Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Marriage of Doctor Royle

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1967

Doctor Bart Royle’s mother would have liked to see him married to her nurse, Janice Loveday, but two people stood in the way—Ned, who needed Janice, and Pippa, who wanted Bart.


“That was one good thing about Nurse Wilson, nobody would ever have married her!”

A more superlative nurse than Janice Loveday, who without questions merits her surname, never silently walked the VNRN wards in her spotless white oxfords; she is a “delightful girl who, apart from her beauty of face and form, had that rare quality, a beauty of character which was displayed in everything she did or said.” But she has taken on a hopeless loser of a man, Ned Thaneton, who is the son of a wealthy man and a louche gambler. Time and again Janice has tried to make him heel to the straight and narrow path, but the lazy cad doesn’t feel he should have to work for a living and so inevitably drifts back to the casino. As the book opens, Janice is finally starting to tire of his insistence that she be available at his whim to go out with him, irritated that he completely misses the point that if he does not work for a living, she goes, and at a job that requires the mental sharpness that follows eight hours in the sack. Her solution is not to tell not-friend Ned to take a long walk off a short pier, but instead to get a new job: “If I found a post either miles away, so that Ned couldn’t ask me to keep these hours and so on I had free, it would be better. Or if I took a post private nursing locally,” she says. Though it’s not clear why a new job will make Ned say no when she can’t herself. Well! It just so happens that Dr. Bart Royle has just such a post, caring for his most beloved mother, former nurse Norma Mattingly Royle, who has what is described as a relentlessly advancing “sclerosing arthritis.”

In Janice moves, and before long she is the daughter Norma never knew, her own having died of polio in childhood, and a pillar of strength for the entire household. The fly in the linament, because we must have one, is Pippa Chambers, a beautiful young wealthy lass who has her heart set not on Bart but his name, as she is nouveau riche and wants an entrée into an upper crust society that no amount of Daddy’s money can buy. Pippa is not pleased by Bart’s well-known devotion to his mother and plots to pack the old bag off to a nursing home as soon as Bart carries her over his threshold. And, when she claps eyes on the lovely Janice, Pippa is not pleased with the new nurse, either, as she fears Bart will be seduced by her beauty, strength and character. She sets out through various lame schemes that all quickly come to naught to turn Bart against Janice, but in the end her big chance comes when Ned turns up and begs Janice for £250 lest the thug he owes smash him to a jelly. Janice, finally seeing a  chance to be rid of Ned forever, tells him to get lost. No, wait, that’s not what happens at all—Janice, the perennial doormat, promises to find the money somehow! But if she gives him the money, he has to go to Canada and work on the farm of this nurse she knows there, who surely would be delighted to take on a lazy gambling addict like Ned!

Wandering the house in a daze after her meeting with Ned, Janice bumps into Pippa and immediately tells her arch enemy the whole story. Helpful Pippa whips out her checkbook and offers to gift Ned the money if Janice will quit her post and go work for the World Health Organization in Africa somewhere, far away from Bart. Janice’s next ricochet lands her in Norma’s room, and that intelligent woman, seeing Janice’s shock—for the proposed separation from Bart makes Janice suddenly realize “how blind she had been! She knew now and for ever that she was in love with him!”—is easily able to get the story, as well as Pippa’s heartless proposal, out of Janice. In three seconds Norma has hatched a convoluted plot that involves converting her own large estate into a nursing home where she will continue to live, establishing her son as chief medical officer with the caveat that he be married, arranging a meeting between Pippa and Janice in which Janice politely declines Pippa’s offer and Pippa unpolitely expresses her displeasure with Janice and Norma just as Bart is walking through the door, and arranging a gourmet dinner between herself, Bart, and Janice for that evening (I pitied the cook) during which Janice is wearing the Mattingly estate diamond and sapphire earrings that almost make Janice’s blue, blue eyes pale in comparison. That Norma is one wicked smart woman!

This book started out from Bart’s point of view, Janice nowhere in sight, which made me fear it wouldn’t quite qualify as a nurse novel, but we do work our way around to Janice in the end. Janice would be too good to be true except for her absurd devotion to Ned, but apart from this bit of overperfection in Janice, the characters in this book are vivid, completely endearing—even Pippa, although she undergoes a character transformation at the end that is as disappointing as it is implausible—and thoroughly enjoyable to pal around with. Except, actually, Bart, who is fairly bland, even if he does have “firm sensitive lips.” If the story line isn’t novel or especially exciting, it is still a pleasant book and one worth reading.

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