Sunday, November 30, 2014

Doctor’s Wife

By Maysie Greig, ©1937
Two women loved Dr. Bob Bradburn. Natalie Norris had always loved him. Hers had been an idealized love when she was fourteen, and then, as she grew older and worked side by side with him, a love that made her long to be part of his hopes, his discouragements, his triumps. Hers had been more than the ordinary hero-worship of a young girl, and more than a nurse’s infatuation for a handsome doctor. But there had to be many moments when she could not share in Dr. Brad’s life. He was married to Marjorie Daw, a beautiful, spoiled child of a girl who knew how to fill his leisure hours with gayety and excitement. Into the story that tells which one was to give him the more lasting happiness, Maysie Greig has woven drama, thrills, tragedy—all the many colored aspects of true romance.
“When you’re dealing with unintelligent people you should never lose your temper.”
“That’s what makes life pleasant and at the same time possible—that we do forget.”
“It’s important for a girl to have a job which will enable her to meet decent men. I suppose I mean, by that, men with money. It’s more imprtant really than getting good pay. You don’t get much fun out of life otherwise.”
“Women, after all, belonged to the lighter side of a man’s life. Bob had rather old-fashioned ideas about women. They were a man’s recreation—gay, delightful creatures to turn to when the day’s work was done, to share vacations with, to go out to parties with, to be at home when one wished to relax. It never occurred to Bob that there could be a woman who could enter into the other side of his life, who could share his ambition, his work, who could become so much a part of his every waking thought that it would be impossible to go on without her.”
“I shouldn’t have said you were looking haggard. I know it’s the unpardonable thing to say to a woman.”
“Perhaps there wasn’t quite so much thrill in a husband as there was in a lover. At least, not the sort of thrill that made you want to spend every available moment alone with him.”
“It’s so pleasant to feel you’re a martyr. It gives you nice little prickles of virtue all the way up your spine.”
“You can always excuse what you do yourself; it is not so easy to excuse what someone else does.”
“Women like to be treated badly. It’s the old slave complex coming out in them.”
“You should never be sorry for anyone who can genuinely feel an emotion, whatever it is. You should be sorry only for those people who have lost all capacity for feeling anything.”
After a long drought, I offer you Doctor’s Wife as a gentle rain on a thirsty desert. Natalie Norris is just 14 when we meet her; her grandmother has just died and left her alone in the world, and Dr. Robert Bradburn, 24 and just starting his career, is advising her to go into an orphanage, though she is fighting with the condescending charity maven who has swooped in to do what’s “right” for the young waif. On her own, Bob suggests, she will not be able to finish her education and will never be more than a shop girl; if she goes to the orphanage, she will be able to go to nursing school and so embark upon a satisfying and well-paying (relatively speaking) career that will maximize her brains and talent. Natalie reluctantly agrees to the proposal, as long as Dr. Bob will hire her when she finishes nursing school, which he agrees to do.
Cut to six years later, and Natalie is finally a nurse when she runs into Bob in the hospital—or rather, faints dead away when the nurse she is with mentions that Bob is about to be married to socialite Marjorie Daw. Once roused, she reminds Bob of his promise, and now she’s working in his office and stirring up the jealousies of the frivolous young thing who has become the doctor’s wife. And with good reason: Marjorie will “always be a child,” Bob tells Natalie. “She makes you forget your cares and enter the world she lives in. It’s an unreal world, of course, a make-believe world, but it’s very pleasant.” Natalie, a serious, deep individual who likes to read literature, immediately understands: “She is champagne,” she replies, and Bob is startled into seeing her as a human being, one with far greater possibilities than his wife.
Marjorie likewise understands that there is much in her husband that she will never access: “She knew that there were depths to him she couldn’t reach, that despite his frequent laughter and the humorous twinkle that, every now and then, lighted his eyes, there was a deep seriousness to his nature she couldn’t altogether appreciate or understand.” She is a social butterfly fond of parties, but as time passes she becomes increasingly discontent with this role as the happy housewife, because she realizes her superficiality and its limited attractiveness to her husband but is at the same time powerless to change her intrinsic nature. She becomes increasingly resentful of Natalie, especially after she demands to see Bob in his office when he is with a patient and Natalie forbids it, and when Natalie crashes a party at Bob’s house to tell him that his patient is dying and requires immediate surgery; it turns out that Marjorie has intentionally turned off the phone (by jamming paper between the clapper and the bells to muffle the ringer, quaintly enough) to keep Bob at home for the event (and needless to say, this always spells certain doom to a relationship in a VNRN).
Now Bob is awakening to Natalie’s charms, and to the fact that his initial attraction to his simple wife has dried up. Marjorie decides to go to sailing in Cuba, and now Bob is free to take Natalie out to dinner and dancing. One evening he confesses that he loves her, but now she insists that they must part, because there must be no temptation or divorce to ruin his career. She’s given her notice when Bob gets a call that a very important patient is in Havana—where Marjorie is sailing!—and needs his surgical services immediately. Natalie must go with him to Cuba to assist in the surgery, and Marjorie soon learns that Bob and Natalie have checked into the Hotel Carlos. She storms to the hotel, where doctor and nurse are enjoying a cocktail after having performed “one of the most skillful and courageous operations in medical records.”  Marjorie stages an absolute superlative of a scene and then whirls out in a hysterical fury, driving a “great, powerful, supercharged Dusenberg”—and surely I don’t need to tell you what happens from this point on.
The final chapter is a bit of a letdown, but it’s only five pages, and since we’ve had such a beautiful ride through the first 200, it’s not too difficult to forgive author Maysie Greig. This is one of those charming older nurse novels that reads like it were wrapped in the airiest of chiffons. What it’s about doesn’t really even matter; it’s a lovely read, light yet filling, and it’s a rare joy to find a VNRN like this one. The characters are real and well-drawn—even silly Marjorie is a sympathetic character—and the writing is far more than the minimum required to get the job done. It seems the author has penned several other VNRNs, including the pleasant enough Overseas Nurse under the pen name Jennifer Ames, so I’ll be doing a little shopping in the near future, particularly for her earlier works. But it will be hard to find one that tops this delightful little book.

1 comment:

  1. Do you know how I could get my hands on a copy of this book? I remember reading it as a girl, my mom owned it, but she doesn't anymore. I could not remember the title, but I remembered the names and looked it up that way and found your blog.