Book 7 of 7
By Kathleen Harris, ©1963
Cover illustration by Edrien King
This would be Jane’s last visit home to her family in Ohio as a single girl. Upon her return to Florida, she would become the bride of handsome, blue-eyed Jeff Wallace, ranch-owner and Chairman of the Hospital Board, who had fallen in love with Jane on the day of her arrival to take over as director of the Julie Friedmont Memorial Hospital for Children in “the Glades.” As she drove along the highway, Jane was looking forward to meeting with her family and of the joy of telling them all about Jeff. It was only eighty miles from her destination that the accident occurred that was to send Jane to Hill Crest Sanitorium—a victim of amnesia so deep that the doctor there despaired of her ever regaining complete memory of the past. Gone from Jane’s consciousness was all memory of Jeff. The only person who counted with her—her whole world—was dark and attractive John Harmon, chief doctor at the rest home.
“I often stand on my head for a short time if I am exceptionally tired.”
“Jane agreed that most girls really wanted to be a wife and mother more than anything else.”
With the utmost of relief, I bring you the seventh volume in the god-awful Jane Arden series, which means that in a few short paragraphs I am done with the most appalling heroine I have met in almost 400 nurse novels. In the first six books, Jane Arden R.N. has proved herself to be immature, hypocritical, egocentric, manipulative, male-validated, and mean. In another stroke of good luck, in this book, she sustains a serious head injury in a car crash that results in a coma and brain surgery and ultimately—the soap opera staple—amnesia, not to mention a significant personality change, so she’s not the thoroughly detestable bitch we’ve always known and despised.
This does not mean, however, that we are completely free of the usual cornerstones of Jane’s horrifying personality, or of author Kathleen Harris’ prose. For starters, in the first pages we get a picture of Jane and Jeff’s relationship that is so glowing that it borders on radioactive, which may not be far from the truth, given that it’s the last thing Jane is able to remember as she recovers from amnesia later on. (“When Jeff kissed her, the world sang in her ears and she literally was in the clouds. And she knew it would always be like that.”) We’re then whisked pell-mell through a synopsis of the plots of the last six books, mentioning virtually every character in them, yet still delivering not much that will have any meaning to the lucky gal who has never read a Jane Arden novel before, or more likely, those who have repressed the horrifying details. (To wit: “Remember that religious fanatic of a father who tried to shoot up the whole hospital because we wanted to save his little girl? You got in the way of the bullet, risking your life to save Miss Tyler’s—and by doing so finally won over the whole community and set yourself up as a heroine, as well as capable of directing Memorial.” Sure, we remember that!)
Before her upcoming wedding to Jeff, Jane, who has not seen her family in more than a year, decides she must go visit them, but curiously does not invite Jeff, who has never met them. Nor does it appear that the family is invited to the wedding—particularly strange since this was a major stumbling block in her engagement to her first fiancé David Hyatt (Jeff is her third; three other luckier men had narrow escapes). She decides to drive “a safe fifty miles an hour, in two and a half days” because the train is “tedious and tiring,” but nevertheless is involved in the car crash, and the next thing the reader knows, it’s six months later, and Jane is living in a sanitorium for lunatics under the care of Dr. John Harmon, a Hungarian in his early 40s who fled a concentration camp where his wife and daughter were killed before moving to Ohio to practice psychiatry on Jane Arden, who needs every ounce of skill he can muster.
At first, Jane does not remember anything about herself, and repeats often that she is glad she is not a nurse, because she thinks she is “frivolous-minded,” “a bit selfish, someone who liked to be gay and happy … irresponsible …” Sounds about right. Gradually we get a picture of Jane as someone who has suffered what sounds like a psychotic break: “Jane had to protect herself again with the shell she had built to keep out not only the darkness but light that could be unbearably bright. For she might use her will, not to escape, but to remain within a prison that was sanctuary.” We’re given the idea that Jane is hiding from her future with Jeff: “Without any past, the future was not binding in any way.” Dr. Harmon tells her, “The forgotten things are those you do not wish to remember. That is how the mind works. It shuts out memories that seem better forgotten for some reason.” Gradually Jane remembers more and more, her family, her nursing career—she even leaves the sanitorium as a patient to work there full-time—everything except Jeff. The only clue why she might want to block him out of her life is not easy to swallow: “Had she been afraid of being too happy?” Also—brain damaged or not, this is still Jane Arden, the woman who can’t rest until every man she meets has fallen for her—she’s in love with Dr. John Harmon, and “he loved her, as she loved him,” and as long as she remains ill, “she would not have to return to a past she did not want to remember. She could stay here with John.”
The hook of the story is that one of the drivers involved in the car accident is wrongly being blamed of having caused the accident, and it’s up to Jane to clear his name, though her amnesia is rightfully brought up in court as a possible factor inhibiting her memory of the accident, as is her relationship with John—which, being true, “was damaging evidence, not just against her character, but against John, against Hill Crest, and all it stood for. It could mean the destruction of all that John had built there, of the good new life he had created for himself. And Jane would have been the cause.” In what could be an interesting plot turn, Jane decides that she must save John, “the man she loved, the man she had destroyed.” To do so, she returns to the stand, where she swears that her missing memories have suddenly come back, so her testimony can no longer be doubted. “I did not want to remember because I had found security at Hill Crest,” she tells the court. “I wanted to postpone returning to reality. Until I realized, for the sake of others, that I must accept everything, all of the past, in order to face the future.” Um, sure.
After the trial, she takes a few minutes to crush poor Dr. Harmon’s only hope of ever loving again, of participating fully in life again. “John does not need anything aside from his work—he has spent all his emotions. It is no sacrifice for him to live just for others. He is content doing that,” it is decided. “His heart is in a faraway grave with the wife and child he loved—and always will be there. John has withdrawn from the world to live in this world of shadows in order to help others. It’s as though he were a priest, a recluse. The other world no longer is where he belongs. I do not believe that he could be happy there again.” But not to worry, John understands that “personal happiness was not everything. There were no goodbyes when you loved someone. Distance, differences, could not separate those beloved. And there were many kinds of love. Love was so big that it could include all humanity.” So he can love humanity while Jane goes back to Florida to marry Jeff. And that’s where the book ends, curiously, without any home-coming at all, either to Ohio or Florida. It’s a grandiose ending for a character who has proved shallow and selfish from the word go, perhaps an attempt to refurbish her character before we close the last Jane Arden cover. And, so little so late, it won’t work. Good riddance to you, Jane Arden.