Our guest today is Peter Ardern, author of Dorothy’s Dream: A Historical Romance. With personal ties to Hettie, a woman healer, and Aunt Annie, who nursed in the Crimea, Dorothy Martin decides upon a career in nursing – a newly-formed profession for women. Fans of season two (WWI) of Downton Abbey or the (U.S.) Civil War era series Mercy Street will thrill at this glimpse of British nursing life in the Victorian era.
* * *
Q: Congratulations on your most recent publication, Dorothy’s Dream: A Historical Romance. Tell readers a bit about yourself, and, of course, your novel.
Peter: I trained as a nurse in Sheffield, England in the early 1960’s in both mental health and general nursing, choosing mental health for my nursing career. I retired from nursing in 1994 the year I was awarded United Kingdom Nurse of the Year. I then studied full time for a PhD in social studies. I followed this by publishing nursing histories and subsequently my current novel Dorothy’s Dream. I see these writings as a direct result of my chosen career and the person-centered approach (mainly interviews) I used throughout my research.
Q: Your Twitter feed mentions (and has a photo of) your psychiatric training hospital, Sheffield’s Middlewood Hospital, being turned into housing. Have you been able to visit Middlewood, and if so, what do you think of the transformation? (and what memories did your visit bring up?)
Peter: I visited the hospital site after nearly forty years. I prepared myself for some sort of disappointment while driving towards the new estate. On reaching one of the old entrances, I was pleased to find that the gate house, The Lodge, still stood. This is now used as a children’s nursery. I then travelled along unfamiliar roads and got quite lost until I found (what was) the main entrance to the old hospital. It is now the frontage of a block of flats. I was pleased that this façade had been preserved, but also somewhat disappointed. It just felt very strange. What to me had been a very welcoming entrance was now unapproachable. I was a stranger, I almost felt like an intruder.
Q: You found more of the hospital still existed?
Peter: I travelled to what I remembered was a block called Kingswood Building and to my surprise there it was. I was delighted that another building had been preserved. Unfortunately the church that I had been so familiar with was derelict.
I know we have to move on and it’s important that we reuse what would otherwise be ruins but surely we should not almost obliterate the past along with it. I hope I am being clear when I say that these buildings are only preserved because the frontages come under the “Listed Building Act,” not because they honour the former patients and the decent and worthy work that was performed in these hospitals over the previous century. Apart from the name, there is little to give any indication that this site was a former mental hospital.
Regarding this visit to Middlewood, I think what surprised and shocked me most was that when the buildings were converted the insides were completely ripped out, thus destroying the whole history of the building. They had stripped the heart out of the old hospital.
Q: Your previous books focused on nursing, especially in hospital wards – When Matron Ruled (2002), The Nursing Sister (2005) and When Sister Ruled (2009). Please tell us about your research, and why you began publishing your findings.
Peter: As I mention on English Historical Fiction Authors, I had the privilege of commencing my nurse training at the time of the traditional matron and ward sister. I developed a huge respect, and still hold fond memories of learning from these highly skilled ladies. Their professional demise in the 1970s led me, twenty years later, to meet with and write about many of their lives; and subsequently to examine the history of women in nursing.
I spent a good two years travelling the country and interviewing a number of these traditional but elusive matrons and sisters. I say elusive because many were quite private people who did not seek publicity. I wondered, and still wonder, if this personal privacy was an instilled/inherent tradition from the Victorian era? When I was interviewing the matrons and sisters I always took my wife, June, with me, as both note taker and chaperon. It undoubtedly proved very helpful as most of the ladies lived on their own, I am sure, I know, it made them more relaxed.
My histories are I hope a tribute to their selfless dedication to nursing.
Q: And now this background has contributed to your novel!
Peter: Yes. My new novel, Dorothy’s Dream, is set in the Victorian period just following the Crimean War when Florence Nightingale returned to England to introduce her reforms to nursing. The book combines many facets of this history and also sees the demise of the woman healer.
Q: Please tell readers about the characters.
Peter: As a child, Dorothy had been fascinated by the local healer Hettie Ferries, after all, Hettie had been the midwife at her birth.
Hettie is regarded as invaluable in this midlands rural area. In the absence of an accessible doctor, the villagers rely on Hettie for her many and varied cures. She is highly respected and sought after, her remedies and skills giving comfort, even to Poacher Bill. But the medical profession is advancing and a renewed intolerance for these notable ladies begins. This was to totally change Hettie’s life.
Q: The Smiths & Goslings used monthly nurses (after “confinement”), did Hettie just deliver babies?
Peter: To the poor villagers, Hettie is the midwife and the monthly nurse. Only the artisan-class and above could afford such a luxury.
Q: The “Lady of Lamp” must have been a wonderful influence.
Peter: Dorothy’s Aunt Annie was one of the brave nurses who accompanied Florence Nightingale to the Crimea. The stories of her experiences had an enormous influence on Dorothy’s desire to nurse. Prior to Nightingale’s reforms, nursing was not a respected profession; hospitals were certainly no place for a young lady from a respectable family.
Q: Has Dorothy a love interest? She seems to have to make the choice of a profession or a husband.
Peter: Frederick’s life was to change radically after the tragic accident and death of his father, Ben. But through a stroke of good fortune he is able to achieve an education. Thinking this sufficient to win Dorothy’s heart, he spends much of his life in disappointment.
Dorothy is such a young lady. She has to withstand the pain of her father’s anger (he had other ambitions for her), and travel to London to become a trainee nurse.
So Dorothy achieves this dream, only to discover that she is still a woman in a man’s world.
Q: Why? What happens to her?
Peter: Suffice it to say that in hospitals and the medical profession, as elsewhere in Victorian society, men dominated. For Dorothy the essential question is going to be, ‘Who would believe a woman’s word against that of a man?’
Q: From a writing standpoint, surely it felt “freeing” to create fiction rather than recreate lives based on interviews. Are you pleased enough with the work and the result to want to stay writing fiction, or will you go back?
Peter: I think you are right, I did find it freeing but at the same time more challenging. Freeing in the sense that you are not constantly having to be aware of being rigidly evidence based. Challenging because you are working with unknown boundaries.
For example, I wanted Dorothy to conform within the acceptable norms of the ‘Victorian’ era, and at the same time to have the freedom, as an individual, to respond as she chose to unexpected events.
I set the parameters, Dorothy made the choices.
Q: Over email, you mentioned the “Diggers” were “part of the reason for the previous books and certainly part of the inspiration for Dorothy”. What are/is “Diggers” – I’m imagining all sorts of things!
Peter: The True Levelers or Diggers were a 17th century religious group that advocated absolute equality, a ‘common storehouse for all.’ The leader was Gerrard Winstanley. Our Diggers group in a more loosely structured group acting as a forum for presentations and discussion of new areas of members’ work in a friendly, non-threatening environment. The group consists of 7 – 9 members who meet once a month for two hours.
Members are expected to (a) participate regularly, (b) provide regular critical feedback, and (c) demonstrate a commitment to productive research.
Q: The Diggers are a great resource to you, then. How lucky you are to have such a supportive group. How did you find them?
Peter: New membership is by invitation of a majority of existing members. I was introduced by Richard Brooks a published author, we were both learning German at the time.
Q: You’re in Portsmouth, England (which also figures in the Smith & Gosling world). Has location played a role in your writings?
Peter: I wonder if my chosen profession of nursing has had more influence on my writing than the location. As you know, it is said that it is best to write about what you know, and in my case it is true. Nursing has been such a large part of my life and the influences have been many.
It may be interesting to note that I started writing Dorothy using third voice, but I felt compelled to change to first voice. After all it was Dorothy’s story, and I felt that Dorothy should be narrating the story. To date I have not met any criticism to this.
Q: Dorothy’s Dream is published through Publish Nation and printed with Lulu. Why did you go that route for this book?
Peter: I was somewhat spoiled the first time when Robert Hale published my books, but at that time I did not know it. I forwarded the first chapters of Dorothy and they asked for more, but then returned it because they said it had too much historical content for a novel. Bit weird? It was then I decided take the route of self-publishing. I felt I was too old to go through the ritual of submitting and being rejected by endless publishers and agents.
Thanks, Peter, for taking the time to talk with us! and good luck with Dorothy’s Dream.
* * *
Click here Dorothy’s Dream (at Amazon.uk) for a preview of the book. Available on Kindle and paperback; or, print-on-demand paperback through Lulu – which company has really impressed me with well-bound and well-packaged (for shipping) books.
One of the delights of Jane Austen filmdom: Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon.
He brought a gentleness to the role that really characterized the “second chance” at happiness.
One of the few actors with a very distinctive and “calming” voice. He will be missed.
After a quarter-century AND with a fourth volume projected for the series, actor/writer Simon Callow‘s comments, thoughts, frustrations, and triumphs are a revelation! Actually make ME FEEL GOOD about my own work (though can two unknown English girls compare to the world-famous Welles?).
SO MANY “bells” going off, as I read:
- “Multi-volume biographies are by no means encouraged in the trade…” [_I_ LOVE them; and the BIGGER the better (as long as the bio is GOOD…)]
- “I [Callow] was determined that, unlike the Laughton book – for which I had simply seen all the films, read all the available published sources and interviewed a few easily accessible people – the Welles biography would be a work of serious scholarship.” [my emphasis]
- “I crossed the US plundering archives, libraries and museums, obsessively photocopying and microfiching, peering at blurred and fuzzy documents which took long and painful months to decipher; I went through the European collections, I tracked down obscure doctoral theses, again painstakingly photocopied – no internet, no email, back then, of course.” [1989 marked the inception of the project]
- “If I had carried on, the book would have been hernia-inducingly heavy, and it would have been a gabble.” [Callow on WHY there’s to be a fourth volume]
- “He [Welles] was fearless in his experiments, and he never did any of it for the money, just for the sheer joy of making films. Because of this, he has inspired more directors than any other film-maker, but he leaves no legacy” [that is a SAD thought to have about such an artist]
Click on book to read The Guardian‘s article
“Lives don’t have plots, they have
only movements and phases. The good biographer tries
to resist the rut of merely telling one thing after another…”
— reviewer, Anthony Quinn
Author, editor, researcher Margaret Bird has recently made three podcasts available on her Mary Hardy and Her World website. The subject matter touches on the fascinating topics of the clergy, children, and local militias:
- ‘A person in black, sent to you from afar’: the Evangelical clergy’s awakening of the flock in rural Norfolk 1773–1813 [Royal Holloway, University of London; February 2010]
- Inculcating an appreciation of time pressure in the young: the training of children for working life in 18th-century England [Royal Holloway, University of London; March 2015]
- ‘Trust the people’: the English approach to arming and training the ‘mob’ 1779–1805 [Institute of Historical Research, London; October 2015] [1 hour and five minutes]
The podcasts are Illustrated! I am especially intent upon ‘Trust the people’ – for Lord Northampton (the first marquess; Emma’s uncle), Thomas Chute (another uncle, brother to William Chute of The Vyne), and Spencer Smith (Emma’s brother, serving a few decades later) all had ties to local Militias.
- of my YouTube posting upon first receiving copies of the 4-volume set of Mary Hardy’s diaries.
- Regency Read’s commentary on the diaries
- Margaret Bird in conversation (with me) on this blog Two Teens in the Time of Austen
* * *
UPDATE: Am in the midst of trying my first listen: the PowerPoint presentation is a .pptx file you are asked to save; I don’t have .*x programs on my computer and my Reader is old, too. The audio is “downloading”; I had expected it to stream and play. An alternative (at least for the third podcast, from IHR) is found on YouTube. Illustrations are NOT on screen; with streaming audio.
You may have gotten the idea, from the previous post, that I’ve been working on a diary – which (I believe) has no “beginning” and no “end”. Written in 1819, the volume begins at Plymouth Dock on Saturday August 28th; it ends at Glastonbury on Wednesday September 29th. I would presume that Emma (Aunt Emma; I should be specific and differentiate between the two “Miss Emma Smiths”) left and returned to Erle Stoke Park, her deceased father’s Wiltshire estate. Emma could be found there into the spring of 1820, when letters discuss her packing up the house; in its bareness, it’s looking forlorn and melancholy.
Joshua Smith (above) had died earlier in 1819. At one point Aunt Emma makes an oblique reference to the lonely feelings his death produced in her, his youngest (now “orphaned”) daughter. Otherwise, the diary really doesn’t discuss must of a very personal nature. She tours, meets people, loves places, hates places, has a horse go lame, and sketches a few times. Although I don’t have an image of the fly leaf, I suspect it was blank – or at least not ID’ed by Emma herself (a later owner sometimes writes in them). Therefore, except for the fact that it was one of MANY items belonging to Emma Smith of Erle Stoke Park (not the designation the library gives her, by the way), how could ANYONE know who wrote such a diary?? – if the beginning of this trip, or its end turned up as a single volume, for instance – there probably is NOTHING within it that ID’s Emma in any way. She doesn’t mention her name; she has no parent, relation, or named-companion. All there is that ID’s her is her spiking handwriting:
Very distinctive, isn’t it?
And I have access to OTHER travel diaries, one of which (from 1794) is referenced in this 1819 diary – for she heartily wishes to see once again the estate known as Fancey (or Fancy?) in Devonshire, where she stayed as a younger woman with all her family. That trip, too, “ends” because the booklet ends; but most travel diaries seem to depart from home and return there. These two volumes do not.
So, if out there with (really) no clues about the writer beyond “woman”, I started looking in some obvious places for a further continuation of this 1819 diary: in the Wiltshire Archives, in the Devon Archives, in the Plymouth Archives. Of course, not ALL items are listed online. And without SEEING the writing, I cannot guess ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when the online description gives ANONYMOUS DIARY as a sole indentification; not even a DATE!
A few interesting items did turn up. For instance, I found the website EARLY TOURISTS IN WALES, which I discuss at greater length on my Ladies of Llangollen blog. I took yet another look, this time concentrating on the “Anon.” entries, at William Matthews’ British Diaries: An Anotated Bibliography (there are others out there, including the Ponsonby series). Oh! there are so many anonymous diaries; any of them could be by ANY of the Smiths (given a certain time parameter, of course).
One he mentions – for 1819 – is most tantalizing: “Travel diary, July-August, 1819: pleasure and business trip to Dublin and back; acute observation and dry humor; one of the better travel diaries.” It is held at the Wigan Public Library, part of the EDWARD HALL COLLECTION (if Matthews’ information, from 1967, still holds).
The use of the term BUSINESS makes me presume a male writer; though: you never know; Emma DOES write that same word at last once in her diary. It would be most intriguing to think that she went further afield – to Dublin – and then to Devonshire. It IS possible.
MY Emma (young Emma, as she is sometimes called in the family in the 1810s) [though, PLEASE, do not think of Aunt Emma as “old Emma”!! she wouldn’t like that…] seems to have made very little mention of her aunt in her diary for 1819. Though strife in the family cannot be discounted as a reason for silence.
In short, I simply do not KNOW where Aunt Emma went or what she did, except for these few weeks.
But what a pipe-dream to take with me throughout 2016: the idea of putting a name to some ANONYMOUS diarist’s volume.
Best Wishes to you, for a happy & healthy 2016
First, let me take the opportunity to wish readers of Two Teens in the Time of Austen a (belated) “Happy Holidays!”
I’ve been at work transcribing a diary, written by Emma’s “Aunt Emma” (Mamma’s youngest sister, Emma Smith) in 1819. Maddeningly, this diary volume begins already in the midst of this “tour,” and seems to end on a point prior to her return home, too. I hate to say it, but: For every piece that falls my way, there often are indicators of even MORE that is (currently?) MISSING.
However: I have to take whatever I get.
Aunt Emma and an unnamed companion have obviously left from Erle Stoke Park (the estate of the now-deceased [spring 1819] Joshua Smith, MP, Aunt Emma’s father) at some point in the recent past, and arrived at Plymouth Dock in the county of Devon. She opens with a complaint about the proceedings of the morning, but bypasses further elucidation with the comment that it would take “too long” to recount. A bitter loss of information!
Emma and her companion tour the “lions” of Dock (as she writes the place-name); they are shown over several ships – one which, because it is set to soon sail, has its full complement of men (which causes GREAT excitement!!), and also necessitates the ladies being hoisted aboard! They tour from stem to stern and from bowels to poop deck. Amazing that a pair of English citizens could simply ask, and, being treated with “great civility”, be shown around by some one or two of the naval men.
I could go further – but really want to talk today about on specific tiny side-tour taken after they’ve left Dock and come to Tavistock.
Emma, who would have liked to have descended in the Plymouth Diving Bell that EVERY tourist to the area in this era commented upon, desired to descend into one of the Copper Mines. She applied to a Mr. Paul, who was attached to Wheal Friendship. Permission was granted, and Emma writes of “descending” via the SLOPE.
I must admit that the “image” I had in mind when transcribing this section was not at ALL correct. Having read more about Salt Mines in Austria, my idea of a “slope” was more akin to a “slide”. Thank goodness I found a drawing of the tunnel opening at Wheal Friendship:
Please visit the website (click picture) to learn more about the mine; they offer a fascinating historical overview, culled from such sources as newspapers. I have a feeling the 1816 “report from Mr. Burge signed by Captain’s Bassett, Paul, Sarah and Brenton” points to Aunt Emma’s escort “Mr. Paul”.
Just finding this photo crystallized WHAT Emma was trying to tell me about her experience in entering the tunnel; why the men had to stop working in order for them to descend into the mine; and why “ladies” did not go beyond a particular point (which was approximately beyond 600 yards “instead of nearly half a Mile to where the Miners were at work”). Emma described it as a “wet and rough” descent.
I’m still in the midst of my transcription – and Emma in the midst of her travels! – so will leave it here, but invite readers to take a look at the travels of Mrs. Trollope in Austria (and vol II), published in a memoir from the 1830s. It never ceases to amaze me how intrepid women travelers could be – going where few living today have gone: Climbing hills in long skirts in order to traipse over ancient ruins, descending into the sea in leaky diving bells, walking on to chaotic industrial production floors, peering into hissing steam engines. For them, it was all in a day’s work at pleasuring their inquisitive minds.
Reading the monthly newsletter of BIOGRAPHERS INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION (BIO) is always informative, and often quite a delight, biography being a favorite area of shelf space (at home and in the stores).
Being the end of the year, ” BEST OF LISTS” are of course beginning to turn up. And the newsletter mentioned biographies that had made “the list” of the Independent. I was QUITE surprised to read that TWO Charlotte Brontë biographies were on the list! The first one was listed on the first line – ah, Claire Harmon has a new book! (NB: not out in the States until Spring 2016.) Although she was already known to me thanks to her biography of Fanny Burney (2000), Harmon undoubtedly gained LOTS of press when she published Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World (2011) – especially in light of Harmon’s treatise being called a populist take on the earlier “scholarly” Jane Austen’s Textural Lives: from Aeschylus to Bollywood (2005) by Kathlryn Sutherland. I’ll leave it to readers of both books to comment (should you so wish).
As my eyes scanned the rest of the *short* list (six book), it settled upon the second Brontë biography. It is HARDLY “new”: Catherine Gaskell’s biography! Frankly, reading the original article (though the headline says “six”) I’m stymied: Gaskell’s work seems there merely to introduce Harmon’s biography of the same person, using the “same papers”. Was the Independent really THAT hard up to name a sixth worthy biography to recommend for Christmas giving?
Another thing hard not to notice: Harmon’s book in the U.K. is titled, Charlotte Brontë: A Life – whereas the U.S. has been given a much more dramatic subtitle — Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart. The covers even look hot and cold, with their blue versus red motifs:
Must admit, I don’t always understand the marketing strategies of the two countries, nor the time-lag in offering the same book to another English-speaking country. NB: where’s Harmon on Canada’s Amazon site??
For anyone waiting until the U.S. release – or wanting the rest of the clan too, might I recommend a duo by Juliet Barker: The Brontës: A Life in Letters and her hefty biography of the family unit (even heftier in a 2013 updating), The Brontës.
Readers looking for a fresh update of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice will be pleased to pick up Lynn Messina’s PREJUDICE & PRIDE.
There are some familiar characters and names, but Messina has created her own “world” – and in this world Darcy is a woman! Netherfield has settled in the midst of chic Manhattan, which makes both the apartment and its occupants readily accessible to any reader with even a remote passion for the tabloids or some reality TV. Bennet works in a small (but excellent) museum in Queen’s called the Longbourn. Readers just know that he’s destined for better things… Luckily, in the midst of a fundraising campaign, Bennet meets Charlotte Bingston (known as “Bingley”).
Writing and plotting make a difference in any “kindred spirit” Austen-based novel. Lynn Messina displays a stylish wit that raises PREJUDICE & PRIDE alongside some of the more interesting re-visitings (I can think of one I enjoyed in the past: Lydia Bennet’s Story). The narrative moves along, and its glimpse into the art museum world provides a neat setting from which to view the rich jet-set.
Due out in mid-December, provides an unfamiliar romp through familiar territory – and it’s often quite fun (and funny). An entertaining 3 out of 5 stars.
Received notice in the mail of an upcoming (January 2016) biography:
Read more about the author, Terese Svoboda or the book,
Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet
click the cover photo
Lola Ridge was born in 1873 in Dublin; she emigrated first to New Zealand and then the U.S. Her first book of poetry, The Ghetto and Other Poems came out in 1918. Her papers are held at Smith College, in Northampton, Mass.
THREE Google Doodles commemorate the 141st Birthday of Lucy Maud Montgomery:
Must admit to being rather partial to No. 2. I know the author more through her diaries (living near Canada helped me to find those, during long-ago trips to Montreal) than her novels. And living near Canada meant we got to see the Anne of Green Gables (and other programs) when new and showing on the CBC. Ah, happy younger day memories….