By Kathleen Harris, ©1956
Cover illustration by Victor Kalin
For three years Jane Arden had put her career before the only man she’d ever wanted. And now, when she was ready to combine the two, she discovered that this high-flying jet pilot had his head in the clouds, and his eyes on another girl. Jane had always claimed that a nurse was also a woman. Now she would have to prove it …
“As you must know, your sister is employed. Most commendable in one so beautiful.”
“There’s no reason why she should slave, when she’s so ornamental.”
“I thought from the first minute we met that I wouldn’t mid dying if little Jane could be my nurse and I could die in her arms.”
As we pick up with Jane Arden, she has just completed her training and is looking around the world to decide what to do next. Her longtime young man, David Hyatt, is in Florida flying jets for the military, and it happens her haughty, self-centered older sister Roberta, who works as a model, lives in Miami, so Jane decides to surprise David by going to visit Roberta for a two-week vacation, and popping in to visit. David had never been wild about Jane enrolling in nursing school, feeling that he should be her “job”—so you not will be shocked to find out that he is also not pleased to find that Jane is in town, and he tells her that he has no time to see her. This gives Jane some pause about her relationship with David, but nowhere near enough.
In the meantime, Jane is hanging out with Nicky Powers, an artistic gadabout who is the nephew of millionaires, on whose estate the three are living. He’s actually the most interesting character in the book, and by far the most witty—all the Best Quotes above are from his lips; his only serious flaw is that he unfailing calls her “little Jane.” Jane, her heart mistakenly committed elsewhere, has no interest in Nicky but does like him a lot—and he of course is in love with Jane. To help pass Jane’s time, Nicky’s aunt Julia Friedmont has a convenient stroke, so Jane can step in to manage her care, extending her vacation indefinitely. Eventually David condescends to see Jane, and is cool to her, but Janes continues her unswerving and unexplained devotion to David; though “David had grown more and more surly,” “her heart seemed almost bursting with love.” Go figure.
David is working hard at his own career, which includes dating his commanding officer’s daughter, and he has failed to mention to that young lady that he’s engaged to Jane. After many, many pages of bad behavior from David—indeed, we see him demonstrate not one admirable quality—Jane and her friends drive out to see him, who based on the afternoon’s visit finally decides that Jane is the gal for him, and insists that they get married immediately. “She did hesitate, but only for a moment. Why should there be any uncertainty about her own love?” Well, any reader who’s been paying a modicum of attention could outline a goodly number of reasons why she should run screaming—and to add to the list, he demands “harshly” that she give up nursing. “I have to come first with the girl I marry,” he says. Jane thinks, “David would never be able to understand that nursing meant as much to her as flying did to him,” and then agrees to marry him as soon as he gets back from this cross-country flight he has to make on an experimental aircraft, which I am absolutely positive is going to go off without even a hint of turbulence. “She must never let him know how big a sacrifice she had made,” she decides, and basically pins all her hopes on his eventually changing his mind: “Given time, he might come to see how important her nursing was to her and that it had nothing to do with her love for him.” Good luck with that. Even Roberta, who is never really kind on a day-to-day basis but comes through when the boys are treating her kid sister badly, is concerned that Jane is rushing into marriage with a man who has treated her “pretty shabbily.”
Back at the mansion, though, she’s realizing she has no time to plan a wedding that is so soon that her own parents can’t make it, and she’s having second thoughts—121 pages after the reader has seen the writing on the wall. She ponders whether she should tell David that she won’t give up working? No, let’s not get totally crazy. Instead she decides she will tell David they need to postpone the wedding and have a serious discussion of their plans, and that she’s going home and he must transfer to a base closer to her. Before she has a chance to demonstrate that she really can stand up for herself, even in this limited way, she is given the easy way out when David’s plane crashes and he is killed. Two pages later she’s headed home, with Nicky flying her there on his own plane (he’s a military veteran himself)—and that’s the end, to be continued in Jane Arden, Staff Nurse, and four more Jane Arden novels after that.
It’s hard to imagine that there is going to be all that much more to say about Jane Arden, who at this point in her life has proven herself to be shallow and immature with a shocking lack of self-knowledge, incapable of personal growth. In fact, we instead hear a lot about Jane’s promise to David, made as she was starting nursing school, “not to change”—despite the fact that “three years had changed him” into a “new David whom she felt she scarcely knew,” a “snob.” “If David were really like that, he could not be the man she wanted to marry, or the kind of man she could love”—the man she did with little hesitation agree to marry in the penultimate chapter. In this book Jane has proved herself to be thoroughly stunted as a human being, and the reader is left with all the frustration inherent in following such a person as they fail again and again to know their own mind, let alone say what they really think and follow through with action. There are five more Jane Arden books to go, and at this point I’m not optimistic they are going to improve.