Saturday, March 16, 2019

Nurse Lavinia’s Mistake

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1968

Staff Nurse Lavinia Bolland was tired and worn out by her responsible job in a busy hospital, so when she was offered a post as a nurse in a girls’ boarding school, she decided to accept. Her friends all told her she was making a big mistake—but Lavinia couldn’t agree with them …


“Being a nurse is more than looking neat and laying a cool hand on a fevered brow!”

“Most folks can do a great deal more than they imagine if they’re only determined!”

“Mrs. Wordsworth is a sweet little woman, who asks nothing more than to be left alone to look after her home and to tend the pot plants she’s grown herself from seed.”

Nurse Lavinia Bolland has been, like many VNRN heroines, working at an understaffed hospital in the throes of a flu epidemic. She’s completely exhausted, so she opts for something most VNRNs reject as a point of pride: the escape hatch. She is nursing the headmistress of a girls’ school through appendicitis, and Miss Clamp—who begins the book named Mary but makes an unexpected change to Laura midway through the book—offers her a job as school nurse. Taking this job is the “worst mistake of your life,” Nurse Lavinia is told, though it’s hard to see how, since the matron offers her her old position back any time she wants it. But the job is seen by everyone in the book as a lesser position: The school doctor Marshall Bowie, her new boyfriend Roy Conliff, even Mary/Laura Clamp herself all tell her that they hope and expect that Lavinia will not be slumming in this position for long.

Part of the reason Lavinia has left town is because of Dr. Peter Noble, a researcher working on infectious diseases who spends most of his time in the lab. Those rare occasions when he emerges he is “always expecting her to be there, ready and waiting to fall in with whatever mood happened to be his at the time.” She’s dated him casually for two years now, though she has no idea what his intentions are as he has never mentioned love or marriage or offered her more than a chaste peck. Nonetheless, she “would be quite willing to wait until he had done all he wished to do …. It would take years, but …  Peter would never be able to hold it against her that she had not thought enough about him to be able to wait.” Pity he doesn’t think enough about her to make any feeling whatsoever plain to her.

So she is happy to meet Roy, who is a coach about to become a housemaster at the boys’ school down the road, and who immediately treats her with far more interest, kindness and ardor that Peter ever did. After a few dates with Roy, their blooming romance is going swimmingly, and Lavinia suddenly realizes that since starting her new job “she had not given one thought to Peter Noble!” From then on, unfortunately, she makes up for lost time by thinking of Peter Noble constantly, and the emotional writhing that ensues quickly becomes wearing.

The hook that she hangs her neurosis on is the fact that a spoiled, wealthy 17-year-old girl has a crush on Roy and is planning to have her father fund his career as a professional athlete—a career and a girl that Roy emphatically tells Lavinia early on that he has absolutely no interest in. One minute Lavinia is confident that “there was nothing underhand or deceitful about him, she would have staked her life on it!” and the next she has a “prickle of fear along her spine” because “of the man himself she had no knowledge, only her instinctive feeling that he was kind and generous, and that he hadn’t a mean thought in his head.” You can see why she would feel so anxious about him, when he’s calling her daily and is disappointed if she puts him off. One minute she’d decided she can’t talk to him about her concerns and the next she does, and he is completely sweet and reassuring, but ten pages later we’re back to worrying the issue to death. She does not deserve Roy.

If more evidence of this were needed, she invites Peter Noble up for the weekend and starts dreaming about this cold clam of a man who has given her literally nothing in the two years she was dating him. Again we encounter her schizophrenic ability to simultaneously think two contradictory things of her beaux: “Now she thought of him, thought hard, of all the friendly outings they had enjoyed, the casual goodnight kisses which had evidently meant nothing to either of them, and wondered. He must think something of her, if only as a friend … and, for the first time since she had come to Avonlea, she felt he might prove the port in a storm she had thought of him as being once before.” With no apparent reason, Lavinia has worked herself into a crisis and thinks of choosing between Peter and Roy as “one of the most important decisions of her whole life!”

It’s just not clear why she feels she needs to consider Peter at all, since he has clearly never considered her once—and when he shows up, continues to trend with a monologue about the bacteria he’s growing in the lab. Finally she realizes Peter is a dud, and her frantic worrying of the last chapter is quickly rendered a tempest in a teapot—so she manufactures another one by deciding she must quit her job immediately so she won’t stand in the way of Roy accepting the rich girl’s proposal, a proposal he has utterly no interest in. Lavinia needs some serious therapy.

In the interim, Miss Clamp is bizarrely trying to set up Lavinia with Dr. Bowie, though he is clearly in love with Miss Clamp and she with him, and then the dorm catches on fire and Lavinia has to rescue a teacher who’s gone back for her makeup case, and the catastrophe—and a new promotion—spur Roy to propose, and she agrees that she’s always known that they’d be together for always, the liar, and we can close the book wondering if Lavinia will have ten minutes of joy before she’s back in the throes of irrational insecurity, and how long it will take Roy to realize that his betrothed is a nut job.

If Lavinia weren’t so completely neurotic, the book would be pleasant enough, but I just can’t enjoy watching this kind of self-inflicted emotional trauma, and it’s not clear to me why the author would think the endless waffling would make a good book.


  1. I just finished this book, and I too was so confused by the name change. Who is Laura, I thought to myself. I had to skim it a bit to deal with the hand-wringing. Love the cover though!

    1. It is odd to me that Harlequin, which has so much success and therefore money, chooses to put forward so many utterly lame covers, but this one I have to agree is better than most.