REVIEW: Crescent City Courtship by Elizabeth White
Dear Ms. White,
Last November, I recommended your book “Redeeming Gabriel.”Since then, I’ve made it a point each month to check the historical offerings from the Steeple Hill line. When I saw this new book, I jumped on it and was happy to discover that it’s a (slight) sequel to the first one. I enjoyed “Crescent City Courtship” very much and it confirms that you are an author whose books I will look for.
When Abigail Neal hammers on the doors of Charity Hospital for a doctor to attend her laboring room mate, she wants a real doctor, not some “still wet behind the ears” student wannabe. Unfortunately, she gets John Braddock who stiffly informs her that he’s quite capable of handling the situation.
Only the labor has gone on too long and the baby can’t be saved. John is devastated by what he sees as his failure as a doctor and horrified by the conditions in which these two poor women live. The mother is far too weak to remain there so, along with Abigail and the poor wrapped baby, he takes her to the clinic located at Dr. Laniere’s residence.
And it’s here that a world Abigail only dreamed of opens up to her. John and Dr. Laniere quickly see that Abigail thirsts for knowledge, specifically medical knowledge. John is initially dismissive while Gabriel Laniere quietly considers the situation. And then stuns the medical college staff and students by offering Abigail a place in the student body.
To say it causes an uproar is an understatement. But this is only one of the issues confronting Abigail. Her past is about to catch up to her and it might cost her not only the chance for a HEA but also her very life.
The degree of poverty in the “District” would seem appalling in today’s New Orleans – even after Katrina – but must have been commonplace then in large cities. Thank heavens we’ve made some improvements in this world. The atmosphere of the times is well done. As in “Redeeming Gabriel,” there is a good use of dry and subtle humor here. I like how you worked the problems of the day – poverty, opium, the social changes in the status of women and how men would feel threatened – into the fabric of the story.
John’s struggle with medicine and doctors running smack into the reality that some patients will die despite all that is done and some patients will continue to act in ways that are harmful to themselves must be lesson that all doctors eventually have to learn or risk giving up in despair.
I love the information about the history of the medical college and of medical training in the day. I also appreciate that John starts out as a competent clinical doctor but still has a ways to go with his bedside manner and dealings with patients. At what point did the study of medicine change from what is depicted in the book to what is the routine in US med schools? The style here seems so hodge podge, catch as catch can.
Initially John only grudgingly agrees to help Abigail. It’s funny that he’s worried that she might be smarter than he is and that his position as the head of the class would be in danger. But he quickly admits that she’s not only intelligent but probably more intelligent than most of the men in the school. But even after this revelation to himself, he still has a few moments when he doesn’t want her there and is horrified at the thought of her losing what little social standing she has by engaging in this masculine pursuit.
At first he calls her an amazon and honestly thinks of her as some kind of freakish woman to be interested in the often gruesome business of learning and practicing medicine. Then, he slowly begins to “see” her for the woman she is – tall, forthright, unapologetic, determined to get her chance, funny, quick to learn and filled with compassion for the misfits and poor of this world who, as Jesus says, will always be with us.
It might seem strange but I like that John isn’t always Abigail’s champion. He has his moments of jealousy and pride. He also has to make a tremendous decision of whether or not to try and persuade his fellow classmates to admit her when they get a chance to vote on it. That has to be the hardest thing he does in the book. It’s easy for a man to use his fists as John does against Crapaud but to face the possible scorn of his fellows – now that’s hard.
Abigail shows John basic human kindness to those he’s attempting to heal and he shows her that not all men are cruel and some can even be counted upon as “the good ones.”
Abigail’s basic character remains the same throughout the story. She showed curiosity during her life in China and an unwillingness to just do what she was told. Then she engineered her escape back to America with some quick thinking and determination. This continues as she works her hands raw to support herself and stay away from the menace from her past and is culminated in her ability to seize the chance offered to her to study medicine.
But even though Abigail is supposed to have a grounding in science, I think her progression from untrained, rank amateur to reading medical texts to rounding with the students and admission to medical school is pretty darn fast. I think we’re talking 4-5 weeks. I know she’s got a good sense of intuition, watches and reads carefully but still it seems quick. While we get hints of the threat hanging over Abigail’s head throughout the course of the book, the final denouement seems a little rushed.
Abigail’s conversion to faith is a bit more seamless than John’s. That part of the book felt a little forced at times but then not everyone welcomes the call of faith or will respond to it immediately and with open arms.
There are so many women mentioned in the book, Abigail’s mother and John’s mother and sister, who appear to be equally intelligent and capable of doing such great things but are hampered by the social constraints of the times. Are there future plans for Tess or Lisette? Tess has got some real interesting events in her background and Lisette appears to be a woman capable of a lot if given the chance.
You’ve included some well realized secondary characters. Weichman needs to go into research if patients scare him that much. Giraud looks like he stands to be one of the first plastic surgeons. Love the “harlequin” comment. It was fun to see Gabriel and Camilla again and in nice supporting roles for the events of this book. Camilla still runs the show at home and appears to keep her husband on his toes.
Abigail flummoxes John – he’s never met a female with her burning need to know, to learn, to understand the complexities of medicine and science. And I think this is what it takes to be a good physician. You have to want it more than anything. Be willing to put up with the political nonsense, ungodly training schedules and demands on your life. Abigail has to have this desire even more than modern women aspiring to be doctors since the profession was considered so unsuitable for women then. Thank you for a story which shows her gaining her dream and a man too! B