The first of her Heroines Behind the Lines, Wedded to War highlights author Jocelyn Green's in-depth look at nursing in the Civil War through her headstrong heroine Charlotte Waverly. Much to her family and suitor's chagrin, Charlotte decides rolling bandages and collecting lint are insufficient support for the Union, and she pursues the opportunity to become a nurse, in spite of her fear of blood. The job is not easy - the upper class society from which Charlotte comes is scandalized by her work, the surgeons do not want female nurses, and the tasks she is given are not what she was trained to do. However, she pursues the work wholeheartedly, and is rewarded with the rare glimpse of her old friend, Doctor Caleb Lansing. As she moves further and further into enemy territory, the demands on her body and spirit grow all the greater, especially with pressure from her mother and would-be fiance to return home. Does God want her to serve her country by serving those she loves, or by serving the wounded?
I had no idea that the treatment of female nurses in the Civil War was so appalling. Green's writing is inspired by the real nurse Georgeanna Woolsey, and many of Charlotte's experiences are based on what can found in Georgeanna's journals. It never occurred to me that at one time, nursing in America, especially when involving the military, was a man's domain. The conditions and trials women had to deal with to help people were shocking; many surgeons, not actually allowed to bar their aid, made the women's lives as miserable as possible to drive them away. But before women could make it to a hospital, they were to pass certain qualifications, which were strictly enforced: an impeccable reputation with unimpeachable references, a minimum age of 30 years old, and completely unattractive.
Normally I would consider the fewer the number of viewpoints in a story the better, but Green uses her secondary characters - all six viewpoints besides Charlotte's - well; not only do they advance the plot, but they provide a more complete picture of the times. Ruby O'Flannery, whose viewpoint is second only to Charlotte, highlights the poor immigrants of New York, giving us a glimpse of how easily their poor living could spiral downward until there were no options left. Her downtrodden personality and circumstances provide a foil for Charlotte's wealthy upbringing and bold approach to life. Mr. Olmsted acts as a conduit for the Sanitary Commission, giving us a greater picture of its behind-the-scenes triumphs and frustrations and the fight to convince the government of its importance. A young seminary student out to prove his worth, Edward Goodrich offers one more minor - but terribly important - view to the carnage of war: he is a chaplain, expected to bring healing to these wounded soldiers' souls, but he can't see God among the carnage and despair of war himself, let alone feel he can show God to these men. The doubts that assail him are the sort that could plague any believer when faced with something so far removed from our safe, peaceful Christianity.
choosing a profession that highlights her weakness - dealing with illness of any kind - Charlotte encourages us to overcome our fears, follow our dreams, and keep doing what is
right, even when it seems everyone is against us. Boldly she fights for the right to help people, defying age and beauty restrictions, disrespectful doctors, and discouragement from her set in society. Do not be discouraged when it is hard; as Charlotte says, "Just because something is difficult doesn't mean it isn't worth doing," (275).
Green portrays the determination of the female nurses in compelling narrative, while providing a harshly realistic view of their duties in the Civil War; the detail and research put into this novel is astounding, yet it meshes seamlessly with the story. Though there is romance, it is secondary to Charlotte's fascinating calling. A powerful tale - 5 out of 5 stars!
For more background information on the series, see the author's website Heroines Behind the Lines!
Heroines Behind the Lines
1. Wedded to War
2. Widow of Gettysburg
3. Yankee in Atlanta
4. Spy of Richmond (coming 2015)