Thursday, November 28, 2013

New England Nurse

By Adelaide Humphries, ©1956
Nurse Judy Andrews found life rewarding in her lovely, quiet, snowbound Vermont village. Engaged to Neal Bentley, whom she had known all her life, she was happily planning to be married in the spring. Overnight, her comfortable world changed. Curt Wiley, a handsome Texas engineer, came to town to build a ski resort on the mountain that Judy loved. By the first snowfall, the sleepy little town would be seething with activity. Judy hated Curt the moment she met him, hated this Texan who was charming all the women in town and was now turning that charm on her! Then, unaccustomed to the New England climate, Curt came down with pneumonia. As she nursed him back to health, Judy discovered that Curt was not the playboy he appeared to be, not just a fast-talking promoter, but a decent, sensitive human being who had a difficult job to do, and who seemed to be falling in love with her. Suddenly Neal Bentley seemed dull and uninteresting to Judy. By spring she had to make a decision. She had to choose between the rootlessness of a life as a construction man’s wife, or the steady, homespun love of her childhood sweetheart … a decision that was as much of a surprise to Judy as it will be to you.
“Judy was the kind of nurse one usually encountered only on the covers of a magazine. The majority of nurses turned out to be middle-aged specimens, often with a superior demeanor.”
“Meeting you, Miss Andrews—and knowing I’ll be seeing you again soon—has practically cured me!”
“Marriage is a woman’s goal—she wants to be a wife and mother. Yet she knows that, once she has taken this step, nothing will ever be the same again. With a man, it’s different. I guess that’s how it should be. It’s a woman who bears the children, my dear. And that’s what I meant when I said that marriage—children—makes a woman settle down, put others before herself, give up her own identity—to a certain degree, anyway.”
“Once they were married, all these anxieties would melt away as though they had never existed. There would never be any regrets.”
“A woman can handle a situation better if she knows she looks her best.”
Vermont nurse Judy Andrews has a problem common to VNRN heroines at book’s open: Her boyfriend is a dud. “Neal was so good looking that the sight of him ought to quicken any girl’s heart,” we learn in the second chapter. “Only of course she was so used to looking at him, that her blood pressure remained normal.” She’s not wild about kissing him, either; “Judy had taken Neal’s good-night kisses so much for granted that she had never thought much about them afterwards.” So needless to say, we are not optimistic about their future. When wealthy Neal Bentley proposes, she gives him a resounding, “I—I suppose so—”
Judy is partly disappointed because “romance seldom came as one dreamed of it. For Judy, like every other young girl, dreamed of an unknown prince who would one day sweep her off her feet and carry her away, if not on a white charger, at least to places she had never seen before.” But hold on to your hat, chicken, because look who’s coming down the road: Curt Wiley, in a “two-toned hard-topped job” with white-walled tires. He’s in town to build a ski resort on the town’s mountain, though Judy feels this will ruin both the town and the mountain she loves so much. But her initial bias against Curt soon turns, as Curt also seems to share her sentimental feelings toward the environment, telling her that “it seems a shame to spoil all this.” Now Curt is looking more attractive: “Curt seemed to have the same feeling about the mountain as she did. Neal would not understand it—for now that she faced it, all Neal thought of now was how he could personally profit by the changes that had come to their community.” When Curt tells her he is never going to be rich, she thinks “money was far too important to some people—for instance, to Neal.” And when Curt is invited for Christmas at her house, “Curt fitted in exceptionally well. Better, Judy found herself thinking, than Neal would have.”
And so it is not surprising that, when Curt kisses Judy under the mistletoe, it’s a kiss that Judy isn’t likely to forget, like one of Neal’s: “It left Judy weak and limp as a rag doll. It had been the kind of kiss she had dreamed about in those dreams concerning a prince who would come from out of nowhere to carry her away. She felt like the princess who had been awakened after a long sleep.” Though Curt has heretofore been set up as something of a flirt, he seems to be developing a certain fondness for Judy. At one point, when they are out on the mountain together, he says, “I want you to know that—I’m crazy about you.” In response, she kisses him. “It was not like the kiss beneath the mistletoe. But her whole heart was in it.”
Suddenly, though, the town Curt once found so charming is “this godforsaken place,” and he can’t wait to get out. He’s talking about going to South America to build bridges, and he tells her that he cares for her but can only offer her a vagabond life without much money. In the end, though, he asks her to consider going with him when he leaves Vermont in a few weeks. She thinks about what a dud Neal is, and all but tells Curt she doesn’t love Neal. In the pages in which she ponders her decision, the biggest sticking point seems to be that “there would be talk, lots of talk. The blame would all fall on Judy Andrews, a farmer’s daughter who had run away with a stranger.”
A few days later, Neal picks up Judy at work, and she is just on the brink of telling Neal that she won’t marry him after all, “that it was Curt she loved. That when he asked her, as she knew he would, she would have to go away with him.” At this point, Curt’s character undergoes a startling about-face. Up until now, we’ve believed that “Curt is a gentleman,” as Judy’s mother, who has struck up a good friendship with the young man, says. But now, ten pages from the end, Neal tells Judy that Curt run off with Cynthia. And now, as they pull up in front of Judy’s house, she’s changed her mind: “How could she ever have thought she could leave all this?” Neal, too, has become someone else; “there were depths within him that she had not recognized before. And they belonged together—they had been born and reared in the mountains, among folks of their own kind. How could she ever have thought she wanted anyone except Neal?” And even better, suddenly his kisses are “somewhat exciting!” How convenient.
The book has some curious attitudes about marriage, mainly that once married, a woman must no longer have any opinions or ideas that her husband didn’t come up with first. Shortly after Neal proposes, he tells her that they have to cut short their drive so he can have a chat with her father. “ ‘Whatever you say,’ Judy agreed. She wondered if this was how it would be for the rest of her life—whatever Neal decided would be all right with her. Or at least she would pretend that it was.” Later, when she contemplates the upcoming Christmas holiday, she realizes that this will be her last Christmas with her own family; “as Neal’s wife, it would be her duty to spend the Christmas holidays with his people, not hers. To Judy, not to be with her own family at Christmastime would be heartbreaking. Yet she supposed it was a sacrifice she must learn to be willing, even glad, to make.” She also thinks, “Marriage would mean the end of one’s personal freedom. Until then, you were not obligated to try to be what the other person wanted, or thought, you to be.” It sounds pretty grim to me. And not much like the heroine we come to know, “a young woman with a mind of her own.”
In the end, though Judy has maintained that she is in love with Curt, all that is brushed off for what is now painted as a deeper and enduring love for Neal. All we have heard throughout the book is what a self-centered, shallow bore he is, but abruptly we find that he is exactly what Judy wanted all along. If he doesn’t make her heart pound, we’re supposed to take a page from Judy’s mother, who at one point tells Judy that she’d considered running away the morning of her own wedding, but is now very content with her life. And so Judy too is suddenly happy to abandon her career (it is taken for granted that she will stop working after she is married), her opinions and identity, passion, and even true love—if we can believe what we have been told about her feelings for Curt—for an ordinary life with a man she seems to look on as a not very interesting companion. I was annoyed at Judy’s change of heart, and I was annoyed that with Curt’s conversion at the last minute into a felonious Lothario (it’s a crime to transport a minor across state lines), she never even made a choice of her own; removing Curt from the picture took even that away from her. Though we are left with the impression that Judy is going to live happily ever after with her true prince, Neal, it sounds more like a prison sentence to me.

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