Saturday, June 11, 2011

Society Nurse

By Jean Carew (pseud. of Jane Corby), ©1963
Cover illustration by Robert Maguire

Doctor’s orders! Give up her fun-filled life as the most prominent debutante in town. Devote herself to helping the poor and the sick. Return Ed Talbot’s ring and forget her glamorous future as his wife. It was strong medicine. But Josette knew she must do it if she wanted Doctor Gregory Fielding’s respect. Yet, why was his approval so important to her?


“Listen to your mother when she asks you to lead the debutante parade with your hair its natural color.”

“He was prouder of being one of the nation’s foremost stamp collectors than he was of his financial reputation.”

“There was something about the dignity and tradition of being presented to the social leaders of Clarkesville that marked an important turning point in a young girl’s life.”

“It would be a brave germ that would dare to bite Mrs. Talbot without the august lady’s express permission.”

“Test tubes and research equipment and new medicines were so exciting to the doctors of the present generation.”

“It is quite obvious my dear, that you are not married to a doctor. If you were, you would know that the climate of discovery that a doctor’s wife lives in is confined almost solely to finding lost shirts studs or making sure that your husband’s tuxedo is ready when he dashes in five minutes before he is going somewhere to make a speech.”

“Don’t underestimate the fury of a stuffed shirt.”

“Okay, miss—make with the aspirins.”

Cover lines don’t get much better than this: “She rated tops in the Social Register but how did she rate as a woman?” For a moment I wondered if this book was published by Ace, which is the undisputed master of the cover lines. Social Register queen Josette DeCourcy—JoJo to her friends—is the outgoing number one debutante of the previous year. She’s engaged to Edward Stanley Talbot, an attorney and rising diplomatic star who is counting on her to play an essential role in life: “As my wife you will be internationally famous as a hostess,” he tells her.

Then, on their way home from the debutante ball at 3 a.m., they run over an old derelict and badly injure him. Ed rises to the occasion and insists they drive their victim to a private hospital even though it’s farther away, because “it was bad enough for him to have been driving when the accident occurred … Once the papers got hold of that fact, they’d really make the most of it. But at the Pavilion the staff could be trusted to say nothing for publication.” He is relieved when JoJo suggests they say she had been driving, and at the hospital he carries on about conspiracies of gangsters who push old men in front of cars, frame the drivers if they are important persons like him, and then cash in on insurance policies taken out against the derelicts. JoJo can’t help but think poorly of his chivalry. For her part, she spends the rest of the evening wishing she could do more to help the old man, Jim Norton, and noticing how poorly everyone treats him—everyone, that is, except Dr. Gregory Fielding. Dr. Fielding is more than a little scornful of JoJo, telling her that the sympathy of a debutante is short-lived: “You’ll have your butler bring around a basket of fruit and that will be the end of it.”

But JoJo is made of sterner stuff, and the next morning she calls up her Aunt Liza Devery in Chicago, who has used her money to establish a settlement house for the poor, and tells her that she wants to become a practical nurse. Liza has just started a nursing class, and offers JoJo a suite in her house for the three months the class will take, and JoJo hops the next plane. Classes aren’t easy, because in addition to wearing unattractive dresses, low-heeled shoes and serviceable stockings, “there was still more she had to do to submerge her glamorous personality,” namely stopping the limo two blocks from the settlement house and walking the rest of the way. Also, she has to learn to make a bed.

Ed has had to go to Washington for a while, and JoJo hasn’t mentioned the fact that she is taking this class to him, since “he was as determined as ever to dictate her every action,” and he is dead set against it. When Dr. Fielding shows up in Chicago for a conference, he asks JoJo to go with him to the last night’s banquet. When they get home at 3 a.m., there’s Ed on Liza’s doorstep, furious at JoJo’s deception and her seeing Dr. Fielding, which he blows up into a huge conspiracy, opining that they’ve been carrying on an affair since the night she ran over Jim Norton—he now seems to think this is how it really happened. She has mixed feelings about Ed, between her guilt over having hidden the truth from him and how he treats her like “a child or a moron,” “belittling her earnest effort to become a community asset.”

Her course over, she returns home and takes a job as a nurse’s aide, and plans her wedding to Ed, which will put an end to her nursing dreams, because once she’s married, “I’ll have to stay in my own house,” she says, as if she is speaking of a prison. She’s seeing Dr. Fielding daily at the hospital, as well as Jim Norton, who is recovering from hip surgery. Then a gaggle of gangsters shows up and kidnaps her and Jim—apparently Ed’s theories about gangsters and insurance is not as half-baked as it seemed at the time—and JoJo saves the day by nursing one of the mobsters, who has a bad cold, and offering to pay them $800 if they’ll leave Jim alone. She’s assisted in her mission by Ed, who goes on the radio to announce that she is missing, denouncing her work as a nurse’s aide and saying that she probably had a date she forgot to mention. “If that Talbot guy is the one you’re going to marry, I’m sorry for you, kid,” says gangster Googie. “He’s a jerk if I ever heard one.” With Googie’s disapprobation in her pocket, she finally has the strength to realize that Ed is not her best option.

This is an entertaining book, though not really exciting. What there is of it is pleasant enough, but there’s just not much to it. I am a complete sucker for glamour and high fashion, and I wish there had been more of the “Paris designed suit, silver mink stole and saucy feathered hat,” stuff I can really sink my teeth into. There’s a fair amount of the debutante life, but this just comes across as silly—indeed, I think we are supposed to see it that way, as JoJo herself increasingly rejects it for a more useful life in nursing. JoJo is never actually more than a nurse’s aide, and it’s not clear if she’s planning to continue working or further her studies in nursing, so it’s a tiny stretch to call this a nurse romance. But it does have its charms, and is a worthwhile companion for the few hours it takes to whip through it.


  1. I'm a little bit confused - did she go to school to become a Practical Nurse, or a Nurses Aide? They aren't the same thing at all, and it surely took more than three months to become a Practical Nurse, even in 1963. A Nurses Aide, surely could be done in three months though.

    1. She intially hoped to become an LPN, but took the nurse's aide class to start, apparently planning (at least initially) to go on with her studies.