Saturday, January 5, 2019

Lesley Bowen M.D.

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1965

Lesley was blessed with exceptional beauty. But was it such a blessing, when it meant that although she only wanted to become a good doctor, few people would take her seriously—while the woman-hating Doctor Mark Crossman seemed actively to resent her?


“‘Me?’ she ejaculated, startled and without any regard to grammar.”

“He sounds to be treating me like a fever.”

“Leave the doctoring and suchlike to the men. You’ll have to deal with sights and situations no young woman should have to face, things from which it should be the duty of her husband to shield her.”

“In real life you have to make your own happy ending.”

Gosh, being beautiful sure is rough! Poor Lesley Bowen M.D. knows all about it, the sad thing, and she is not at all abashed to whine about it for many, many pages at the start of her eponymous story. “I take my problem with me,” she explains. “I’m not being vain … it’s just my face. It causes trouble for me wherever I go.” Indeed, right there in Chapter One, it’s getting out of hand, causing her best friend’s fiancé to grab her in the doctors’ sitting room to profess his undying love. But Lesley knows better: “It’s not me he’s interested in, it’s just my face.” So, coming to the end of her residency at the hospital, she interviews to become a partner in the three-doctor GP office in northern England.

She only meets one of the partners, Frank Elland, because the other one, Mark Crossman, is away putting his father’s estate to rights. She has a lot of anxiety on her part about whether Mark will approve of her hire—he has a tragic past in which his beautiful doctor fiancée dumped him for a rich man, so he’s sworn never to have anything to do with women ever again! But she and Frank hit it off so well that she accepts the post.

She and Mark hit it off too, only in a more literal way, when she inadvertently backs into his car at a rest stop on her move to the new job. They don’t introduce themselves during their chilly encounter, so she’s not aware he’s her new partner. But then, he is so rude and unforgiving, she naturally “felt strangely drawn to this man …. He was a real man, a man’s man, the kind you could depend on in any sort of a crisis.” Lesley spends a lot of time thinking about this stranger: “If I’d met him any place else I’d have liked him a lot,” she decides. That’s quite a big leap to make after only two pages of frosty, clipped exchanges, but VNRN heroines are not known for their discriminating choices in men.

You will be shocked to find out that when they do finally meet, it does not go well. And it certainly doesn’t help that she looks just like his ex-fiancée! Mark is so “infuriating” in his behavior that Lesley almost feels sorry for him: “It was so painfully obvious that he did not know how to make his point without being unbearably rude.” Fortunately, Lesley’s previous infatuation with the man when he was a stranger drops completely, and we have about 70 pages of quiet routine, with Lesley going about her day-to-day, living a peaceful life in her rose-covered cottage with a fond elderly housekeeper who sets out cookies and hot malted milk for her at the end of a long day. Can I sign up for that?

Lesley tends to her patients and has dinner a lot with the local young lord, Damian Neerman, who is a race car driver and engineer who swears that Lesley is going to marry him right after these two big races he’s got coming up with a prototype car he’s working on. She’s not interested in him romantically, but spends enough time with him that Mark, even as he slowly warms to Lesley’s intelligent, hard-working competency—in spite of her wretched face—mistakes their friendship for something more. Damian, of course, isn’t satisfied with a platonic relationship, and attacks her in his car on a drive home from dinner, and after that incident, Lesley avoids being alone with him and won’t get in a car with him at all, feeling “safer” that way. Some friend.

Everything wraps up fairly predictably, complete with car crash and house fire, but the rapprochement at the end is remarkable in that in Mark’s (you knew it would be him) embrace, “there was no violence, no force behind it, just a gentle, compelling pressure.” A sad statement that an overt lack of pain in a pass is a novelty. We are treated to The Kiss, and manage to avoid a discussion of Lesley quitting her job—again, Mark proves his worth when he paints a picture of her continuing to work alongside him in clinic. He even tells her that she’s “sufficient unto yourself,” though he admits, “I’m not … I need you most of all.” 

If Lesley has an irritating tendency to go on about her face and Mark after the accident, these annoyances stop altogether after the first third of the book, and on the whole it is a lovely, relaxed stroll with an intelligent, dedicated young woman leading a charming life as she makes the rounds of her rural patients. All it lacks is a female friend to trade quips with, but even without her, Lesley Bowen makes for a gentle afternoon, especially if you can’t be in a country cottage with hot malted milk and cookies yourself.

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