Friday, July 17, 2015

Vintage Nurse Fiction

Vintage nurse fiction is addicting. It crept up to me when I least expected it. Growing up in the Philippines, I was not exposed to the Cherry Ames’ and Sue Barton’s books. As American girls were reading about the adventures of Cherry Ames, I was fascinated by the adventures of Nancy Drew, Heidi, and the Bobbsey Twins. It was only recently that I managed to read through some of the books that featured nurses as heroines in the mid-20th century. And I discovered, albeit late, the inimitable Miss Pinkerton from Mary Roberts Rinehart.

Cherry Ames starred in 27 novels that traced her journey as a nurse in the 1940s, mostly written by Helen Wells and a few books in-between by Julia Campbell Tatham. As a nursing counterpart to Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames (also called Charity) used her nursing assessment skills to solve mysteries along her many assignments around the country. The books also served to inspire the young girls during the war time period to take up the nursing career. The historical perspective was interesting to follow. The books provided great insight of the way we nursed on days bygone. The arcane nursing procedures and the hierarchical relationships between doctors and nurses made me appreciate how far the nursing profession had become.

Before Cherry Ames, the Sue Barton 7-book series was written by Helen Dore Boylston from 1936 through 1952. Sue’s professional career started when she was a student nurse through different fields like obstetrics and psychiatry. The stories showed Sue Barton’s heroics as an amateur detective throughout her nursing journey.

There were many other nurse romances that featured nurses in various positions and in all kinds of exotic locations. Most of these romances were about nurses in peril or thrust with a dilemma, only to be rescued by handsome doctors. Then there were interesting titles such as “Hootenanny Nurse”, “Dental Nurse at Dentley’s”, “Dr. Brad’s Nurse”, “Headline Nurse”, “Ice Venture Nurse”, “Run Nurse Run”, “One with the Wind”, and yes, ”The Satanic Nurses”. Some of these nurse romances were cringe-worthy because of the "weak feminine and subservient" stereotypes. Light-hearted fluff which, in my opinion, is better than the vampire/zombie stories that cater to the young Adult readers. On the other hand, we have seen the antitheses of these characters with the crazy Miss Ratched and the nurse from Misery (shudder).

And now, a great find. Mary Roberts Rinehart, a nurse herself, was a well-regarded and prolific author often called the American Agatha Christie. Ms. Rinehart was the queen of mystery thrillers who wrote the “The Circular Staircase”. The phrase “The butler did it” was credited to Ms. Rinehart. The book “Miss Pinkerton” was written by Miss Rinehart in 1914 about a nurse Hilda Adams who was affectionately called Miss Pinkerton because of her penchant for solving mysteries. Because of my research for this article, I discovered Miss Pinkerton. Thank you, thank you, Miss Rinehart. I am now a fan.

In contemporary nurse literature (within the 21st century), here are my favorite books:

Of course, I would be remiss if I don’t include my absolute favorite book. Readers, please indulge me. This is a fulfillment of a life-long dream. My bucket-list item checked off.