Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The New Nurse

By Florence Stuart
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1947

“Kitty, will you marry me?” For the four years since he had jilted her, Kitty Foster dreamed of hearing those words. And now Dick Dunning was saying them. Of course, he was still married to Rose. But Dick said they had already planned on a divorce when she had her terrible accident. ‘Yes, I married her. I’ve no one to blame by myself. I wasn’t in love with her. I never was. And it isn’t her fault. It’s you I love, Kitty. I’ve always loved you. Kitty, will you be my wife?’ Kitty knew that she should be shocked. But Dick’s eyes brushed hers and it was as if his hand had touched her. She felt herself tremble with the surge of longing that poured through her. She knew it was wrong and yet she couldn’t help herself …”


“She simply couldn’t understand why any woman should chose to spend her life ‘going to business’ as long as there were nice, attractive men to be married, and cute, cozy, chintz-draped little homes to be made for them.”

“I don’t want your Dick, honey.”

Let me say right off that this book is a sham. Despite the cover, which gives us a woman in a nurse’s uniform and the cover lines, “Could her dedication as a nurse conquer the passion of her woman’s heart?”—our heroine, Kitty Foster, is not, and never will be, a registered nurse. Rather, she is pressed into service to care for Rose Dunning, after Rose’s husband Dick—who dumped Kitty virtually at the altar four years earlier—drank too much one evening and got into a car accident, leaving her with a back injury and near paralysis.

The closest Kitty gets to being an actual nurse is when, “Two or three years before, she had even played with the idea of training to be a nurse. But of course, during that period she had considered practically every career that was open to women, and one or two that weren’t.” This quote is worth pausing over, more to reflect on the fact that at one point in time there were jobs that women were not allowed to hold. Kind of shocking, isn’t it? We may bemoan the lack of women in Congress or in the CEO’s office, but at least we understand that those ambitions are reasonable, and possible, for women. What must it have been like to know that your only career options were secretary, teacher, or nurse? (I’m also reading When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, by Gail Collins, a really great book that has me thinking a bit more about these issues.)

Anyhoo, Kitty is fast becoming a bitter old maid, in the process of opening a dress shop—that repository for dried-up spinsters—when Dick’s wife is thrust upon her by Carter Paige, her longtime chum who is desperately in love with her but whom she considers no more than a good friend. So in nursing the cheap tramp, Kitty again encounters the man who ruined her life and turned her into a hard, selfish shrew. He tells her the story about how he, in New York about to be shipped off to war, runs into Rose, and, believing he is going to be killed in battle, marries her on the spur of the moment. But he doesn’t love Rose, he tells Kitty, and he wants her back. Though she is momentarily flattered by his attention, she quickly discovers that Rose really loves Dick, and that Dick is a spoiled, self-centered ass.

And that’s really all there is to say about this book. While not an unpleasant read, it’s really a short story stretched out into 126 pages, with lots of soul-searching and rehashing all of Dick’s flaws, and then a slow warming to Carter, who really is an attractive character. The wrench in the works of her budding feelings for Carter is the blonde knockout Dorothy. Will Kitty snag Carter in the end? Hmmm, I wonder.

Really, the most interesting thing about this book was a paragraph describing her encounter with the real estate agent when she backs out of the dress shop deal: “Mr. Bampton was surprised, but not too greatly surprised. He was an elderly man who leaned toward the view that the average woman never knew what she wanted from one minute to the next. He never took it amiss when a woman with whom he had had business dealings changed her mind at the last minute. He felt that the poor little dears couldn’t help themselves, nature having made them as they were. … The only thing that ever really surprised Mr. Bampton was when a woman did exactly what she said she was going to.” Again, can you even imagine living in a time when attitudes like this were commonplace? But other than these can-you-believe-that moments, there is no reason to read this book—and I would say this even if I weren’t holding a grudge because it tricked me into believing that it’s a nurse novel.

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