When you write about post-Civil War America it’s impossible not to bump up against war wounds. John Weldon in The House on Tenafly Road is addicted to morphine, given his first dose in a Civil War hospital by well-meaning doctors trying to keep him comfortable before his eventual death–which never happens. He escapes in his best friend’s new boots with a stash of morphine, laudanum and some new British-made syringes.
Only one man, Doctor Graham Crenshaw with some hidden mental war wounds of his own (his family blames him for the deaths of his brothers) recognizes Weldon’s problems, but he’s a quiet man. I thought after so much medical research he’d eventually get a good medical novel of his own but it’s in his character to work quietly in the background, allowing others to form their misconceptions about him and the bloody work he did during the war as a brilliant young surgeon.
With a name like Graham Crenshaw he deserved fame but instead served a higher purpose–he had piles of children with his wife, one of them being Buck Crenshaw. I think I’ll still get more medical one day (most of the Civil War medicine was cut from the first two novels) and I look forward to it because blood and guts and misplaced emotions are what I’m about as a writer.
By the way, Civil War Medicine by Alfred Jay Bollet, MD is fantastic even if you don’t like blood and guts.
What a wild mix of science and spiritualism this book is! If you’re ever looking for ways to avoid growing up or getting married Mollie Fancher’s story will give you age-old ideas that work! Here’s what you do: Trip over something and begin to develop odd symptoms.
Weird muscle spasms, paralysis, loss of appetite and clairvoyance. Live on air, not food and go blind–but read through your finger tips.
This book is a serious look into Victorian medicine and the fasting girls of the 19th century. Once you get past feeling mildly superior to the cast of doctors and the patient Mollie it hits you that this is a very sad and strangely modern story. A girl with perfectionist tendencies makes herself sick and gets attention (her childhood was a horrible series of tragic events). Society at the time put a premium on eating etiquette (a lady with an appetite was considered crass). A life in bed begins to seem a great escape from the mind-boggling responsibilities and changing roles women were coming up against.
Was her illness fake? Was her fast anorexic? Was she delusional? Michelle Stacey shows how medicine has come strangely full circle. The doctors originally thought the epidemic of fasting girls had something to do with body chemistry. Freud and others were just beginning to steer towards environmental factors being the culprits in issues of the mind and here we are today with many doctors not so sure that multiple personality disorders aren’t just suggestible ailments with an undercurrent of chemical deficiencies.
All I know is there is a character in book five who’s feeling much like Mollie. I can’t wait to see how far she’ll take it.
The New York Sun November 26, 1878
Interesting link about Freud and Hysteria:
Found this ad in the Army Navy Journal published just after the end of the Civil War. What were you soldiers getting up to? I wonder….bad boys.