Wedded to War
At the beginning of the Civil War, medical support for the troops was rudimentary at best. Several brilliant, heroic women undertook the change this—Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix—and Georgeanna Wolsey, whose writings on her work form the basis for Jocelyn Green’s novel. Her heroine is Charlotte Waverly, well-off and well-educated, whose life seems laid out for her—marriage to a wealthy man, New York society leader, drawing rooms and country estates. Instead she becomes a nurse, and plunges into a filthy mess of abuse, blood, piss and dying.
The research behind this shines. Green’s descriptions of the first hospitals, the horrors of battlefield medicine, and the extraordinary courage and vision of the women who took on this challenge carry the whole book. For this alone it’s worth the read.
Which is good, because the rest of it is stock romance: two men, one noble, one vile but well dressed, vie for Charlotte’s love. Guess which one wins her.
Nonetheless, in the current passion for the Civil War, the novel exposes something many people will never see otherwise: the struggle to maintain humanity and caring in a rising tide of blood. If the plot gets rickety at the end, Green’s vision remains true: heroic women at their best.