Cover illustration by Harry Bennett
When nurse Mary Tyler learned that she was being sent to Vienna, she was overjoyed. Cannister Memorial in New York had always seemed to her an exciting place. But all her life she had longed to see Europe. Besides, Franz Schneider, who also worked at Cannister Memorial, was to be one of the two doctors on the team. And Mary was secretly in love with him. Then in Vienna she met a young Hungarian baron who swept her off her feet. She had intended only to make Franz jealous. But soon she found that she was playing with fire.
“Who’s not married? I mean, of the doctors, that is. Among the nurses the percentage is heartbreakingly high, of course.”
“ ‘You have my best wishes. I’m rooting for you,’ Shirley said.
“ ‘Root for the Mets,’ Mary said. ‘They need it more than I do.’ ”
“Do you think I think that any man just wants to hold hands?”
“No man should be allowed to have eyelashes like that.”
Nurse Mary Tyler has been dating Austrian Dr. Franz Schneider, a neurosurgery fellow at Cannister Memorial Hospital, but it hasn’t gone well. Right out of the gate the two are rehashing an old argument: He claims she made an error at work by neglecting to give a patient a medication, and she says the medication was never written in the order book, and he says it was a verbal order, and she says he never gave her the order, that he was just mad because she’d come in five minutes late after inviting an old (male) friend from her home town to her apartment for dinner the night before. She says that only if they are married or engaged does he have the right to question her behavior, and he says her behavior went beyond acceptable standards. “He was horrid, simply horrid,” she thinks, and then agrees to have dinner with him.
Over veal parmagiana, she categorizes his faults: He’s exasperating, ponderous, elderly, very stuffy, critical, possessive, watchful. But the hospital is sending two doctors and two nurses to Vienna, and Franz is going, and he would like Mary to go. She agrees, if he will stay out of her life. But once they arrive, Franz offers to show her around and she accepts. Before long, they’re spending their days and their dinners together. Really, the quality about him she seems to admire is the fact that he’s not hard to look at. “He was so marvelous-looking, she thought. Like a dark Greek god.”
When she meets Otto, Franz’s childhood acquaintance and a now-impoverished Hungarian baron, she starts seeing him, and Franz sees red—and not just the color of Mary’s hair. Franz forbids Mary to go out with Otto, telling her that Otto is a wolf; you can guess how well that goes over. Now she refuses to see Franz at all, on the grounds that “he was a dictatorial and possessive and smothering personality, and if she allowed him to he would take over her life completely, and finally her mind.” Not only does Mary continue to see Otto, but she even recklessly accepts a dare: to cross over the iron curtain and visit Otto’s ancestral property in Hungary for an afternoon. Once there, Otto tells Mary that the border has been sealed for the evening and that they won’t be able to get back until the next day. Otto then makes a pass at Mary, but she fights him off, telling him that if he comes near her she will jump out the second-story window. The next day he coldly drives her, virtue intact, back to the hospital, but it’s clear he won’t be calling her again.
Franz finds out Mary’s been out all night with Otto, though, and he is furious. Now Mary is suddenly heartbroken: “She had thrown away her chances with Franz, played her cards stupidly, lost him,” she thinks. “Oh, yes, she loved him, loved him dreadfully, had always loved him, would continue to love him.” What?!? And there’s more: “She had always felt so safe with him, so protected against the world.” No, she had felt imprisoned by him, which is not the same thing at all. Franz refuses to accept her story, however, believing that she slept with Otto. So she resigns her post in Vienna and returns to the United States. When Franz returns a few weeks later, he takes her to dinner, where he tells her that although he really knew she had not slept with Otto, he was so angry that “I wanted to beat you.” What more is there to do but accept his ensuing proposal of marriage with an emphatic, “I guess so,” thinking that Franz is “the man to whom she had just given over her independence, and it came to her that it was a most desirable loss.”
I cannot stand a book that wants to have it both ways. The Franz we meet in the beginning of the book is a domineering, brooding, condescending ass, and Mary fights his attempts to subjugate her tooth and nail; as the book opens she had stopped seeing him because she could not tolerate his oppressive attempts to control her. Yet suddenly she can’t live without him, and willingly sacrifices her individuality for what will most likely become one of those marriages where if he doesn’t actually beat her, as he’s already expressed an interest in doing, he’ll keep her shut away in the house and refuse to allow her any contact with the outside world. This book is written in an engaging, lively style, and Mary was a character that I particularly liked—up until the end, anyway. When she becomes yet another spineless milquetoast who sells out for an engagement ring, it’s time to say Auf Wiedersehen.