Monday, January 25, 2021

Everglades Nurse

By Peggy Gaddis ©1964

Celia Chalmers was used to conquering men. And Jennie saw the look in her eyes when she met Johnnie Ottwell. It made her wonder if she had been foolish to postpone her marriage to Johnnie. He was a struggling schoolteacher. And she had vowed to help him save for their future. But Celia Chalmers knew how to use her beauty as a weapon to get what she wanted. And now she wanted the man who belonged to Nurse Jennie.


“Who was she, Jennie Cosgrove, with her cherished cap and pin still a beautiful novelty, to object to any orders given her by one of those lordly beings, a doctor?”

“I’m a heel to wish that you were as rich as you are beautiful. I’d do the caveman bit—throw you over my shoulder and lug you off screaming!”

“I’d rather be an irritant to a girl than somebody she just looks at and forgets.”

“I do declare, I cannot get over the fool things city folks will do when they are in the Glades, knowing as they must that the place swarms with poisonous snakes and alligators and mean-natured beasts. They just go blundering around as if they were mowing the lawn in their own back yard.”

“When you are in love you will know that one man, and one man alone, spells the fulfillment of all your dreams, hopes and aspirations.”

“Scruples? I don’t burden myself with anything so silly.”

Author Peggy Gaddis must have been in a crabby mood in the four hours it took her to churn out this throwaway novel: Characters have the inexplicable habit of flying off the handle at the slightest provocation. Even Gaddis’ usually saintly mother character here gets all peevish when she is offered money for some jam she presents to a guest, snapping sharply at the hapless young woman and making her “flushed and uncomfortable.” The next second Mom “suddenly smiled a warm, friendly smile that wiped out any hint of the momentary resentment she had felt. ‘And I certainly hope you’re going to be a friend of mine and that you will come out again.’” No thanks!

Just like her mother, Nurse Jennie Cosgrove is also prone to being cold and snippy, such as to the rich patient’s handsome chauffeur, a seemingly friendly man who offers to take her to dinner, or to the patient’s daughter, who offers to drive her home and innocently remarks that Jennie’s family of eight might be a bit much taken en masse: “Put down that gun, pal!” Celia Chalmers drawls when Jennie comes at her all ablaze. But when Jennie is in the arms of her intended, Johnnie Ottwell, you’ll definitely need a slug of Pepto-Bismol to tame that tummy upset from too much sugar: “He and Jennie were looking at each other as though they would never tire of it,” and then he “drew Jennie close, entirely oblivious to the others, and kissed her, a long, ardent, satisfying kiss ... Jennie was starry-eyed when she got into the car.”

The lovestruck pair are not planning on getting married until after Johnnie finishes his PhD, which appears to be years in the future, since he works full-time as a teacher, and then there’s the little snag of how they will live together: She works in town, and his job, which he has no intention of ever giving up, keeps him in the heartest heart of the Everglades. You do have to wonder why he’s bothering with the PhD at all, actually.

The problem arises when Celia meets Johnnie and is instantly smitten with the heartthrob. Oblivious Jennie suggests that he take Celia on a tour of the Everglades in his “swamp buggy,” and while they are out, Celia’s conversation—apparently intended to win Johnny over—only proves that the two are completely unsuitable for each other. Johnny explains that he teaches English as a second language to the children of migrant Mexican farm workers, and his attitude is actually quite enlightened for the times: “They must be educated so that eventually they can climb above their parents’ present place in the world and be something more than migrant farm workers. Education is the only answer to the problem of the migrant farm worker, not only here in the Glades but all over the country.” “Sounds pretty dull,” cracks vixen Celia. She digs her hole deeper when she adds, “It seems a shame for a man like you to be wasted on a job like this.” Given this triumphant beginning, it is only natural that Celia should think Johnnie is “everything any same girl could possibly hope to find in the man she wants to snag for herself.” It must be his hot bod; I cannot otherwise explain it. But needless to say, Johnnie is not overly impressed.

Back at the ranch, in a remarkable conversation Celia tells Jennie that since she and Johnnie have not yet set a wedding date, “it looks to me very much as though Johnny were available to any girl who really meant to have him!” and tells Jennie that she plans to pursue Johnny. “Then I am afraid if that is what you want, you will probably win,” Jennie answers. “You are a novelty, new, beautiful, and you can probably sweep him off his feet without have to trying!” It’s a novel attitude about your relationship with your fiancé, I’ll say that much.

To put the deal across, Celia, perhaps realizing she’s blown the interview, tells Johnnie that he should break up with Jennie so Jennie can hook up with Dr. Mark Foreman, a handsome young resident who is clearly smitten with her. It seems Jennie is dating Mark regularly, and frankly we do agree that Mark is the better choice—certainly the more typical pick for a VNRN—but in fact we barely see poor Mark again, except one memorable scene in which Jennie tries to set up Mark with Celia and, when he asks her “just why you are shoving me off on Celia Chalmers,” she “stared at him, completely outraged,” and shrieks, “You must be out of your mind. What possible interest could I have in trying to shove you off on Celia?” when, of course, it’s clear that had been her exact intention, to try to divert Celia away from Johnnie and, at the same time, Mark away from herself.

The book takes a bizarre detour through the life of Celia, who has been adopted by a couple at the man’s request, and the “mother” has never cared for Celia at all. The marriage is not a happy one, and the pair snipe and spar through most of their scenes, but in the end, the husband, who has been on the brink of divorce the entire story, decides he’s going to stay with the horrible woman. Furthermore, he agrees to a lopsided and baffling trade: She will give up her current lover, and he will pack Celia off to college, essentially kicking out of the house for good the one person who dearly loves him. Another strange side story is the friendship of two older women who are patients of Jennie’s, one of whom is a pinched, angry woman who does not deserve the kindness of her wealthy and generous hospital roommate.

The story comes to an abrupt end when Jennie is offered a job in the Everglades at a clinic that caters to the local Seminole population—the doctor is in search of a nurse who is known to the Indians so they will learn to trust him—which means she will be living near Johnnie and they can get married. But there’s one hitch: Upon hearing of this turn of events, Johnnie snaps, “I will not be supported by my wife.” This does not mean that Jennie can’t have a job, but rather that her income will be set aside to pay for their children’s college educations.  Once this little hiccup in their plans is smoothed over, “all about them the jungle seemed to stir and whisper as though the very palms themselves and the unseen animals that looked in the undergrowth were joining in the song that was filling both their hearts.” Time for another slug of antacid.

Peggy Gaddis can write some good books, but this is not one; it’s a perfunctory story that lurches around like drunks in a van. The characters are a mercurial, moody, disturbed lot, not one of them worth the ink. The most interesting part of the book is its approach to teaching English as a second language and education for migrant children, and that is sadly brief. It offers a mixed bag toward the Indians; on one hand, Celia—honest to God—greets an Indian shopkeeper by saying “How!” and “lifted her hand in what she had long ago been taught was the proper greeting to an Indian.” But the shopkeeper just snickers and answers, “Haven’t you heard? We all speak English now.” Whenever we meet Indians in the book, they are seen through Celia’s bigoted eyes (“Celia stared at them, and suddenly realized that they were Indians!”), even if the Indian characters do have the last laugh, and “turned away as though he had found her unworthy of his scrutiny.” So it’s another donation for the American Indian College Fund, and another book I can’t recommend, though you might want to check out a Peggy Gaddis novel that might vaguely pass for a sequel, County Nurse—you really can’t beat a monster running loose in the swamp!

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Nurse Stacey Comes Aboard

By Rona Randall, ©1958
Cover illustration by Martin Koenig

Janet Stacey could not believe it when Peter Fuller broke their engagement. He told her that it would be unfair of him with so little income to ruin her chances for a “successful” marriage. Only a girl as much in love as Janet could have failed to read between the lines of such an excuse. As it was, she asked her uncle, owner of a shipping line, to employ her as assistant nurse on the luxury liner Regina, on which Peter was taking a business trip to New York. She thought that if she saw him every day she would be bound to win him back. In this innocent hope she reckoned not only without Peter himself, but without the ship’s doctor, Blane Hartley, who despised all girls in general, and Janet, the privileged niece of the shipowner, in particular.


“The best cure for sea-sickness is champagne.”

“No man who wanted to get on in the world could afford pride, these days. Not if he hoped to afford a wife, too.”

“When I was young I could spend a couple of hours choosing between only two frocks!”

“How one man could hope to stand up against two women Maude couldn’t imagine!”

“I’m off to get that dress material. We could cut it out on the surgery table this afternoon. How about it?”

“I’m always rude myself, and enjoy it, so of course I must excuse the fault in others!”

“Every woman is hurt, at some time or another. It’s better for them to experience it when young. They grow into better women because of it.”

When we first meet Janet Stacey, she is being jilted by ne’er-do-well Peter Fuller, who says that he can’t marry her because he cannot support her in the lifestyle to which she has been accustomed. And also because her father had let his very considerable life insurance policy lapse, “most unfairly,” Peter grouses. Valiantly attempting to change his mind, she reminds him that she can get a job as a nurse. “Nursing for amusement is one thing,” he says, and so, right there on the third page, we’d like to close the door in Peter’s face. Unfortunately, Janet Stacey is not as smart as we are. “He was all she wanted in life and nothing would ever make her stop loving him,” and though we know she will be proven wrong in the end, unfortunately it’s going to be a long and somewhat excruciating journey.

Stacey’s rich Uncle Jim has a fondness for Janet and can see through Peter, realizing that he’s dumped Janet when “he’d learned that her father’s aura of wealth had been but a façade, that she was penniless, that she wasn’t such a catch as he believed when he met her.” So when Janet asks Uncle Jim to give her a job as a nurse on the same ship on which Peter is sailing to New York on business, with the aim of proving to him that she can too hold a job, he agrees to the scheme, thinking that Peter won’t be able to resist being the adventurer he is and that Janet will finally see his true colors.

Unfortunately, the doctor on board the ship, Dr. Blane Hartley, isn’t impressed with Janet at all, because he thinks she’s a rich girl playing at a job, and “a good-time girl out for what she can get.” During their first meeting, “they looked at one another, antagonism leaping between them like an invisible current. … It was open warfare between them,” and they’re snarling insults back and forth across the surgery. Naturally we know—so smart we are!—how that is going to turn out. Dr. Blane, it seems, “was trying to escape from some emotional problem, or a disappointment which went deep—or maybe only from himself.” So many mysteries! So many tropes!

After her verbal fisticuffs with Dr. Hartley, Janet sets about proving herself, and you will not be surprised to find that she is an excellent nurse, though the only job she ever really had was caring for her dying father. Along the way she takes the nasty rich Lady Elvira Travitt in hand, which turns out to be not too difficult because Lady Travitt, too, has a mushy center: “The first thing Janet noticed about her was the guarded expression of her eyes, as if she determined to allow no one a glimpse of her heart, and the second thing was the tightly maintained line of her mouth, as if she were afraid that if permitted to relax it would betray her. What would it do—droop pathetically? Reveal a sadness she was too proud to acknowledge?” Before long the old dragon has asked her to high tea in the first-class lounge and is plotting out her life.

There’s a beautiful young woman named Patsy Davis, whose luxurious wardrobe is described in such great detail that it isn’t long before we suspect something is amiss. Sure enough, Lady Travitt soon learns from a newspaper article that Patsy is a typist who won a beauty contest—”the only competitor actually holding the perfect measurements”—with a $2,500 prize, and now she’s blowing the wad on a round-trip ticket and one taste of the rich life. Her act quickly lures in playboy Peter, who is rushing her off her feet—and soon she’s in love with him, valiantly so, because she doesn’t believe she will ever see him again after the voyage is over, because she is no dope and can see Peter for exactly what he was“the wrong man, of course. She knew that with the certainty and wisdom acquired in a tough school. Life had taught Patsy Davis to recognize people for what they were worth, for their character and integrity. But somewhere, somehow, Peter’s character had wavered; his sense of values had gone awry. But it didn’t make her love him any less.”

And of course it isn’t long before the hardened MD starts to bend. Though he is nothing but rude and insulting, Janet stands up to him and earns his respect: “She had sprit, at least, if nothing else. She stood up to him without insolence, answered without impertinence, and displayed a dignified sort of courage which he was forced to admire.” We learn that Blane had been engaged to Lady Travitt’s daughter Carol, who had dumped him for a “rich American—twenty years her senior and father of a grown-up family by the time she became his third, and youngest, wife,” because he was an “impresario” and had been impressed with the talent of the ambitious young woman. She’s “a star in her own right now, and didn’t need Wilmot any more,” and is getting a divorce—and she wants Blane back.

Lady Travitt turns out to be a bit Machiavellian, if not kind, when she tells Dr. Hartley that they should team up, keeping Patsy’s secret and “letting Janet find out for herself, slowly and surely, that the man she loves simply isn’t worth loving! That way, at least, her pride will be preserved. You’re not going to get the best work out of your nurse if her heart is broken.” Even more scheming is her recognition that Dr. Hartley is interested in Nurse Stacey. “She saw a lot—and she saw it clearly. To fall in love with someone else, to forget Carol completely, would be Blane’s salvation.”

So when he catches Janet sitting at his desk one evening“she had wanted to touch his paper, sit in his chair, feel his pen between her fingers”yes, just his pen – he swoops her up in an irresistible embrace. She tries to slap him, but he grabs her arm and pulls her toward him “until he pinioned her body close to him again. ‘You can’t escape, Nurse, so you can give up the struggle! Be still, you little fool, while I kiss you again.’” Though initially sobbing, naturally in the end she loves it, and “lay quietly in his arms,” until she tears herself loose and runs off to her room. Now there are pages of internal strugglewhy, if she loves Peter, did she love being kissed by Bland? Why, if Bland hates her, did he kiss her?

The biggest problem with this book is that Janet is a complete dope. As she witnesses Peter’s first infatuation with Patsy, she nonetheless thinks, “Peter was absolutely trustworthy—she was sure of that. It didn’t matter to him that his fiancée was merely ship’s nurse, or that another girl was beautifully dressed and obviously moneyed, and that glance of his, which had seemed to observe every detail of Patsy’s appearance, had certainly held no hint of calculation.” Every letter of which is a lie. Even as she catches Peter and Patsy mooning at each other time and time again, she just thinks, “What if they were flirting a little? Her own affair with Peter was so different, elevated above all others. It was something much bigger.” Snap out of it, Janet! When the moment finally comes and Janet wonders, “just how stubbornly, and for how long, a girl could blind herself to the obvious,” we know the answer—125 dragging pages. And when Patsy unburdens herself to Janet, asking her if Peter will dump her when he finds out the truth about her, the scales fall from Janet’s eyes and she decides that she does not love Peter because she never saw him for who he really is. “She was disillusioned by his true character. She saw him as a different person, and one who no longer meant anything to her.” But guess who really is honorable, and who really does mean something to her!

The prose is fairly purple as well, with much hand-wringing and excruciating navel-gazing examinations of every possible angle of every interaction, offering moments when you have to reach for the Tums. But wrapped in all the lavender satin are some truly interesting characters, Lady Travitt and Patsy chiefly, and even Peter to some degree. It is surprisingly common that a writer will give all her skill to the supporting cast and leave the main characters flat and vapid. Janet is one such character, and Blane is just mercurial and moody, cut in the Heathcliff mold, without much real depth. So if there are some parts of this book that sparkle, they are sadly just not enough to make this book really worthwhile.

Monday, January 4, 2021

2020 VNRN Awards

Eight is great! And this is the eighth time we have put on our most splendid eveningwear and turned out en masse to recognize the most superlative vintage nurse romance novels we’ve met in these electronic pages this year. Here’s the fine print: Winners are chosen from the 45 VNRNs I read this past year, which were penned by 28 different authors. The Best and Worst Authors categories includes all the VNRNs reviewed for this blog (421 to date), but only authors with more than one review are included. It’s an interesting year for Peggy Gaddis and Arlene Hale, who have books on both the best and worst of the year lists. Kindly hold your applause until after all the winners have been announced!

Best Books:
1. Nurse Annette by Rebecca Marsh (pseud. William Neubauer)
2. Dental Nurse at Denley’s by Marjorie Lewty
3. Nurse Morgan’s Triumph by Rubie Saunders
4. Nurse Elliot’s Diary by Kate Norway (pseud. Olive Norton)
5. Settlement House Nurse by Jane Converse
6. A Nurse for Dr. Sterling by Ruth MacLeod
7. A Nurse Comes Home by Georgia Craig (pseud. Peggy Gaddis)
8. Nurse in Charge by Elizabeth Gilzean
9. Nurse Nicole’s Decision by Arlene Hale
10. Challenge to Nurse Honor by Pauline Ash

Worst Books:
1. Harbor Nurse by Arlene Fitzgerald
2. Peace Corps Nurse by George Sullivan
3. Jane Arden Head Nurse by Kathleen Harris (pseud. Adelaide Rowe)
4. Nurse April by Katherine McComb
5. Nurse of the Crossroads by Colleen Reece
6. Jane Arden, Surgery Nurse by Kathleen Harris
7. Nurse Angela by Peggy Gaddis
8. Lake Resort Nurse by Arlene Hale
9. Resident Nurse by Frances Dean Hancock (pseud. Jeanne Judson)

Best Covers:

Peace Corps Nurse

Nurse Nicole’s Decision

Lake Resort Nurse

Emergency Calling Nurse Mallon

The Doctor of Blue Valley



Best Authors:
Marguerite Mooers Marshall (3.9 average, 3 reviews)
Marjorie Lewty (3.9 average, 2 reviews)
Faith Baldwin (3.8 average, 4 reviews)
Olive Norton (3.7 average, 3 reviews)
Irene Swatridge (3.7 average, 2 reviews)


Worst Authors:
Patti Carr (1.5 average, 2 reviews)
Arlene Fitzgerald (1.6 average, 4 reviews)
Jeanne Bowman (1.7 average, 11 reviews)
Zillah McDonald (1.7 average, 3 reviews)
Anne Lorraine (1.7 average, 2 reviews)

Best Quotes:

“I’ve never seen a strange man in a bathrobe before!” Candy Stripers by Lee Wyndham

“I hope you’re not tearing off to deliver quads, darling. We’ve come for lunch.” Nurse Templar by Anne Weare

“I hike all the roads around here, and haven’t been kidnapped even once.” Nurse Kay by Virginia Roberts (pseud. Nell Marr Dean)

“On visiting the convicted man at the penitentiary a year later, he had found him gay.” Emergency Calling Nurse Mallon by Jeanne Bowman

“He was too anxious to get the cloak-and-dagger meeting under way to notice Donna’s new lounge suit.” Settlement House Nurse by Jane Converse

“She swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the lump of apprehension that clogged her esophagus.” Harbor Nurse by Arlene Fitzgerald

“I often stand on my head for a short time if I am exceptionally tired.” Jane Arden’s Home-Coming by Kathleen Harris

“I’ve seen a lot of girls wearing their hair like that. Usually they’re accompanied by men with beards.” Resident Nurse by Frances Dean Hancock (pseud. Jeanne Judson)

“Marjory learned some new words she doubted she’d ever use.” Emergency Calling Nurse Mallon by Jeanne Bowman

“You must be happy in your new job, watching the doc cut people up.” Jane Arden Surgery Nurse by Kathleen Harris