PUBLICATION DATE: JULY 1, 2012
harlotte Waverly has quite the independent streak. For a woman in the 1860s, she is not only outspoken, but is also willing to push the limits of acceptable upper society female behavior. When the Civil War begins, the Sanitary Commission is formed, opening the door for women to train as nurses, a job previously held only by men. Seeing the hands-on opportunity to help union soldiers, Charlotte jumps at the chance to be a nurse. However, not only does she face opposition from the doctors and surgeons she will work with, she also must deal with the disapproval of her mother and suitor. Have the years since her father died caused her to step out of line or is she instead stepping into a right, new direction?
Meanwhile, Irish immigrant, Ruby O’Flannery is facing her own struggles. After years of financial hardship, Ruby and her husband Matthew see an opportunity not only to help their new country, but to also earn a reliable income. Unfortunately, soon after Matthew leaves for war, Ruby realizes she’s unable to earn enough money to live on. To make matters worse, the government is behind on paying the soldiers, leaving Ruby with few options to support herself. As her financial situation deteriorates, Ruby is confronted with the decision many poor women faced during the 1860s—remain homeless and hungry or sell her body in order to survive. In a story that highlights the opulence of wealth, the depths of poverty, and the struggle for women’s equality, Wedded to War is an enjoyable historical novel with just a touch of romance.
I readily admit that I’m not at all a feminist. In fact, my ideal job is the one I currently hold—mom and housewife. However, I greatly admire the women who demonstrated the courage to step outside their designated roles to open the door for women today to hold positions they were once considered unsuitable for. It’s my fascination and appreciation of these women that prompted me to pick up Wedded to War despite a premise that hinted at romantic storyline.
For the most part I’m very pleased with this novel. The research is excellent and I found myself completely immersed in the time period. Green does a wonderful job of walking the reader through the introduction of women to the field of nursing. The initial rejection of Charlotte’s efforts both at home and by the doctors and staff once she is assigned a hospital keeps to history and highlights the uphill battle women faced to become accepted in the field of medicine. As the book progresses, the author allows this aspect of the novel to shift toward the background letting the story expand and reach other issues facing women rather than belaboring a well-established point. The overall result is a balanced approach that keeps the story moving at a very comfortable pace.
Though much of this story focuses on the Charlotte and the Civil War efforts, I love Ruby’s story. Ruby stole my heart and while I enjoyed the rest of the book, I really wanted to know what happened to her. Aside from providing an excellent minor (yet important) storyline, Ruby also demonstrates the need of women to hold respectable jobs. Though it’s easy to see her as simply a tragic poverty case contrasted against the wealthy Waverly women, she also represents the natural outcome a society that will not recognize people as equals—women, immigrants, Irish, etc. A lot is shown through Ruby’s character and her story is a wonderful and fitting addition to this novel.
I have virtually zero complaints about the first 360 pages of Wedded to War aside from a third love interest for Charlotte that in my opinion is unnecessary. His interest seems to be more about introducing a spiritual theme than actually adding a third competitor for Charlotte. Fortunately, his romance part is kept to a minimum and doesn’t intrude much on the story. However, I did find his character interesting and hope he might return in a later book. At around 360 pages though, the pacing because an issue when one of the two main suitors appears to be out of the picture a little early and then pops up in a surprising way (and not necessarily in a good way). I didn’t buy his reentrance into the story and while the outcome is fitting, it isn’t necessary. I would have rather seen these pages used to tidy up Ruby’s story instead. Her part is left dangling, but I can easily see it getting picked up in a later book. Even if this happens, I still would have liked a little tidier ending for her. Overall, the story feels like it climaxes too early. So when I got to around page 360, I felt like the story was over and actually took a couple of days off, not in any hurry to finish the book. I was confident I knew what would happen. While I got the general gist of it right, the path was not conventional, and as previously stated, I didn’t really like that part of the story.
Other than the last few pages, I very much enjoyed this book. The question posed early on, “Does Charlotte need a man to pull her back in line or to support her move in a new direction” is handled exceptionally well. While there are multiple themes, both social and spiritual, it’s the notion of a woman’s place being with her husband that is what best captured my attention. This theme is demonstrated through Charlotte’s sister, Alice and Jacob, and applied through Charlotte’s journey. In the end, I think Green provides a wonderful illustration of a healthy husband and wife relationship which is one of the highest compliments I can give to any romantic storyline.
When the opportunity arises to train as a nurse to aid the Civil War effort, privileged Charlotte Waverly feels called to volunteer. But despite her desire to offer her services, her family and the doctors she works beside are disapproving and unreceptive to her efforts. As her mother and beau continue to be scandalised by her new occupation, Charlotte finds the hospitals where she offers her aid begin to relent and admit that they require the assistance of nurses, even if they are female. But as the war drags on, it becomes apparent that Charlotte will not be returning to her family in New York any time soon. The pressure from her mother and beau piles on, and Charlotte has to consider whether nursing is God’s ultimate plan for her or if she should give up her job in order to marry. But could she really marry someone who is so disapproving of the work she feels called to? When a man from her past reappears, Charlotte feels even more challenged about the direction in which she should take her life.
Meanwhile, Irish immigrant Ruby O’Flannery has waved her husband off to war and is still struggling to make ends meet. Her husband’s military wages have yet to arrive, and Ruby can’t pay her rent with the meagre money she makes from her sewing. As the days turn to weeks, and still no news comes from her husband, she is forced to move out of her apartment and look for other options. Life as a servant appears to be her best option, but after a horrific occurrence, Ruby is forced to leave her place of employment and turn towards a career that only the hopeless choose. When she receives some devastating news, a female doctor takes pity on her and sends her to Washington to aid Charlotte and the other female nurses. Ruby’s life looks like it might take a turn for the better. Could this second chance rekindle her faith in God?
Although I spent my entire senior year of high school studying the US Civil War, I don’t think I’ve actually read many fictional accounts of the war. But Jocelyn Green’s novel appealed to me as I like to read about unconventional woman, and despite how incredibly squeamish I am, my mother has been a nurse for over twenty years. Wedded to War satisfied the historian in me to some extent, and I could tell from the start that the novel had been meticulously researched. This isn’t your typical historical romance novel with a couple of facts hastily thrown in to make it feel authentic. The romance itself isn’t at the forefront of the novel, and I appreciated being able to witness Charlotte’s character development before she ultimately made the decision on whether or not she should marry.
That said, some readers may be frustrated at the way the historical facts are presented in Wedded to War. As a student of history, I could appreciate how much research Jocelyn had done, and enjoyed reading her notes about the inspiration for the story. But even I felt that the historical details were, at times, not as gently woven into the story as they could have been. I enjoyed the extracts from Georgeanna Woolsey’s letters that were interspersed throughout the novel, but there were times when characters quoted from reports and newspapers that felt a bit forced and awkward. I would have preferred to have seen the filth and devastation of some of the hospitals, rather than have a character read a report on the matter. Since I do spend a fair amount of my time reading primary source documents, I like to read a fictional account of history when I pick up a novel, not a regurgitation of a document that I could probably gain access to if I tried. For those who aren’t scholars of history, this might not be so much of an issue, but I do hope that the smoother integration of history and fiction is something that Jocelyn focuses on in her next novel.
In her attempts to present as many perspectives on the US Civil War as possible, Jocelyn introduced far more characters than I expected. As well as Charlotte and Ruby, we also have Phineas, Charlotte’s beau, her sister and her husband, a doctor and a chaplain. While each of these characters did provide details on different elements of the war experience, I did sometimes feel that I connected with certain characters more than others. While I sympathised with Charlotte and Ruby in particular, and grew to hate Phineas, I never truly got to know Caleb, the doctor, or Edward, the chaplain. In fact, Edward’s perspective sometimes felt unnecessary, and I wasn’t entirely sure why he was introduced as a third love-interest for Charlotte.
At times, I almost felt that I enjoyed Ruby’s sections of the story more than Charlotte’s. It was empowering to see Charlotte forcing herself to stay strong despite the horrors she witnessed in her nursing endeavours, but Ruby’s situation was so much more precarious. I appreciated that Jocelyn chose to write about women in Ruby’s position, who were sometimes forced to turn towards disreputable work in order to support themselves and their families. The treatment of one event in particular and Ruby’s guilt and disgrace afterward really evoked sympathy for all the women who were forced to remain silent about the way they’d been treated for fear of social ruin. I was pleased that Ruby’s story had an optimistic ending, but did feel that her story was left unfinished. I would have preferred a more conclusive ending to Ruby’s story.
Despite the amount of research Jocelyn put into her novel, Wedded to War makes for a surprisingly easy read. I sped through it far faster than I expected, and although some details are a little gruesome, I really got a feel for how it was to be a nurse during the Civil War. As a fiction debut, Wedded to War shows a lot of promise, and I hope that Jocelyn’s writing matures as the Heroines Behind the Lines series develops. Wedded to War won’t be joining my list of favourite historical novels due to my gripes with the presentation of historical facts and some storytelling elements, but I’m glad that I had the opportunity to learn about some of the lesser known elements of the Civil War. I’m sure that anyone who reads this novel will come out with a greater respect for the women who fought to become nurses.