Based on a real missionary couple of the 1830's, Jody Hedlund's novel The Doctor's Lady is the story of the journey of the first white woman to cross the Rocky Mountains. Priscilla White has always felt called to missions, and after a severe illness left her infertile, she felt that calling reinforced. However, the only way the missionary board will allow her to go to India - which she has long felt is her calling - is if she is married, and that, she has accepted, will never happen. However, Dr. Elijah Ernest is also in the same predicament - except that his calling is to the Nez Perce of Oregon. Since neither can leave without a spouse, they make a business agreement to minister to the Nez Perce together, and then embark on the arduous, seven-month journey to far Oregon - across vast wilderness no white woman has ever seen, and through land full of danger, disease, and hardship.
Full of real disasters and mishaps that happened to the real couple,
this novel is a journey back in time to when everything west of the
Mississippi was new, dangerous, and exciting, and Hedlund does not make light of the hardships or work involved in such a journey. Even more poignant, though, is the journey Priscilla and Eli make as a couple - a journey that for them is just as new, dangerous, and exciting as their westward march, and one that is equally full of hardship and work. The characters are not perfect, but they are so easy to like - and as such it hurts more when they are hurting, to the point where my eyes did not always remain dry.
Both Priscilla's infertility and her loveless marriage are a burden
and an embarrassment to her, so she bottles the pain inside and never
speaks of it. By never acknowledging the truth to others, she is
largely able to avoid becoming an object of pity; but by not sharing it
with her closest friends and family, she also misses out on the loving
support they would give her - support that she has been desperately
needing for so long. It forces one to think about all the things - both
big and little - one hides to avoid the pity, pain, or embarrassment
that could result from sharing. The easy excuse is that it is no one
else's business, which is largely true; but the truth is that sometimes
we really need support from people who love us.
As usual, Hedlund does an excellent job writing a very historical novel without compromising the story itself. 5 out of stars!