should take a look in Jay’s pants to verify how identical they are.

For all the fun I’ve made of this book, up until it goes to pieces at the end, it’s actually not half bad, only about a quarter bad. I am somewhat sorry that I cannot like Smitty, who is not the quintessential wise-cracking roommate but instead something of an oaf, but she’d need to be to be friends with a self-centered loser like Jane Arden. There are some scenes at the hospital that are interesting, and Jane is only irritating at the very end. So there it is. Three down, four to go. I hope there are not a lot of nurse novel series left out there, because so far they are not convincing me of their merit.

Jane Arden Surgery Nurse

Book 4 of 7
By Kathleen Harris, ©1958

All the women who knew Dr. Tony Gray agreed that he was too attractive for his own good—yet none of them could help falling under his spell. When Jane Arden met Tony, first as his head surgical nurse, then as his latest romantic interest, she felt his belief that marriage didn’t mix with medicine made him “safe” for a girl who had an understanding with another man. And then, abruptly, she found herself up against the most difficult question a girl ever faces …


“Most of them, especially if they happen to be young and pretty, only take up nursing because they think it will pay off—in good wages, extra bonuses from grateful patients, eventually a husband!”

“So you’re a doctor! Small wonder that so many girls take to nursing.”

“Most girls, as you claim, are smart enough to make the most of their appearance. But some still are not as smart as their grandmothers. … Your grandmother was too smart ever to do things better than a man.”

“[Nurses are] big husky individuals who look down on everyone disapprovingly as though he was covered with germs. As a rule, they are quite unattractive, too.”

“‘Age of the Ultimate Weapon,’ she reminded herself, as one commentator had called it. An age so hurried there was little time for people to be kind to one another, a frightening age, with satellites being sent into outer space and talk of people going to the moon, weapons being created whose power was unthinkable.”

“You must be happy in your new job, watching the doc cut people up.”

“Men should realize that it often takes a woman to help them reach the top.”

“Perhaps she put too much of herself into her work. Perhaps there was not enough left over for a real life, aside from her chosen career, a home of her own, her own man, her own children. Every girl wanted these things more than anything else.”

Jane Arden, who should be called vagabond nurse, has moved to New York for this book, after stints in Ohio, Florida, and Tennessee in the first three. Again she’s moved into her sister’s apartment, as she did in Florida for Jane Arden Registered Nurse, Roberta also possessing a serious case of wanderlust, as having herself moved from Miami to New York, she’s now set off for Europe and left her empty apartment to Jane. We learn early that heartthrob Dr. Tony Gray is not going to be a problem because “Jane was immune to men,” but we know better! Early on she catches Dr. Tony’s eye because they work in the same OR, and agree to be friends because neither of them wants to get married—Tony because he’s concentrating on his training, Jane allegedly because two years later she is still in mourning her childhood sweetheart, whom she had agreed to marry in JARN despite the fact that he’d turned out to be a complete ass before conveniently dying in a plane crash, but I suspect that in fact it’s because she does not have a heart. You will not be surprised to learn that on her first date with Tony—which of course she accepts because they’re just friends and will never be anything else—Jane shows her true colors when, at a party thrown for her by Roberta’s friends, “Jane couldn’t help a certain coolness from creeping into her voice. She was disappointed in Tony. She had wanted to accept him as a friend. But his actions this evening made this practically impossible.” His big crime? Roberta’s married friend Carol Gaylord flirted with him. The nerve! When he asks her what’s wrong, she lies, “You must be imagining things.” Did I mention that I am not particularly fond of Jane?

In JARN Jane had met young millionaire Nicky Powers, who had inexplicably fallen in love with her, but in book three, he’d packed off to Europe to study art. He’d promised to beg Jane to marry him when he comes home, which he has not yet done in this series. Jane has nothing other than sisterly feelings toward Nicky, yet when she learns that Roberta has met up with Nicky in Paris, she again demonstrates jealous possessiveness of a man she says she doesn’t want. Now, suddenly, “Jane still did not know how she felt toward Nicky,” her jealousy apparently changing her feelings, especially now that a previously smitten man’s ardor for her may be cooling.

When Jane comes down with the flu, Tony shows up at her apartment to take care of her. Though she is still angry with him, she lets him in, because “what could she do? A nurse always obeyed the doctor.” So now they are dating again, and Jane continues her self-delusion that she isn’t jealous of Carol, and also perpetrates an ongoing stream of obvious lies to Tony about her feelings about his friendship with Carol: “It doesn’t matter, Tony. It’s none of my business,” she tells him, while all along she’s thinking he’s “pretty dumb for being taken in.” Eventually they are kissing with an “exhilaration that had taken her on a trip to the moon.” But when Tony is appointed the new chief of surgery and is too busy for dates, here she goes again, “wishing that Nicky would come back from Paris. Maybe she would discover that she did love Nicky. Jane was tempted to urge Nicky not to stay away much longer. She knew if she wrote that she needed him, Nicky would not delay his return.” If she doesn’t actually love any of her boyfriends, she certainly does love to jerk them around.

Turning back to her other puppet, when Tony asks if he can come to her apartment one evening, she goes all out with the standard VNRN fare—salad, steak, cherry pie—and throws in candles and flowers to boot, for a man she repeatedly states she is not interested in. Her ploy works, and Tony tells her, “I’m crazy about you. Please say I don’t have to fight it any more.” Interestingly, she interprets this as some sort of proposal: “They would have to make plans, now that they were in love.” He comes over for dinner a lot, though he never mentions love or marriage, and Jane is outraged when he tells her he’s moving out of his slum apartment and taking a six-month lease on a nicer place a few minutes from the hospital. “Jane felt her heart tighten. Plans like these certainly did not include her. What she wanted to say—to cry out—was, ‘What about us, Tony?’” As if a six-month lease equals a breakup. Honestly, this woman and logic have never even shaken hands. Naturally, she just lies some more: “It sounds pretty grand,” she tells him. But she won’t go there to see Tony, because even though “some girls would think nothing of going to a man’s apartment,” nice girls like Jane, who invite men to their own apartments several times a week, have bizarre double standards.

As much as she wants to put that collar on Tony, she’s doesn’t know how she feels. “Was she in love? she asked herself. She must be. She was almost deliriously happy when she was with Tony. Tony needed her; he had come to depend on her. And it was good to be needed. David had never needed her. He had been so self-sufficient.” And her waffling continues when she decides that “she hoped that when the time came to renew her contract as a surgical nurse, she would be quitting, to be married.” Which she had ardently insisted when she was engaged to her first fiancé that she would never do—though you will be completely astonished to learn that she had never actually mentioned it to the man. And yet she still doesn’t know what she’s going to say when Nicky comes home and proposes. It was all I could do not to hurl this book across the room.

Roberta returns to New York—catching Jane and Tony in the clinch—and Jane can only say “I guess” when Roberta asks if she loves him. To clarify, she explains, “Tony has an allergy when it comes to marriage,” so it seems that “love” to Jane just means “husband.” Roberta decides she is going to help Jane get Tony to propose, and before long Tony is angrily dragging Jane out of the hospital to demand to know why Jane has not told him about “this fellow.” Jane cannot stop with the lies. “What fellow?” she asks. “Are there more than one?” Tony roars, and you know there would be, if Jane could find them. It comes out that Roberta has shown Tony a cable saying that Nicky is coming home and Jane should make arrangements for the wedding. Rather than tell Tony the truth—that’s so not Jane’s way—she snaps that there’s no relationship between her and Tony because “during the very first talk we had, you informed me that you had no intention of becoming involved with anyone.” He reminds her that she said the same thing, and she stomps home. Roberta is pleased with her work: “The best way to get to the bottom of anything is to give the other person a severe jolt—and the fact that Tony took it so much to heart is a good sign.” The only shock here is that Jane then tells Roberta that she can’t marry Nicky. Roberta only gently chides Jane for keeping him dangling for so long, and then mentions that she herself is going to marry Nicky “since you don’t want him. Naturally, being a gentleman, he had to wait until you turned him down before he could ask me to marry him.” So it seems Roberta’s “jolt” was delivered to two people, not just one. These Arden women are cold-blooded killers. Roberta’s wedding goes off in two paragraphs, and Jane makes it clear that though Nicky’s aunt and uncle cable their congratulations, “Jane had been their first choice.” What a self-centered bitch Jane has turned out to be!

Tony hears about the wedding and calls Jane to tell her for the first time that he loves her, but Jane is going to jerk the hook around a bit and asks him if Carol is keeping him from being lonely. “Didn’t I just tell you I love you? What else do you want me to say?” he asks her. Jane, of course, “could have told him, but she didn’t.” Tony, however, is not too dumb to read between in the lines, but too dumb to run screaming from the horror show that is Jane Arden, and he actually proposes. Jane “caught hold of a chair to keep from toppling over.” Then she makes snarky remarks about waiting six years until Tony has become a successful surgeon. “Jane still thought it a good idea not to let this handsome young man be too sure of her,” so she refuses to answer him, saying they will talk about it when she gets home from her sister’s wedding. “She knew she was going to have a good cry as soon as she hung up. But this time her tears would be tears of happiness—all was well with Jane Arden’s world once more.” Unbelievable. I’m going to cry, too, but only because I’m going to have to read three more books about Jane Arden.