Heroines of Mercy Street: The Real Nurses of the Civil War (2016)

 

My Edition:mercyst
Title: Heroines of Mercy Street: The Real Nurses of the Civil War
Author: Pamela D. Toler
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
Device: Hardcover
Year: 2016
Pages: 287
Summary

I immediately wrote to all the people of influence I knew, begging them to procure me some place in the war as nurse, or whatever I could do, Mary Phinney von Olnhausen[1]

I shall not come home, unless I get sick, while this hospital lasts,  Cornelia Hancock[ii]

 

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The Union took over Confederate private homes and hotels for use as hospitals

The second season of Mercy Street on PBS starts this Sunday. I was hooked from the first episode last year. The program tells another part of the American Civil War from the perspective of the doctors and nurses and the wounded of both sides. The script is based on the biographies, diaries and other writings of real women who volunteered to serve their country as hospital nurse, a profession that was ill-defined for women up to this point and whose presence in war-time hospitals often met with condescension at best and suspicion at worst. Their presence in military hospitals challenged the medical establishment’s concept of female sensibility to the horrors of war, until the women proved not only their worth in the hospital setting, but that their work was vital to the overall war effort.

I have been a ‘female nurse’ since a year ago last October…I went with many misgivings—but now I know what women are worth in the hospitals. It is no light thing to hear a man say he owes you his life and then to know that mother, wife, sister or child bless you in their prayers, Ella Wolcott[iii]

The Heroines of Mercy Street, by Pamela D. Toler, a companion to the PBS series, tells the stories of many of these women and about what it meant for nursing to grow from something done by women at home for family members as the knowledge was passed from mother to daughter, to a skilled profession in hospital and other outside-the-home settings. Toler explains that during the early days of the Civil War it was recovering soldiers who aided the doctors in caring for newly injured and sick, as female nurses were not well-accepted or were considered unable to perform the physical and medical duties as required. It was also thought the sights of the wounded and their care was not a respectable job for the mothers, daughters, wives and sisters of middle and upper class families.

…and in the late war we saw the most delicate women, who could not at home endure the sight of blood, become so used to scenes of carnage, that they walked the hospitals and the margins of battlefield, amid the poor remnants of torn humanity, with as perfect self-possession as if they were strolling in a flower garden,  Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner [iv]

Florence Nightingale changed this perception with her work in the Crimean War after which she published Notes on Nursing to high acclaim. Her school in London drew women from all classes of society, including American women, giving skills to  thousands of women willing to nurse the wounded and ill on the front and in hospitals.

Toler profiles many well-known women, including Dorothea Dix, Louisa May Alcott and her experiences at Union Hospital and the work of Clara Barton. Mary Phinney von Olnhausen, a major character in the series, features prominently in the book as well.  The comprehensive endnote section includes many others through their letters and journals, their conversations and documents that describe their back-breaking and emotionally-wrenching work.

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Scenes like this are portrayed in the series

All these women, the famous and the unknown, were pioneers, who felt called to a profession in its infancy. They stood up for themselves and their vulnerable soldiers for whom they fought to get the best medical treatment, food and the cleanest environment possible. Their dedication proved their necessity to the war effort. As a result of the War, these skills also paved the way for women to work after the war ended, which according to Dorothea Dix advanced women “at least fifty years beyond the position they would have held had the country remained at peace.”[v]

I wonder what I shall do with myself when the war is over. I never can sit down and do nothing…I never expect to live at home again, I shall always be working somewhere or other, I hope. Work is my life. I cannot be happy doing nothing, Emily Parsons[vi]

_________________
[i] 51.
[ii] 175.
[iii] 143.
[iv] 121.
[v] 221.
[vi] Ibid.

Library Love Challenge

A Question for my Readers: Multiple Blogs, Multiple Platforms?

I see that many of the book bloggers I follow have more than one blog; that they like to keep their book blog separate from personal writings or other types of content.

I adore wordpress for its ease of posting and receiving comments, but if I use this platform for another blog, I have to log out of Relevant Obscurity and log into the new one. It is a pain and sometimes I forget and comment on someone’s book blog only to find I am still logged into my personal blog.

So, I am looking to set up another nonbookblog and need some advice on platforms.

For those of you who have more than one blog, how do you maneuver from one to the other? If you have two wordpress sites do you have the problem I do and how do you overcome it? (Or do you have different problems with more than one wordpress blog)?

If you have a blog on other than wordpress or blogger platforms what is it and do you recommend it? Or do you have any other type of suggestion or advice that might help me?

You can also email me privately,
therelevantobscurity@gmail.com
Thanks so much!

~Laurie

Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time, Fanny Fern (1855)

My Edition:ruthhall
Title: Ruth Hall
Author: Fanny Fern
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Device: Paperback
Year: 1855
Pages: 281
Plot summary

 

All the world knew it was quite unnecessary for a pretty woman to be smart

 

Fanny Fern (1811-1872 ) was one of the most well-known women writers in America. As a journalist she had the distinction of being the first woman to write a signed weekly column at a major publication and one of the most highly paid writers, male or female, in America. Although her family was literary and well-to-do her success came in spite of them.

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Fanny Fern


Ruth Hall
is a loosely based autobiographical account of Fern’s struggles as a widow and single woman with children trying to find her way in a society that has no place for women on their own. Though she remarried, her husband was violent and she left him, scandalizing her family. Through the trials and hardships of Ruth, who is similarly widowed with two children and left helpless by in-laws and family alike we understand the helplessness of women who have no male relatives for protection, financial help and shelter.

Ruth’s husband Harry adored her and their marriage was happy, except for the dislike his parents had toward her. Strict and stern in their religious beliefs, they lived their lives by denying themselves any pleasure. To them Ruth was blasphemous in her openly loving behavior toward her husband and daughter. She was full of flights of fancy and far too emotional and definitely not good enough for their son, which they had no trouble saying to her face, to Harry and to any friend or neighbor. Even Ruth’s grief at the deaths of her daughter and Harry was disregarded as an exaggerated display in order to elicit sympathy.

What characterizes this novel is the unbelievable behavior of Ruth’s in-laws, her father and Hyacinth, her brother toward her situation as a widow. Though they are all able to help financially, they refuse. By the time Harry dies they have had two more children leaving Ruth with three options: remarry, give up her children or go away. Even her brother rebuffs financial help in her name when a friend of Harry’s approaches him at the funeral with a financial offer for Ruth put together by Harry’s friends. Knowing the code of ethics puts the responsibility for Ruth on him and his father he refuses; not because they are going to help her, but to preserve the family’s reputation.

Harry’s parents do not believe Ruth can care for the girls and are anxious to get their hands on them. Ruth lives in squalor in an attic room where there is not enough food for the three of them. As heartbreaking as it is she relents and allows Katy, the oldest, to stay with her grandparents until she can find the money to get her back. Poor Katy suffers abuse and continual denigrating of her mother.

An attempt to teach is a failure. The last option is writing, which Ruth had some success at as a school girl. She sends a few samples to Hyacinth, who has become an editor at a magazine, certain he will help her. After all she is not asking for money, but to work. His reaction is to once again stand in her way with a response that will haunt him later: “I have looked over the pieces you sent me, Ruth. It is very evident that writing never can be your forte; you have no talent that way…I would advise you to seek some unobtrusive employment.” Like so many with a dream that is demeaned and thwarted, the response emboldens her and sets her on fire!

If this sounds like a melodrama, it is. From one small magazine to another she goes with her youngest daughter in tow, only to be rejected again and again until finally she finds two editors who will pay paltry sums for 8 articles a week between them. Mind-numbing and backbreaking work yet this is for experience, because the amount is too small to get Katy back. She keeps writing; sometimes because there is no money for a candle, she writes by the light of the moon.

But finally, the public begins to recognize the words of “Floy,” her pseudonym and her reputation soars. She takes all of the articles she wrote for the two magazines and publishes them in book form to enormous success. She is noticed by the publisher of one of the most popular magazines in the country and offered an exclusive deal. This publisher, Mr. Walter, comes to the rescue like an angel at a train wreck who miraculously saves passengers from certain death, but in this case he is an angel with a contract to write not 8 articles a week, but only one, with a payment so large she can quit the other magazines, get back her daughter and move into the home of her dreams.

While it is easy to see this novel as overly exaggerated and melodramatic it does underscore the vulnerable position women, who through no fault of their own, are alone. Even women with means, like Ruth, have no guarantee they will be cared for/can care for themselves. Throughout the book her family is unfeeling to her pain and dire straits as if she is at fault her for her situation. Her in-laws, her father and her brother all want to protect their assets, instead of helping her. They expect, with complete lack of emotion, that she should give her children away, that it would be better for them and easier for her to find her way.

That she defied tradition and convention and made a success of herself without their help comes back to humiliate them. At the very end of the story Fern writes scathing scenes of confrontations they each have from friends and business acquaintances calling them out over turning their back on their daughter, their sister, their daughter-in-law. I only wish Ruth could have known this!


Back to the Classics, Mount TBR, Classics Club

The Last and the First

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The Lone Crow

This is one of my favorite times of the year. I really get into the ‘letting go of the old and making plans for the new.’ And there is so much to let go of this year personally, professionally and from what I take in from the larger world.

I won’t beat around the bush on that last one. The election of Donald Trump has driven me into a frenzy of panic and lashing out at times. I have used Twitter to bash and malign, using turns of phrase I didn’t know I had in me. I have mimicked and mocked liked the best of them. Then I got up from my laptop feeling sick, icky and like I needed a really hot germ-banishing shower. Just because I CAN say those things, doesn’t mean I have to. While I am not stepping out of the Trumpian fray altogether, I am not going to use Twitter like that anymore.

I don’t make specific resolutions. Each year I look at what worked and what didn’t, what needs to be let go of or maybe just needs a tweak. In these last few months I have been creating a business that has had its ups and downs, so I am working hard on those tweaks. I have found myself rather isolated because of that, which has put my ‘work to socializing’ indicator out of whack, so I want to balance that out.

I also need to hike and trail walk more and get out on my bike regularly. I will continue to buy my bread from my favorite bakery (so I take that back, I did make this resolution in 2014 and I am still doing it!) and take more day trips.

 

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Have more adventures in 2017!

 

In regards to Relevant Obscurity, I am so happy with the connections I have made with other bloggers, the conversations we’ve had and the posts that taught me something new. I enjoyed the challenges I participated in that expanded my knowledge of authors and their work, which in turn has helped to shape what I want to read next year. I plan to expand my posts a bit to include some of the nonfiction history, biography and religion I read. I’ve entered several new challenges, which will all necessitate a more regular posting schedule…thinking positive about that!

 

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I will read more books at the beach in 2017!

I am sitting here as the rain falls in San Diego, one of my favorite places to visit. I am surrounded by my dog and her doggie cousin, two cats, some fish and Daisy the Russian tortoise is upstairs. I am about to get a bagel from the best bagel shop anywhere and will spend the day cozied up with books, and a movie or two. Tomorrow, even if it rains, will find me on a trail somewhere in Mission Trails on my annual New Year’s Day walk. It’s my birthday and there is no better way to spend that day and the first day of any year than out in Nature.

 

southfortuna

Rain or shine I am here tomorrow!

I wish all my book blogging friends a Happy, Prosperous, Life-Loving 2017!

Reading New England Challenge Wrap-Up

One of the highlights of my 2016 blogging year was participating in the Reading New England Challenge hosted by Lory of Emerald City Book Review. I read 12 books from specified categories, including one from each New England state.

I only started book blogging the previous September and was still getting the lay of book-blogging land when I saw the announcement for the challenge. I thought it would be a good way to read some classics I’d missed along the way.

I could not have chosen a better first challenge. Not only did I finally read Little Women and The House of the Seven Gables, I forced myself to read a horror novel and a book by someone I’d never heard about. I even bought a map of New England to track where the books were set!

One of the benefits of doing a challenge like this is being introduced to writers with whom you are unfamiliar.  If you were to tell me when I started one of my favorite experiences would be reading the aforementioned horror story, I would have called you daft. Or, that The Country of the Pointed Firs, a book by an author I’d never heard of would end up my favorite book of the challenge, I’d have been stunned. But both are true. I will be reading more of H.P. Lovecraft next year (during daylight hours, of course 🙂 ) and I have already read a short story by Sarah Orne Jewett (“A White Heron”) that was beautiful.

Other highlights for me: “Our Town,” Little Women, getting to know Nathaniel Hawthorne through The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance, discovering one of my favorite films “The Haunting” was based on a book, The Haunting of Hill House and enjoying it as much as the film, and while I had mixed feelings about A Separate Peace I now know why a close co-worker finds it to be his favorite book.

 

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Thank you, Lory, for all the work you put into this. It was a great experience with lasting effects!

Here is what I read:

January: New Hampshire
A Separate Peace John Knowles

February: Fiction
The Blithedale Romance Nathaniel Hawthorne

March: Maine
The Country of the Pointed Firs Sarah Orne Jewett

April: Poetry and Drama
Our Town Thornton Wilder Thornton Wilder

May: Vermont
The Haunting of Hill House Shirley Jackson

June: Nonfiction
Hawthorne Henry James

July: Massachusetts
Little Women Louisa May Alcott

August: Children’s Books
The Witch of Blackbird Pond Elizabeth George Speare

September: Rhode Island
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward HP Lovecraft

October: Speculative Fiction and Mystery
Looking Backward Edward Bellamy

November: Connecticut
The Three Weissmanns of Westport Cathleen Schine

December: Readalong or free choice
Summer Edith Wharton

Hawthorne, Henry James (1879)

My Edition:hawthorne
Title: Hawthorne
Author: Henry James
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Device: Paperback
Year: Originally published, 1879. Published by Cornell U Press, 1997.
Pages: 145
For a plot summary

This is such an odd little book.

Like many people I enjoy reading comments and critiques from one writer about another. I relish the mention of a title or recitations of a sentence or two; when one well-known writer cites another and gives a passage some meaning in the context of a story. So when I saw this critique of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work by Henry James I was excited and intrigued.

James (1843-1916) wrote this as a contribution to the English Men of Letters series. He was the only American contributor and Hawthorne (1804-1864) was the only American subject. James wrote this in his mid thirties and had yet to publish much of his own great novels.

I have read several of Hawthorne’s novels—The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance and some short stories, but I have not read any Henry James. I have become particularly interested in Hawthorne and hope to read more of his work as well as those about him. So, while I came to this book a bit biased, I was not prepared for a James who was so patronizing, cutting, passive aggressive and snobby, and who seemed to be writing more about the provincialism of American culture and its inferiority to that of Europe using Hawthorne as an example, than of critiquing Hawthorne himself.

“…the flower of art blooms only where the soil is deep, that it takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature, that it needs a complex social machinery to set a writer in motion. American civilization has hitherto had other things to do than to produce flowers and before giving birth to writers it has wisely occupied itself with providing something for them to write about.”(p. 2)

According to James it was a shame that Hawthorne wasn’t English, as his saunters and walks through a European wood and meeting men of a higher civilization would have “been a very different affair” in terms of his talent. America was missing all the points of reference that make for culture. In a famous list, James states the deficiencies of America that make it impossible to create culture. It has

…no sovereign, no court, no personal loyalty, no aristocracy, no church, no clergy, no army, no diplomatic service, no country gentlemen, no palaces, no castles, nor manors, nor old country-houses, nor parsonages, nor thatched cottages, nor ivied ruins; no cathedrals, nor abbeys, nor little Norman churches; no great Universities nor public schools—no Oxford, nor Eton, nor Harrow; no literature, no novels, no museums, no pictures, no political society, no sporting class—no Epsom nor Ascot! (p. 34)

And on and on like this for most of the first half of the book. Realism, the technique James is known for is absent from Hawthorne’s work he states and chides him for, yet also admitting Hawthorne probably did not know what it was. I found myself thinking this book is more about James, who is critical of a life that is missing something, the deficiencies, rather than what is.

The Blithedale Romance is James’s first critique of a novel, which is Hawthorne’s account of his months spent at the experiment in community living, Brook Farm. James describes the book as admirable and picturesque. Most of what James writes about,  however, are the Transcendentalists, calling Henry Thoreau, “a delightful writer” and Emerson, the only “writer in whom the world at large has interested itself.” (p.66)

He does call The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne’s masterpiece, “and will continue to be, for other generations than ours….” (p. 87) Which sounds positive until he states, “Something might at last be sent to Europe as exquisite in quality as anything that had been received…” From anywhere else, meaning all those other countries with sovereigns and courts and castles…Talk about a left-handed compliment. (p. 88)

It is often hard to follow James in this book. As soon as he compliments Hawthorne, there is always a caveat. “It cannot be too often repeated that Hawthorne was not a realist.” (p. 98) Yet, “He had a high sense of reality—his NoteBooks superabundantly testify to it…he never attempted to render exactly or closely the actual facts of the society that surrounded him.” (p. 98) The House of the Seven Gables for James was an ‘imaginative’ work. And that is up for debate, as this book must be one of the most detailed novels of period, setting and character of all time!

I confess I have not done research on James, which might bring some of his style and reason for writing this to light, as well as how this book was received when published and what is thought of it now. One of the unintended consequences is that it gave me a very negative view of James and will probably affect my future reading of his work. The word ‘jerk’ comes to mind, yet admittedly, the reason for his jerkiness is intriguing, which means I probably will at some point read more about him, as well as his novels…

This book qualifies for the Reading New England Challenge

The Three Weissmanns of Westport, Cathleen Schine (2010)

My Edition:threewesissmanns
Title: The Three Weissmanns of Westport
Author: Cathleen Schine
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, Giroux
Device: Hardcover
Year: 2010
Pages: 292
For a plot summary

Participating in the Reading New England Challenge this year has helped me discover books I might not have found otherwise. For this category, I needed a book with a Connecticut connection and while I started Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, I just could not get into it. O Mr. Twain, an editor would have been a good idea….but, that’s a post for another day. The Three Weissmanns of Westport, by Cathleen Schine was an unexpected, but fine discovery.

Betty Weissmann is 75 years old when her husband Joseph asks her for a divorce citing irreconcilable differences (“Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce” says Betty)? In his case, those ‘irreconcilable differences’ have to do with another woman and poor Berry is forced to change everything about her married Manhattan life, including leaving her home. When a distant relative invites her to live in his rental cottage by the sea in Connecticut, she accepts his offer and asks her two grown daughters, who have just suffered tragedies of their own, to move in with her just until the divorce, which Joseph is dragging his feet on, is finalized.

Annie, the oldest daughter, a mother of two grown sons who works at a small subscription library in New York City, is suffering from empty-nest syndrome and a stalled love affair. Though she has always thought of Joseph as more than a step-father, she is angry and shocked at his treatment of her mother, especially having cut off her funds and kicking her out of her home. Helping Betty is Annie’s priority, her finances in particular, since Betty will be on a budget for the first time in her life. She decides to sublet her apartment and commute.

Miranda, the second daughter has just made a spectacular mess of her literary agency business. Specializing in memoirs it has been discovered that two of her well-known, that is, financially-fruitful authors lied about their rags to riches life and their books are total hoaxes. To make matters worse she appears on Oprah where she tries to justify their literary license with an “everyone makes things up,” excuse. Oprah doesn’t buy it, shakes “her iconic head,” and Miranda is shamed. She loses everything.

As the three women spend these months helping each other through their losses, romance becomes an underlying development for both Annie and Miranda against the dissolution of Betty’s marriage. The relationships are surprising and progress gently, but they are real and stable, as steady as can be in real life.

And here I must mention the Sense and Sensibility connection. While this novel is loosely fashioned as an homage to this wonderful book, there are enough differences in many major plot twists to make it not matter. I say this because you don’t have to know the classic text to fully enjoy this book, and secondly, if you are disappointed that the novel does not follow the classic text, you will be critical of it.

This is my first Cathleen Schine and I found her strong in character development, thoroughly enjoying the journey each of the three Weissmanns have to undertake to find peace and acceptance in their lives. The supporting characters, too, are well-defined, each assisting or subverting the women along the way.

Schine writes with humor and intellect and I adored the mention of so many classic writers and their novels the sisters, both book lovers, mention at various times:

Then, invariably the sisters would quote Louisa May Alcott at each other—“She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain”—and move on to other things.

And when Miranda characterizes one of Betty’s lawyers named Mr. Mole, as Mr. Toad of Toad Hall, I howled!

The Three Weissmanns of Westpport is reading time well and happily spent.

Miracle at Coney Island: How a Sideshow Doctor Saved Thousands of Babies and Transformed American Medicine, Claire Prentice (2016)

My Edition:coneyisland
Title: Miracle at Coney Island: How a Sideshow Doctor Saved Thousands of Babies and Transformed American Medicine
Author: Claire Prentice
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Device: Kindle Fire
Year: 2016
Pages: 95
For a plot summary

About a year ago, I came across a segment on NPR that told the strange and wonderful story of an exhibit of incubator babies at Coney Island amusement park. Organized by German-born doctor Martin Couney, who saved thousands of premature infants with this new-fangled contraption, appealing to the public was the best way to show the skeptical medical establishment premature infants had a chance of survival.

And who would have thought trying to save babies from certain death would cause such controversy?

At the end of the 19th century when Couney started exhibiting his incubator babies, the survival rate of a premature or underweight infant was dismal. In general, 15-20 percent of infants did not live to their first birthday, which was devastating enough; the rate of death for premature babies was much higher. When a woman delivered such an underdeveloped baby, all resources went to her survival, as the baby’s death was just expected.

“Take it to the people” then if doctors and hospitals are skeptical. So Couney brought his doctors, nurses, wet nurses and 6 incubators to the Berlin Exposition in May of 1896. His set up consisted of a room for the nurses, a separate one for the male physicians, a second for the weighing, feeding, changing and bathing of the infants and a third large space which was open to the viewing public: the displays of incubators.

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So odd was the concept of babies nurtured in a box, that the exhibit was not in the official science and technology building but in the amusement section “sandwiched between the ‘Congo village’ and the Tyrolean Yodelers.” During the expo, Couney took in “batches of babies” bringing them to 6 pounds, all surviving, all going home with their parents.

The next year, Couney displayed the incubators at the Victorian Era Exhibition, where visitors picked out their favorite babies, often returning to watch their progress. It should be mentioned that Couney never charged the parents who brought their babies to him. Like any exhibit, the public was charged a fee, so it was from that Couney was able to pay his staff and buy equipment. It must also be noted Couney accept all babies regardless of race or class during a time when many places of amusement, not to mention hospitals, were segregated.

At some point after this exhibition Couney came to the United States and attained citizenship. (According to the author Claire Prentice, some of Couney’s early personal life is a little sketchy). His first American incubator exhibit occurred in 1898 at the Trans-Mississippi International Exhibition in the city of Omaha. Though hospitals would not release any infant born prematurely to Couney, desperate parents did. And the incubators were always full. Couney was at the exhibit every day explaining to the public how the incubators worked; that they replicated the body temperature of the mother, filtered in clean air to keep away germs and in such a clean supportive environment the babies thrived gradually gaining the requisite 6 pounds before being allowed to leave the incubators in the arms of their parents.

After several more exhibitions in the U.S., Couney was invited to a new amusement park on Coney Island, New York, called Luna Park. The spectacular attractions drew a large audience and after just one summer became the entertainment capital of the world. Couney was promised a prime location on the main thoroughfare.

Come this way, ladies and gentlemen! See the tiniest little bits of humanity in the world warmed, nourished and fed, given a good fair start to become strong and able-bodied citizens. Maybe the future President is inside! Maybe there is another J. Pierpont Morgan breathing the pure tar scented air! All done by the baby incubator! Step right in and watch the babies grow well and strong before your eyes! 

With a permanent base on Coney Island, Couney continued to exhibit the incubators at world’s fairs and exhibitions. Though his success rate was phenomenal attention from the medical establishment was slow to come. By the late 1920s, most hospitals still had no incubators and the few doctors who believed in the technology had no recourse but to send their premature patients to Couney at Luna Park.

Prentice goes into detail about Couney’s personal life, including his marriage and the birth of a premature daughter, his name change from Cohen to Couney and his fight to bring members of his family to America from Germany before Hitler’s reign would make it impossible for them to leave.

Prentice also reveals a stunning bombshell regarding Couney’s medical training, that is, whether or not he actually had any and what such a truth would bring to bear on his life’s work. Perhaps he was lucky that his technology was so derided by medical men and that he had to operate outside the medical establishment; surely, working in a hospital alongside actual doctors he would be caught as a fraud?

couney1However, does this knowledge, if it is true, take away from the fact that what Couney created worked? He saved thousands of children with a machine that is now part of every hospital on the planet. He was always careful to have doctors working with him who could take care of any medical emergency and trained nurses who believed in his work. He made it possible for babies who were given up on to live, and to grow up and create families of their own. His official medical credentials may always remain a mystery. But his contribution to medicine and to society can never be in doubt.

Top Ten Tuesday: New-To-Me Authors I Read For The First Time In 2016

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I have never participated in memes hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, but I could not resist today. This year has been such a wonderful discovery year of new books and authors for me. So here is my list:

John Knowles: A Separate Peace.
Long ago I worked with a man who said this was his favorite book in college. Others in our office raised their eyebrows whenever he said this. I wish I had read it then, so I could have given him support.

Patrick Hamilton: The Slaves of Solitude
The characters in this book will haunt me for a long time. In some ways a simple story of emotional survival during WWII, but very powerful.

Sarah Orne Jewett: The Country of Pointed Firs
One of the bonuses of doing a reading challenge is choosing books and authors you keep meaning to read. She is one and this is probably one of the big surprises of this reading year. I loved this book!

Louisa May Alcott: Little Women
Yes, you read that right. In all my years on this planet, I had yet to read this classic. And like so many people who have seen the films, I thought I knew the story. Oh my, no! The book is so rich.

George Eliot: Middlemarch
I read this as a readalong during the summer and made notes on each section we read. I have yet to actually review it…because frankly, I am intimidated. It is stunning in scope of topics and characters. In fact, with each new chapter new people were introduced and I was afraid I would get confused. But I never did. What I remember most about reading this was in the actual reading and a reminder of why I love to read.

Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House
For Witch Week I read the book of one of my all time favorite films, The Haunting. I am not sure when I realized the film was taken from a book, but participating in Reading New England made me aware. The book is so rich in details that could not possibly be captured on film. I hope to read more Jackson next year.

Edith Wharton: Summer
Even though I was very disappointed that the main character could not find a way out of the limited life choices women were left with in the early 1900s, I still enjoyed this book. Wharton herself had an interesting life that I hope to learn more about next year.

H.G. Wells: The War of the Worlds
Throughout the years I’d heard snippets of Orson Welles radio broadcast, and thought the story was pretty simple. But the book is filled with a philosophy and spirituality that is intriguing. The story is complex, a journey not just of physical survival, but that of civilization and its individuals.

Charlie Lovett: The Bookman’s Tale
I really enjoyed the adventure Lovett took me on, the result of a character’s simple act of buying a rare book!

Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking
The chronicle and minute details of grief Didion experiences after the death of her husband. I couldn’t put it down.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, H.P. Lovecraft (1941)

My Edition:chasdexward
Title: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
Author: H.P. Lovecraft
Publisher: Rising Star Visionary Press (RSVP)
Device: Kindle Fire
Year: 1941
Pages: n/a
For a plot summary

…he was never a fiend or even truly a madman, but only an eager, studious, and curious boy whose love of mystery and of the past was his undoing. He stumbled on things no mortal ought ever to know, and reached back through the years as no one ever should reach; and something came out of those years to engulf him.

I had a lot of trepidation toward this book. H.P. Lovecraft is often called a ‘master of horror,’ a genre I do not enjoy. But when the opportunity came up to choose a Rhode Island author through the Reading New England Challenge, I decided to take the plunge and picked Lovecraft’s, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

Reincarnation—-Alchemy—-Calling in Demons and Spirits—-The Slave Trade

The story concerns young Charles Dexter Ward who begins innocently enough to research a 17th century ancestor, Joseph Curwen, but becomes so caught up in the work that it is obvious to all around him he has gone too far. And soon it looks like Charles begins to actually become Curwen, through reliving his life as a mage and master of the black arts of Renaissance magic. Charles finds Curwen’s journal and papers, learns the rites and rituals, the formulas, the chants, and he learns of his trafficking in slaves who were kept for unimaginable purposes. Charles spends several years traveling throughout Europe in search of obscure manuscripts and books and to study in secret with other masters of this lost art.

He also learns Curwen met a violent end when his neighbors had enough of his odd behavior, the odors and otherworldly sounds that came from his house, the changes in weather, the depressive and ghostly feelings that emanated throughout the town and the many suspect incidents surrounding him forcing the men of the town to confront him. On that fateful night, they marched to his home, but whatever it was they saw in his house it caused some to go insane and the rest such fear no one ever spoke of it.

One hundred and fifty years later his young relative Charles Dexter Ward, who bears a striking resemblance to Curwen, after researching his life and himself learning the rites and rituals of the alchemic mage comes across Curwen’s ashes and is able to reanimate him. But Curwen kills him and resumes his evil life as well as pretending to Charles’s family he is their son. However, his personality, his handwriting and vocabulary are so archaic that he is deemed insane and is placed in a mental institution. It is only after Charles’s life-long physician Dr. Willett, who has never lost hope he could help Charles get through his insanity, the truth of this horrendous mystery is solved.

But what is the horror? While there are nebulous descriptions of human torture, repetitions of magical incantations that leave Charles’s parents and servants scared and concerned, Dr. Willett’s absolutely harrowing escape through the laboratory of alchemy, descriptions of evil presences that leave traces in rooms, so little is actually detailed. We are taken on this journey throughout multiple centuries with hints, generalizations and whatever our imaginations can create. The blood and gore is vague, what the ‘organic creatures,’ who have been living in the bowels of the lab for centuries really are with their howls and sounds of pleading, is not so much horrifying as it is mysterious. Lovecraft gives just enough information to make you want to know more, to keep going with the story in hopes something concrete will explain everything.

This is the kind of horror in our minds, what we create from what we think someone is saying. Like Shirley Jackson’s, The Haunting of Hill House where the horror isn’t of the concrete monster-type or of blood and guts flung about, but is determined by how active is our individual imagination. There is so much power in words, so much power in tiny suggestions that scare us in our own minds that subtlety is all that is needed to make the reader see the absolute worst.

I am not sure if this way of story-telling was intentional by Lovecraft or just the way I received it, but it was very effective and in the end, I was left with so many questions and that ache to know more. Which means this story was successful, because that one untied string or element left unsolved keeps me in the story, keeps me in the mystery.

Well done, Mr. Lovecraft, you just made a new horror convert…or at least, a new Lovecraftian!