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Dr. Edith Romney
(A Woman’s Chance)
by Anne Elliot

When will the superior sex learn a more excellent way of proving their superiority than by constant aggressive assertion of it?

If the author’s name seems familiar, you may be thinking of Persuasion. But Anne Elliot (1856–1941) was her real name. Like so many women of her time and class, she started out as a teacher; she and her sister briefly ran a school together, and both did a stint as governesses. Dr. Edith Romney was her first published novel. There would be twelve in all, spanning the years 1883–1900.

Volume I

Volume II

Volume III

Formerly Known As . . .

The Blackwood’s article (below) tells us that Dr. Edith Romney was originally published as A Woman’s Chance. In fact the running head in all three volumes of the present edition says

running head “A Woman’s Chance’

making it look as if the book was renamed at the eleventh hour, after it had been set in type. But if the article’s author has ever personally seen a copy under the original title, it is more than I have. Even WorldCat doesn’t mention it except as an alternative to Dr. Edith Romney.

This and That

Throughout the book, ”the doctor” without further identifier means sixty-year-old Dr. Fullagher. Lesser physicians such as Drs. Fane and Romney are desig­nated by name. Tentative analogy: Socially the oldest daughter in a family is “Miss Smith”; only her younger sisters need the specificity of Miss Alice Smith. In Jane Austen—and possibly later—the wife of the head of a family is “Mrs. Smith”; only his sons’ and brothers’ wives need to be particularized as Mrs. Robert Smith. On the same principle, the ranking doctor in a given town might be “the doctor”.

Though Dr. Edith Romney came out in 1883, someone must still have been reading it—and, more to the point, buying it—six years later:

flyleaf inscription: “A. B. Walker 31/5/89”

Thanks, A. B. Walker, whoever you were.

Other linguistic quirks: The author, who was born in Newcastle, appears to think that all working-class people in southern England speak Cockney; expect to see misplaced h’s right and left. And she loves sentence fragments beginning in “While”, like “While Mona grumbled”, as if she thinks “while” is synonymous with “meanwhile”.

In the first few chapters, the author experiments with “newcomer” (one word) and “new comer” (two words) before settling on “new-comer” (hyphenated). I left each one as I found it. The ones that happened to come at a line break—a surprisingly large proportion—got the benefit of the doubt and kept their hyphen. Similarly, variation between “upstairs (downstairs)” and “up-stairs (down-stairs)” is in the original.

If anyone can figure out the typographic rule governing the introductory quotations, I would love to hear it. Titles of works are always in Italics, as you might expect. Names of authors are sometimes in Small Capitals—but equally often in Italics. If there is a rule, it escapes me.

publisher’s device for Richard Bentley

Formalities

This ebook is based on the 1883 Richard Bentley edition (Volume I, Volume II, Volume III).

Typographical errors are marked with mouse-hover popups and are listed again at the end of each chapter. The word “invisible” means that the letter or punctuation mark is missing, but there is an appropriately sized blank space.

Blackwood’s on Medical Women in Fiction

In July 1898, Dr. Edith Romney was one of ten novels discussed in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. CLXIV, No. DCCCCXCIII (what you and I would call 993), pg. 94-109. Blackwood’s was known as a conservative magazine, but it evidently wasn’t that conservative:

even to the most reactionary mind, the medical woman is neither a fad nor a fancy, but an established fact

This may be because the article’s author has his own—or rather, her own—dog in the fight. Although it was published anonymously, many sources say the article was written by “Sydney C. Grier”, pseudonym of Hilda Caroline Gregg (1868–1933), whose own novels were published by Blackwood. One recent article sums up:

Its anonymity and proximity to the publication of her woman-doctor novel suggests she wrote it more as a marketing piece to bring attention to her novel than a political or literary critique addressing representations of women in medicine. Nevertheless, she made some salient points

Salient or not, the article makes a very good read.

[94]

THE MEDICAL WOMAN IN FICTION.

It is proverbially difficult to induce the public to take any innovation seriously. There is a legend that when we were threatened with a revival of crinoline some five years back, a courageous lady journalist volun­teered to test the general opinion by taking her walks abroad in the new garment, but returned very quickly in tears, unable to face the scoffs of the passer-by. The fashion-column of her paper did not again advocate the introduction of crinoline. The problem-play and the Yellow-Book style of illustration were both greeted on their first appearance with jeers—nay, it is whispered that some light-minded persons have even ventured to make fun of that monumental work, the Woman Novel. In none of these cases did the ridicule effect the destruction of its object, for although the total disappearance of the three forms of art mentioned might have been brought about without appreciably diminishing the sum of human happiness (since even the artist might have turned his attention to more agreeable themes), the task was left to their own inherent unpleasantness. It is even possible that the irony directed against them has contributed to lengthen their brief span of mortality, just as certain weighty books of the earlier part of the century are only remembered through Macaulay’s having performed a vicious war-dance over them in the pages of the ‘Edinburgh Review,’ for ridicule, like obloquy, makes an excellent advertisement. The rising statesman persistently ignored by the comic papers would feel tempted to institute an action for libel, and there are various associations, political and otherwise, which thrive upon mockery as upon their natural food. The incurious average man is stirred up by it to discover what all the fuss is about and to see fair play, the enthusiast to adopt with effusion, the side of the party attacked. This is in addition to the more obvious advan­tages of the defection of weak-kneed sympathisers from the cause, and the bracing and hardening of the more stalwart, who may look back, when the hurly-burly is over, on its storm and stress with the stern joy of the warrior. What do the medical women of to-day know of the burning excitement which filled the lives of their predecessors when every step onward was a prize to be wrestled for, and it was necessary to “fight all day to get an hour’s quiet reading at night”? They have their compensations, no doubt, although the honour of being pioneers in the hard-fought struggle is not theirs. It is only at the very summit of the hill Difficulty that the temple of Recognition stands, to which, after the manner of the allegorical title-pages of the old magazines, Effort, crowned by Success, is welcomed by Royalty. It was necessary for the medical woman to prove her fitness to survive before receiving, like the feminine use of the bicycle and other social developments, the stamp of the approval of those in high places. That may not be an ideal state of affairs in which the “rapture of pursuing” is the sole reward of the labourers, while the encouragement and the sympathy are given to those who have entered into their labours; but at [95] least it is an improvement upon the earlier condition of things. The opening this month of the new science laboratories of the London School of Medicine for Women by the gracious Princess whose interest in other forms of female education has so often been displayed, marks an epoch. Henceforth, even to the most reactionary mind, the medical woman is neither a fad nor a fancy, but an established fact.

We speak on this subject with a pardonable feeling of triumph, remembering that it was in these pages1 that one of the knights-errant of the age (that smug Mid-Victorian age, which was so prim, so inartistic, so suburban—in a word, so second-rate—yet which saw the birth of all our magnificent, advanced, fin de siècle movements) championed for the first time in fiction the cause of the medical woman. In saying this, we do not forget that in those dark days of chivalry, in which women were notoriously unwomanly, and deservedly held in the lowest esteem, the “lovely Isolde’s lilye hand had probed the rankling wound” of Sir Tristrem, or that Rebecca acted the part of a surgeon towards Ivanhoe; but since these ladies had not been vilified either for acquiring or exercising their surgical skill, it was unnecessary to defend them. When Charles Reade wrote ‘A Woman-Hater,’ however, the struggle was at its height, or perhaps we should say that the weaker party had gone to the wall. There was no pretence of a fair field—the less said about that the better—but of the other essential to success there was an abundant supply. The pioneer medical woman received emphatically no favour at the time when her hard case stirred the heart of the man who tried in each of his books to aim a deadly blow at some abuse or other.

We would not be understood to claim ‘A Woman-Hater’ as one of Reade’s finest works. The lady doctor, despite the author’s gallant efforts to assure us of the contrary, is too obviously brought in to recount the iniquities of her opponents, and thus to provide the necessary philanthropic purpose of the novel, and none of the other personages are particularly sympathetic. Moreover, the history of Rhoda Gale’s struggles, which is sufficiently full to bear breaking up into a number of convenient portions, like Shahrazad’s tales or the instructive contents of ‘Evenings at Home,’ is delivered in a neat little controversial tract of thirty-five pages or thereabouts, so well supplied with dates and statistics that it is necessary to confer on the narrator a phenomenal memory acutely cultivated by art to render its delivery credible. It is possible, of course, that a young lady just rescued from starvation would tell her whole story in a breath, so to speak, to the man who had befriended her in a London square; but we cannot avoid a fear that the excrescence which it presents on the novel is the outcome of a desire to keep the facts together for purposes of reference.

If this was indeed the author’s object, it would be impossible to accomplish it with greater success, and we would recommend the study of this portion, at least, of the book to the medical woman of to-day who is inclined to accept her privileges with an easy complacency, forgetting the “great fight of afflictions” through which [96] they were gained for her. She will learn here how Miss Garrett, better known to her as Dr Garrett-Anderson, had the presumption to pass, in spite of all the difficulties thrown in her way, the only English medical examinations then open to women, those of Apothecaries’ Hall, and how the door through which she had passed was promptly shut in the faces of any who might wish to follow her example, by those who were aghast at her success. She will learn that Miss Jex-Blake sought in vain to obtain admission to the London University examinations, and on turning her attention to those of Edinburgh, was informed by one of the professors to whom she appealed that “no decent woman would apply to him to study medicine.” Undeterred even by this obiter dictum, a little band of ladies gained leave to enter for the preliminary examination, after passing which they were to be allowed to matriculate; but failing to take warning by the fate of Miss Garrett, they passed so well that a deliberate attempt was made to revoke the promise given. The effort failed, and for six months the lady medical students worked under the happiest auspices, until the result of the class examinations awoke the slumbering animosities once more. The women distinguished themselves too signally, and it was thought fit to punish them by refusing Miss Pechey the scholarship in chemistry which she had earned, and denying her also admission to the University laboratory. The loss to Edinburgh and to science was great, and although it is possible that humanity has benefited more by Dr Pechey-Phipson’s work at the Cama Hospital in Bombay than it would have done by the original research from which she was debarred, this undesigned gain can scarcely be placed to the credit of the University. One result of the preferential dealing exhibited was such an outburst of public scorn that certain of the classes from which the ladies had been excluded were opened to them; but the success was counterbalanced by the necessity of studying anatomy and clinical surgery at Surgeons’ Hall, since the professors of the University flatly refused to instruct women. It is curious, in the light of this month’s celebration, to observe that the name of the highest lady in the land was invoked to justify the conduct of the University authorities. But the hottest fight raged over the question of the right of the lady students to practise in the town Infirmary; and while its echoes were resounding from end to end of the kingdom, there occurred the shameful riot, the disgrace of which can never quite be wiped out, even by the deepest penitence and the most sincere recantation of its errors on the part of the University. Hard words the ladies had received in abundance, but this was the first time they had been exposed to the danger of broken bones, owing it to the chivalry of some of the male students that they returned safely to their lodgings. Shortly after this the battle of the Infirmary was practically won, and additional women students, encouraged by the success of the pioneers, presented themselves for matriculation, much to the alarm of the authorities. After springing upon the ladies an unsuccessful practical joke or two by forbidding them, on the day before their examinations, to enter for them, these gentlemen were suddenly afflicted with a doubt as to their legal right to [97] admit women to examinations at all. This happy qualm rendered it incumbent upon them not only to refuse to accept the new candidates, but also to deny the first dauntless band the means of continuing their studies, regardless of the time they had already spent and the money they had paid. More money was wasted and time lost in testing the matter in the law-courts, and at last the female students, baffled and unable to obtain redress, shook off the dust of Edinburgh from their feet, and turned to the Continental universities, which had all opened their doors to women. The Rhoda Gale of the story completed her course at Montpellier, and returned to England to find it impossible to make use of her hard-won knowledge, owing to the law which refused registration to any physician not holding a British diploma.

Such is the tale she tells to Harrington Vizard in Leicester Square, and hearing it, one cannot wonder either at her indignation or that of the author—an indignation to which both give free vent. Dr Rhoda shares one characteristic with the majority of medical women in fiction,—she is not at all meek; indeed she is of an essentially combative temperament. We must own that we have not observed this peculiarity to be general among lady doctors in real life; but then we have never attempted to convince them that it was either impossible or improper for them to have studied medicine, as is the invariable wont of the gentlemen with whom they are forced to associate in the pages of romance. Had we been so rash as to enter upon this controversy, we confess to a lingering fear that the combativeness to which we allude might have exhibited itself, for it is difficult to convince a successful young lady, with a calm, stand-no-nonsense air about her, that her career has been at variance with facts, or, worse still, with propriety. Happily for Rhoda Gale, however, she finds in the Woman-Hater the friend she needs, who is perfectly willing to allow her to exploit his estate, and, as he would probably have phrased it, to victimise himself. Her experiences in an English country neighbourhood, curiously contrasted with the scenes of her cosmopolitan education, are highly entertaining, at times even startling, and the touch of shrewishness which she possesses in common with almost all Reade’s good women stands her in good stead when she finds herself opposed by rustic stolidity. We leave her established as the unofficial health-officer of the district, secure, in spite of her unregistered condition, under the autocratic sway of Vizard, who succeeds even in obtaining for her permission to visit the local infirmary. In view of such protection as this, it is worth her while to disregard the peculiarities of a gentleman who gives vent in conversation to occasional bursts of outrageous misogyny, and assumes an unusual licence with respect to personal remarks on the appearance of the ladies he is addressing. To a less strong-minded lady than “Doctress Gale,” as her creator calls her, this habit of his would have been disconcerting, for the first of the lady doctors of fiction does not resemble the greater number of her successors in being beautiful. A tongue and a memory such as hers secure her against the need of extraneous aid; but in view of the profes­sional antagonism aroused by later heroines in the breasts of their male acquaintance, it is as well that the strength [98] of their arguments should be reinforced by that of their personal charms.

Beautiful, for instance, is the heroine of ‘Sweethearts and Friends’2—one of those beauties almost peculiar to fiction, who are first seen as shy awkward girls, with red hands and untidy hair, and wearing tumbled gowns that look as if they had been flung on with a pitchfork, but who develop in the course of a few years into beings of surpassing loveli­ness, exquisite taste in dress, and absolute neatness. We have placed this book second on our list, although it was only published last year, on account of its subject (it purports to describe the life of a woman student in the seventies), and also for another reason. On its appearance the critical dove-cots were fluttered by the advent of a novel so extra­ordinarily unequal, to use a mild term, to Maxwell Gray’s former books. We ourselves cherished the hope that it might prove to be a reprint of an early work under a new title (we think this an immoral proceeding as a matter of business, but it would have satisfied us in an artistic sense), until we failed in discovering any support for the theory; but we still incline to the belief that it was written at the period of which it treats, and for some reason or other withheld from publication until the present time. Colour is given to this hypothesis by the asides in which the author indulges on such subjects as golf and bicycling, Zola and Ibsen (the Scandinavian playwright is introduced as a novelist, by the way), and the closure, which have all the appearance of being interpolated to bring the book up to date; while the triumphant “Fulfilled in 1897,” as a footnote to a prophetic passage referring to a parliamentary debate, would, we hope, be impossible in the case of a prediction uttered after the fact.

Dr Amy, the story of whose career Maxwell Gray relates, is a remarkable young lady. On leaving school she begins to work at anatomy and physiology, among other subjects, “with a view to make her geological studies more complete.” The choice seems peculiar; but perhaps the geologists of the seventies believed in Mark Twain’s fossil man, in which case they would naturally wish to know all about him. To aid her studies, Amy kept a human skull under her pillow, which appears to the ordinary mind about the most unsafe place she could have chosen in the daytime, and the most uncomfortable at night. We are not surprised to hear that the dog obtained possession of the ghastly relic, and disturbed the nerves of the family by producing it at afternoon tea; and we have a suspicion that when Amy’s relatives cast her off on account of her medical studies, it was as much in the hope of protecting themselves against further incidents of the kind as from a strict adherence to principle. This view is strengthened by the fact that when she and her surgeon brother had both completed their training, they “met with the stipulation that Amy should never refer to profes­sional topics, and were as friendly as ever.” As regards the course of her training, the lines are fallen to Amy in pleasanter places than to Rhoda Gale, for she is able to take advantage of the newly founded School of Medicine for Women (the modest commencement [99] of the great enterprise of to-day) in prosecuting her studies; but the difficulties were still sufficient to daunt most people. “How they had been pushed about from examining body to examining body, found perfect, and then denied diplomas! What antagonism they had encountered in private and public! They had figured in public prints as ‘unwomanly women.’ Personal rudeness and unmanly sneers they had received. . . .”

Add to this that the pinch of poverty had compelled Amy to spend her vacations in “teaching children, supplementing nursing staffs, and writing for magazines”—occupations wholly incompatible with the ideal holiday pursuit of the modern lady medical, which is to read steadily for her next exam.—and we wonder not only that she persisted in her studies, but that she survived them. After so hard an appren­ticeship, it is but natural that she should refuse to resign her profession on the invitation of a gentleman who enunciates his views on woman thus: “The ideal—h’m!—woman is—ah!—a being whose weakness is her strength, in whom—ah!—feeling replaces intellect, meekness and refinement strength—who should be a rest to her husband by her freedom from toil, a strength to him by the appeal of her weakness, a joy to him by her freedom from sorrow;” but we cannot help feeling that the poor man is hardly used throughout the book. To begin with, he is unkindly represented as the embodiment of absolute perfection, and most unduly handicapped by always being called “the Immaculate,” besides being afflicted with a “beautiful velvet voice” and “beautiful pansy eyes.” Such drawbacks as these should assuredly be passed over lightly, instead of being insisted upon ad nauseam, in the description of a hero who, after all, is as endurable as his creator will allow him to be. His intentions are of the very best; we are told that “the Immaculate was deeply grieved; he felt that all these girls ought to have been married long ago, and thus saved. But he could not, under existing social arrangements, marry them all, else would he cheerfully have done his duty as a gallant knight;” and it is really not his fault that he does everything with grace and propriety or with elegance and dexterity. Some young ladies, it is true, might not care to be addressed habitually as “Dear prophetess” or “Dear pythoness,” but it does not appear that Amy regarded the epithet as anything but a merited compliment. Yet she treats him with an austerity that provokes even the author to take his part—for is he not “too beautiful for words” at the moment?—so that we are astonished to find Amy described as a “fiendish young female.” This, as boys would say, is “coming it rather strong.”

But the poor Immaculate’s troubles do not end here. He has succeeded in freeing himself from the toils of the pretty little Siren who attracted him when Amy proved to be out of reach; but his prophetess still refuses to relent, although she unbends so far as to dress “at” him in a way curiously like that of the ordinary woman, and he finds it necessary to soften her severity by risking his life in a burning house. This leads to the most astounding scene in the book, and one which is apparently intended to be taken seriously. The Immaculate is alone on the balcony, which firemen and spectators are alike afraid to approach from below. They have thrown him a rope, but he [100] is too much injured to use it. Then, “with a wild cry of ‘With him or for him,’ a tall young woman dashed through hose-streams, policemen, and firemen, caught the rope, swarmed up it like a cat, and reached the tottering balcony in a few seconds.” We have never seen a cat swarm up a rope; but far be it from us to limit the powers of that ingenious animal, or of Amy, who “could tie herself into knots, and do wonderful things on the horizontal bar.” Once on the balcony, she fastens the rope round the Immaculate, lifts him up and over the rail, and lets him down, then leaps to the ground, knocking down a fireman in her fall. The result to the fireman is not stated, but we fear that it must have been serious; the result to Amy is that she marries the Immaculate. We regret to say that he urges her to this step with the plea, “I am your Frankenstein. You have given me life”; but perhaps as a married woman she rescued sufficient time from her profes­sional avocations to correct her husband’s quotations before they appeared in his parliamentary speeches. “Amy’s husband,” we are told, “never forgot the cry that rang through the roaring flames surrounding him of ‘With him or for him!’” Probably not; nor probably did his acquaintances ever allow him to forget it. As for the firemen, policemen, and other casual auditors, they must have felt that for once a bit of Adelphi melodrama had wandered into real life.

The astonishing youthfulness of this scene is a strong support to our theory (save that we can scarcely imagine a mature writer allowing it to pass as anything but a skit), but there are a good many touches in the book which remind us that the Maxwell Gray we know best possesses what the eighteenth century would have called “an agreeable rallying turn.” Still, as we have seen, the funniest things in the book are those which to all appearance are not intended to be so.

Far more seriously than Maxwell Gray does the author of ‘Doctor Victoria’3 take his heroine. Like Esther Summerson in ‘Bleak House,’ she suffers from the consciousness of a stain on her birth; but with much less common-sense than that young lady, she determines that the knowledge renders it incumbent upon her never to marry. Fortunately her lover is easily consoled for her loss. He has loved two young ladies before her, and after a decent interval he reverts to one of them, who is, though unknown to him, Victoria’s half-sister, while Victoria turns her thoughts to a philanthropic career. Brought up by a friendly doctor, who has a theory that boys and girls should be educated alike, since the same teaching will produce different types of mind, as the same food builds up different bodily forms, she begins her course as a nurse. Having come, seen, and conquered at St Tobias’s Hospital, she decides to study medicine, much to the disgust of the highest authority at the hospital, whose two pet aversions are tall men (he is short himself) and women who do not keep in their place. He demonstrates forcibly to her guardian that while men perform their complicated mental processes by reasoning, women arrive at certain [101] simple conclusions by dint of intuition, and that consequently no dependence is to be placed on them as thinkers; but his unbelief does not deter her from going to study at Zurich. Her medical course is a highly successful one, but her experience goes to prove the truth of the dictum she advances on one occasion, “Even freedom has its price.” It is because she is without family ties that she is able to devote herself to her profession, and she has paid for her success by her isolation. Victoria is the one specialist we have met with among the medical women of fiction. The sad plight of a blind child in whom she is interested leads her to direct her attention chiefly to diseases of the eye, and the thesis which she reads before taking her doctor’s degree is on this subject. It commands universal attention, and her diploma is accompanied with the highest encomiums the examiners can bestow. Her first operation is performed on the child for whom she has worked, and is successful, and she returns to England as an oculist, obtaining an extensive practice in her own speciality. Her male confrères have no objection to meet her in consultation, and the hostility of outsiders is disarmed by her attachment to music and needlework, and the care she bestows on her looks and her dress.

Very different is the fate which befalls the unhappy heroine who gives her name to the novel called ‘Dr Edith Romney.’4 The book was originally named ‘A Woman’s Chance,’ and in the opinion of the author that chance is evidently a poor one. “A sorrow’s crown of sorrow,” “Pelion piled on Ossa,” “linked misery long drawn out,”—all these metaphors fail to do justice to the misfortunes which overwhelm poor Edith, who is more distinctly a woman, and less the embodiment of a cause, than the three heroines we have been considering. Her mental development is traced for us from the days when she hated history and arithmetic and devoured story-books, and when her imagination ran riot in huge schemes of philanthropy, in all of which she took a prominent part in benefiting the human race. Her vague dreams are merged in a definite ambition by the sights which meet her eyes as she accompanies her father, a country doctor, on his rounds; and she throws herself into the studies she had disliked, in the hope of fitting herself for a medical career. Her father, who does not expect the notion to last, helps her to attain the special training needed, and at length, when he discovers she is in earnest, allows her, in spite of the vehement opposition of the rest of her family, to study in Paris. At the opening of the book we find her settled in a country town, where she has built up for herself an excellent practice, composed almost entirely, it must be confessed, of ladies who have been alienated from the male doctor of the place by his coarseness and lack of sympathy. Edith is the fashion, but it is a fashion that seems to rest on a secure foundation, and her satisfaction is without any alloy of fear for the future—a condition of mind which, in the opinion of the modern novelist no less than of King Amasis, is neither more nor less than a courting of misfortune.

The misfortune arrives quickly enough when the malevolent old doctor, whose patients have deserted [102] him for Edith, imports a young, handsome, and travelled man as a successor to himself. The old doctor despises women as a class, and hates clever women; the younger detests medical women in particular, but wholly on hearsay. Every man has a right to his opinions; but the man who translates them into action as Dr Fane does his, is badly in need of a sound kicking. We should be inclined to resent his portrait as a libel on the medical profession were it not for the reflection that some, at least, of the students who mobbed the ladies at Edinburgh in 1870 probably completed their course and embarked on an independent career without mending their ways. Not content with setting himself deliberately to win Edith’s patients away from her, Fane speaks of her and her qualifications in the most slighting manner to every one he meets, in one case going so far as to throw away, with a contemptuous gesture, the medicine she has prescribed for a poor woman. The husband of the patient, whom Edith has rebuked for beating his wife, is delighted to be able to spread the rumour that the lady doctor has been slowly poisoning her. Fane’s tactics are only too successful, and we are shown how Edith’s practice gradually melts away. The hypochondriacal lady whom she has treated with robust common-sense finds Fane willing to humour her; the strong-minded schoolmistress, who has hitherto called in the lady doctor on principle, forsakes her in consequence of the fears of parents; and the Lady Bountiful who patronised her as the representative of one more deserving cause finds a double reason for transferring her patronage when she discovers that her son is attracted to Edith, and that there is a hope her daughter may attract Fane. Day after day the intimate enemies of the unfortunate Edith drop in to see her, and remark airily, “By the bye, of course you know that Mrs So-and-so has sent for Dr Fane?” with a cruelty exceeding, we hope, anything possible even in the most rural of country towns in real life. The fashion has changed, and there are only two decent or charitable people in the place, and one of these dies, thereby filling Edith’s cup of woe to the utmost. In compliance with her friend’s dying request, she continues to visit her children; but their father has become infected with the prevailing distrust, and calls in Fane, ostensibly for consultation, but when Fane refuses to meet the lady doctor, as a substitute for her. On leaving the house when this brutal dismissal has been announced to her, Edith meets her triumphant rival for the first time face to face, and the fact that her beauty arouses a certain amount of compunction in his breast is so far satisfactory.

We are bound to confess that Edith does not face her misfortunes with the spirit we had anticipated. She yields weakly to the ridiculous demand of the vulgar nouveau riche, who expects her to be content with lower fees because she is a woman, and she makes no attempt to take arms against her sea of troubles. Even if we grant that the peculiarly malignant instability of her patients is possible, we should have expected to see her comforting herself with the reflection that the next swing of the pendulum would bring them all back to her, and otherwise putting in practice the philosophy which is popularly supposed to be inculcated by the difficulties of a long and hard course of study. [103] But she gives way very quickly, and allows herself to be affected even by the discouraging hints of her old servant that her failure is a “judgment” for taking up unwomanly work, and the plaint of her clerical brother to the effect that while it is disgraceful to have a sister a doctor, an unsuccessful lady doctor is a lower depth still. Edith was born a little too late. A share in the struggles of the dauntless seven at Edinburgh, preparatory to her Parisian course, would have done her all the good in the world in the way of moral bracing.

While Edith is sinking into a state of deep depression, Fane finds that his evil doing is returning upon his own head. Although he is engaged to the Lady Bountiful’s daughter, his mind is full of Edith, and he makes valiant but unfortunate attempts to repair the wrong he has done. Taking advantage of a mill accident by which he is overwhelmed with work, he requests her co-operation, only to realise afterwards that he has exposed her to fresh insult by his hasty appeal. Still, the intercourse involved by her reluctant assent he considers as so much clear gain, although it shows him more and more distinctly the results of his own despicable behaviour. At length Edith is hissed in public by a claque led by the wife-beater she had reproved, while Fane is honoured with particular applause, in return for which he ungratefully goes out and thrashes the ringleader. But even the sudden and, as it must have appeared, unaccountable conversion of her opponent to her cause fails to cheer Edith, and brain-fever sets in. The old doctor, stirred by a late remorse, installs himself as her medical attendant, and Fane, who would have preferred to take the post himself, is compelled to listen to a stinging review of his conduct from the lips of Edith’s one remaining friend. No repentance on his part can prevent our feeling that this moral castigation is exceedingly well deserved. When Edith has recovered, after much harrowing remorse on Fane’s part, and he has discovered that he is in love with her, he recollects the trifling fact that he is engaged to another lady. Edith has sufficient strength of mind, we are glad to say, to send him back to his duty; but their farewell is witnessed by the wife-beater, who has now good reason for hating both of them, and he reveals the truth to the unfortunate fiancée, intending to injure Fane by breaking off his rich marriage. The poor girl, who is as much too good for her faithless lover as is Edith, takes it upon herself, in the most delicate and self-sacrificing manner, to terminate the engagement without assigning a reason, and he finds himself free. On Edith’s prospect of happiness we will not venture to pronounce an opinion, as we have no means of judging whether Fane’s conversion was so thorough as to allow of her continuing to practise. Since even the old doctor’s hostility was disarmed sufficiently to induce him to use his influence in obtaining her a hospital appointment, we may hope that her husband was equally liberal.

If such was not the case, it may have been because the will on the lady’s part was wanting, for trials far less serious than those which beset poor Edith are enough to lead the heroine of ‘Dr Hermione’5 to renounce her profession. [104] In this book, which has a pleasant idyllic background of English woods and mountains, and Nile palm-groves and temples, “every prospect pleases, and only man is” unsatisfactory. The story is concerned with the squabbles of two somewhat ill-tempered young ladies over the possession of a very unattractive, not to say worthless, youth, while a far superior gentleman stands meekly aside, and accepts with gratitude the hand of the unsuccessful competitor in the struggle. In real life, as we all know, it is customary for the friends of an engaged couple to fill the air with agonised inquiries of “What did she see in him?” and vice versa; but in fiction it is usual to make some attempt to supply the answer. So far as we can perceive, Tom has no good points beyond physical courage and the negative merit of being in a good temper when everything goes according to his liking; yet Hermione loses all interest in life for his sake, and finally follows him out to Egypt, where she shows her fitness for her duties by going into hysterics when she sees him wounded. We are given to understand that in studying medicine Hermione was actuated by the same high principle and the same passion for philanthropy that filled Edith Romney, yet she has allowed herself, before the story begins, to be persuaded to quit the work she was doing in London, in order to play at doctoring the people on her own estate; and we venture to suggest that her doleful case is attributable rather to propinquity and to the sudden emptiness of her life than to any more occult reason. She is absolutely ignorant of the world, we are told more than once, and especially of men. Yet even the average girl picks up a certain knowledge of both, if only from newspapers and novels; and that a woman of unusual capacity should pass through the whole of a medical course, and that in Paris, and work largely among the poor, both in London and in the country, and still remain in a state of blissful ignorance, seems to argue that she went about with her eyes shut. This may have enabled her to do her work “like a nun,” as her guardian says; but it appears also to have acted prejudicially in preventing the development of common-sense. It is possible that an Arts course, pursued entirely in female company, might produce this claustral effect; but in a medical school the unavoidable intercourse with the male students, who are not as a rule, we think, so entirely cut after the same pattern as our author considers, should have kept man from being an absolutely unknown animal. However, since Hermione was what she was, Dr Jones had only himself and his own contradictory counsels to thank for her defection from the paths of science, which he had urged her to quit before Tom appeared on the scene. How little she valued her own profession is shown by her allowing Tom to give up his for her sake, although it would seem to most people that to remain in the army was his only chance of becoming an endurable character. On the whole, we think, the medical profession did not sustain an irremediable loss by Hermione’s desertion, but we are sorry for Hermione herself. “A proud fool,” she may have been, as she herself says, and ready to imagine that she could live without love, but she scarcely deserved to be condemned to marry Tom.

Very different indeed from Hermione is the medical woman introduced [105] to us by an anonymous American author as ‘Helen Brent, M.D.’6 Helen is so far from being a bigoted advocate of Women’s Rights as to incur the displeasure of her more advanced friends by her lukewarmness; but her views on the subject of her career would surprise a good many English husbands. “I think you have just as much right,” she says to her lover, not at all in the sense in which Hermione would have used the words, “to ask me to give up my profession as I have to ask you to give up yours.” The lover, after the manner of men, fails to see the logic of this. He is a successful lawyer, and knows that he would be obliged to leave his wife all day, and also to take flying journeys to distant towns at frequent intervals, but he expects her to find full occupation and interest in managing her house and in watching for him. That she should suggest that, in view of the sacrifice he demands from her, he should be prepared to give up his legal practice, and go into some humdrum business that would permit him to devote himself to his wife, is preposterous. Helen, on her part, is ready to promise to restrict herself to consultation work and the performance of operations (a generous offer that fills him with fresh horror), and to keep a careful eye on the household management, although she will not herself undertake the cooking; but Harold declines to try the experiment, and prophesies as he leaves her that she will never find it possible to reconcile the duties of marriage with her ambitions. After this it is only poetically just that his theory of marriage as a state in which all the duties are on the wife’s side should be shown to be a failure in practice. The beautiful woman whom he marries and leaves to her own devices, while he follows his legal, municipal, and political pursuits, seeks consolation elsewhere, and Harold is brought to perceive that if the husband’s time and thoughts are to be exclusively given to his own business, it may be as well for the wife to have some occupation of her own with which to fill up her solitary hours. The concession is not based on very lofty grounds, it must be confessed; but perhaps the “keep her out of mischief” theory is as much as Harold could be expected to indorse, since he fails altogether to appreciate Helen’s motives either in adopting her career or in sticking to it.

Another American lady doctor, but of a very distinct type, appears in Mr George Knight’s ‘Winds of March.’ Bab is an artist of extraordinary power, at least in catching likenesses, a marvellous musician, a capti­vating singer, and—quite casually and by the way—an M.D. of New York. She performs a grave operation at a moment’s notice, so to speak, and neglects her instruments after it in a style that we are profes­sionally informed is little better than criminal. It is of a piece with this versatility of talent that she alternately fascinates and shocks, allures and repels, a young man whom we must regretfully call one of the foulest-tongued lovers in literature. A clergyman, a university man, and presumably a gentleman, he uses language to Bab, on very slight provocation, which is equally inexcusable and unaccountable. The subject of the book is that old theme worked out by Kingsley in ‘Hypatia’—the struggles of a [106] would-be ascetic torn two ways by the world and the spirit. Some of us may remember the days in which ‘Hypatia’ was gravely pronounced to be an immoral book: such a recollection makes us wonder what would have been the judgment of the critics of that epoch upon ‘The Winds of March’ and others of its class. It is an old axiom that in depicting character the novelist should allow his personages to reveal themselves, and not arrogate to himself the office of describing them; and it would be well if Mr Knight and his school would expand the advice to cover the treatment of subject—especially an unpleasant subject. If you feel called upon to write a novel with a purpose, this purpose involving matters not usually discussed in polite society, work it out by means of your characters if you will, but talk about it as little as possible. Otherwise, your intentions may be excellent, but your atmosphere will be nasty. And this, we are bound to say, is the case with this book, which, apart from the nauseousness of its tone, has many excellent scenes, among which we may name that of the collapse of the strike, and the stratagem by which the doctor obtains Magnus’s release from the Franciscan monastery. Bab, we think, is hardly treated throughout. When she begins to practise medicine regularly for the benefit of the poor among whom she settles, she becomes blind, altogether by chance and unexpectedly, as it were, and we are left in doubt whether this is a piece of cruel sarcasm directed at her healing powers, or merely an indiscretion on the part of the author. But to allow a woman of some sense and experience to marry a man of Magnus’s character, who had, moreover, been insane for some months, as it appears, is a libel on the female sex and the medical profession.

It is a curious fact, in an age which may yet see the name of a distinguished lady doctor inscribed on the bede-roll of our Indian empire beside those of Dr Boughton and Dr William Hamilton, that there is only one book, at least so far as our reading extends, which attempts to deal with the career of a medical woman in the East. In saying this, we do not forget that magnificent story, the ‘Naulahka,’ but here the reader is expressly informed that Mr Kipling’s (or should it be Mr Balestier’s?) heroine was prevented from studying medicine by the opposition of her parents, and obliged to content herself with a nurse’s training—a fact which has not hindered some critics from asserting that the author of ‘Peace with Honour’7 has trespassed upon ground already occupied. There is something slightly reminiscent of the Macedon and Monmouth style of comparison here, and if, because Mr Kipling has stationed a trained nurse in India, it is to be unlawful to send a lady doctor into any part of the wide region vaguely termed “the East,” we shall soon have a demand in literature as well as in politics for “effective occupation” before “spheres of influence” are recognised. Perhaps the objection is based upon the fact that Kate seems to have performed the duties of medical officer rather than of matron in the hospital at Rhatore, until she met with the singular and discouraging experience which terminated her connection with the place. The theory which Mr [107] Kipling exemplifies in this incident, and which he has also developed in one of his short stories, is, put briefly, that natives will not repose full confidence in an unmarried woman. We have been unable to obtain any confirmation of the idea from the lady missionaries we have consulted, and although it is worked into a fine and most pathetic climax to the story, we fear that the balance of testimony is on the other side, and that the general feeling is rather that exemplified by the Ethiopian ladies of ‘Peace with Honour,’ namely, envy and astonish­ment at the superior happiness of the unmarried European woman.

The two last books on our list are curiously different in tone, but they are united by the conditions of their authorship, since in each of them, under the form of fiction, a medical woman gives her views on her own profession. The plot of ‘Dr Janet, of Harley Street’8 need not detain us, since, while sensational enough in itself, like that of ‘Helen Brent,’ its chief value is to provide occasions for the enunciation of the views of the heroine, with whose personality we are more particularly concerned. Dr Janet is a delightful person, although we must confess to a lingering regret that she wears the divided skirt. We have an old-fashioned preference, perhaps merely a prejudice, in favour of heroines in womanly apparel. Surely, too, this eccentricity of attire would have proved a barrier to Dr Janet’s attaining the lofty position she occupies—as near the top of the tree, we suppose, as the lady doctor can hope to climb in the present generation. She is the senior physician of the Minerva Hospital for women, dean of the Medical School attached to it, and lecturer at various colleges, and besides all this, she has a large practice, which ranges from royalty to the poorest of the poor. Her chief characteristic physically is, we regret to say, a certain “stalwart shapelessness,” and morally, a habit of telling unpleasant truths in a deep voice. Edith Romney and Hermione would have met with little favour from her, for she gives it as her opinion that good looks in a lady medical student are a mistake: they attract men, distract her own attention from her work, and alienate other women. Nevertheless, she is equally opposed to the mannish woman, and denounces in scathing terms the passion for short hair and stiff shirt-fronts which is apt to seize upon the girl who has just discovered that “life is earnest.” Whether the subject be mercenary marriages or the ill effects of slum-life on the physique of the race, her utterances are always to the point and absolutely unrestrained by fear or favour. Phyllis, the little protégée whom she pitchforks into the medical profession almost against her will, is a study of quite a fresh type. The irregular character of her early education, which would have seemed to most people an insuperable bar to her undertaking the necessary studies, enables her to enter on her training with a free and original mind, and her almost excessive sensibility teaches her to look at everything from a personal rather than a scientific point of view,—two points in which the earliest lady doctors enjoyed an undoubted advantage over their more “machine-trained” successors of the present day. She is designed to illustrate Dr Janet’s theory as to the benefits conferred [108] by the employment of the distinctively feminine characteristics in medicine, and also in life; but it is acknowledged that these faculties are at a discount in examinations. The method by which poor pretty Phyllis, about whom centres a tragedy, is freed from her fiendish persecutor through Dr Janet’s means, is highly ingenious. In Miss Kenealy’s opinion, it is also highly moral in character, but this is a matter on which a very different view may be held.

The other book to which we have alluded describes the work of a medical student with a minuteness which has hitherto only been approached by Dr Conan Doyle. ‘Mona Maclean’9 enjoys the distinction of being the pet aversion in literature of the male medical student. In a debate which took place some time ago on the question of medical women, we understand that a reference to the book was met by a denunciation of it as “the hysterical work of a sentimental female,” or words to that effect. The reason of this is obvious. The sight of women’s names in honour-lists has become too familiar to call up the wrath it once evoked, and other lady doctors in fiction have enjoyed good looks and universal talents; but from the earliest days of the strife at Edin­burgh, fine feelings, it will be remembered, have been the peculiar prerogative of the male student, and this inalienable possession has now been calmly appropriated by the encroaching sex. Mona is to the young medical woman of to-day what Tom Thurnall was to the young medical man forty years ago, not the portrait of an individual but of a type, embodying all the features in which each individual would wish to excel. She is not the typical medical student, by any means, but rather the fine fleur of modern girlhood, with its wide range of interests, its humanitarianism, its dabbling in many philosophies, its heroisms, and its touches of youthful cynicism. “The flow of one Spirit” is evident in all her life, whether she is acting as demonstrator in the dissecting-room, or raising the taste of the Borrowness servant-girls in matters of millinery. Ralph Dudley is scarcely worthy of her; but then he is a mere man, and not even a type. In common with the heroes of most of the books we have been considering, he is somewhat eclipsed by the radiance of the heroine, while in order to exhibit her virtues to the utmost, he is forced to display himself in a decidedly ungracious light. This is his misfortune, but it is punished as a fault, and we are satisfied that he deserves the punishment. He is, in fact, in the case of the male characters of an excellent little work which was at one time highly esteemed for reading aloud at mothers’ meetings, and bore the title, ‘Men as they are, and Women as they ought to be,’ the invidiousness of which was loudly condemned by any fathers who were treated to a résumé of the contents at home.

The character of Mona marks, as clearly as does the Royal recognition of which we have already spoken, the close of the transition period. The medical woman has vindicated in the eyes of others her right to live; she has now to justify her existence in her own. There is time for these thoughts when the noise of the struggle has died down, and [109] the dust of conflict has cleared away, and Mona’s path is very smooth compared with that trodden by the pioneers. She has to go to rural Borrowness to find the notion surviving that medical studies were a disgrace to a woman, for even her autocratic and delightful Anglo-Indian uncle accepts the lady doctor as a necessary evil, and does not scout her profession with the abhorrence still shown by some men, however tolerant in theory, when it invades the charmed circle of their own relations. We have seen it objected that Rachel Simpson’s anxiety to conceal the fact of Mona’s being a medical student is unnatural, and that she would in reality have been proud of it; but those who argue thus can scarcely be acquainted with the intense—one might almost say the religious—conservatism of the less advanced portion of the lower middle class in a country district. That the feeling has changed in most places we are well aware,—wide as is the difference between approving the despatch of lady doctors to India (the heathen being charitably supposed to be so badly off that nothing could make them much worse) and consulting a lady doctor for your own ailments, or welcoming her as one of your family—and the grand event of the present month will doubtless contribute to change it further.

In view of this change of sentiment, then, the perils before the medical woman are those attendant upon success. It is difficult, in piping times of peace, to live up to the level of the simple and warlike virtues of your ancestors; and there is a danger that, as the fashion of employing lady doctors spreads, the ranks may be recruited by the immature, the narrow-minded, or the merely business-like. It is against this danger that the whole of ‘Mona Maclean’ is a protest. Nothing is too good for the medical profession, and, provided that the right stamp of women can be found to enter upon it, there is no better career for them. Mona herself is somewhat unduly perfect, of course; but few people fail through aiming at too high an ideal. And an ideal the book does present—nay, more, an inspiration. It should be placed officially in the hands of every new student at that School of Medicine which Mona would scarcely recognise if she returned to it to-day, to teach her what her life may be made. Failing that, we would present a copy to any girl we knew who was entering on the study of medicine—not with an injunction to read it, for such a recommendation on the part of an old fogey is apt to have adverse consequences, but in the confidence that, once begun, the book itself would carry on its reader to the end, there to show her what is surely the ideal medical career—the joint exercise of their profession by a husband and wife.

Footnotes

1 ‘Maga,’ June 1876 to June 1877.

2 Sweethearts and Friends. By Maxwell Gray.

3 Doctor Victoria. By the late Major-General Alexander, C.B.

4 Dr Edith Romney. By Anne Elliot.

5 Dr Hermione. By the Author of ‘Lady Bluebeard.’

6 Helen Brent, M.D.: A Social Study.

7 Peace with Honour. By Sydney C. Grier.

8 Dr Janet, of Harley Street. By Arabella Kenealy.

9 Mona Maclean, Medical Student. By Graham Travers. 13th edition, 1898.

Notes and Corrections: “The Medical Woman in Fiction

A quick glance at the footnotes (directly above) will identify eight of the ten books discussed in this article. The first footnote refers to A Woman-Hater by Charles Reade; another of the ten titles, Winds of March, doesn’t get a footnote at all.

Although you wouldn’t know it from the footnotes, six of the ten books were written by women. Three of them used male pseudo­nyms; a fourth wrote anonymously.

ridicule, like obloquy, makes an excellent advertisement.
[“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”]

the Continental universities, which had all opened their doors to women
[For “Continental”, read “French and Swiss”. The German univer­sities were slow to admit women.]

the law which refused registration to any physician not holding a British diploma
[Formally the law referred to English-language schools, which would seem to include any and all American medical colleges. This detail puzzled me when it came to Edith Romney, who was educated in Paris.]

“Dear prophetess” or “Dear pythoness”
[We will stipulate that Maxwell Gray—or Mary Tuttiett—meant the Pythian oracle, not a snake-lady.]

“I am your Frankenstein. You have given me life”
[Purists please note this early use of “Frankenstein” to denote the monster, not the creator. The subsequent reference to “correct . . . quotations” suggests that the article’s author didn’t approve either.]

women arrive at certain simple conclusions by dint of intuition
[In one of his short stories, Isaac Asimov brilliantly observes that what is called “feminine intuition” is in fact logic working at lightning speed.]

Mr George Knight’s ‘Winds of March’
[This one sounds quite thrilling, and another contemporary review agrees, so I am heartbroken that I cannot find it online. In fact, WorldCat will only admit to knowing of six library copies in the world. George Knight, if that was his real name, must have been extremely obscure even in his lifetime: one review of his short-story collection Dust in the Balance repeatedly calls him “George King”. Unlike the other nine novels discussed in the article, Winds of March does not get an identifying footnote; was the whole paragraph written from memory?]

[Footnote 1] ‘Maga,’ June 1876 to June 1877.
[No, not that Maga. “Maga”—as in “Magazine”—was the Edinburgh Magazine’s nickname for itself.]

[Footnote 2] Maxwell Gray
[Real name, Mary Gleed Tuttiett.]

[Footnote 3] the late Major-General Alexander, C.B.
[George Gardiner Alexander (1821–1897). The novel is subtitled “A Picture from the Period”, without specifying what period.]

[Footnote 5] the Author of ‘Lady Bluebeard.’
[Henry Curwen (1845–1892), it appears. Another of his novels is improbably titled Zit and Xoe. Curwen died on a ship leaving Bombay, heading “home” after some years as editor and proprietor of the Times of India; this may shed some light on the “Nile palm-groves and temples”.]

[Footnote 6] Helen Brent, M.D.: A Social Study
[The author, not named in the 1892 printed book, is Annie Nathan Meyer.]

[Footnote 7] Sydney C. Grier
[Hilda Gregg, who is said to be the author of this article. That would explain why she doesn’t have the nerve to summarize or analyze the book—as she does with the other nine titles—or even say much of anything at all about it. Instead she talks about Kipling.]

[Footnote 9] Graham Travers
[Real name, Margaret Georgina Todd.]