I’m delighted to be a part of the Blog Tour for ‘The Physician’s Daughter’ by Martha Conway. What an eye-catching cover design, evoking the time period of the novel and the central relationship inside. My thanks to Zaffre for the gifted review copy and to Tracy for the tour invite. Do keep scrolling for some bookish chat.
It is 1865, the American Civil War has just ended, and 18-year old Vita Tenney is determined to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a country doctor like her father. But when her father tells her she must get married instead, Vita explores every means of escape – and finds one in the person of war veteran Jacob Culhane. Damaged by what he’s seen in battle and with all his family gone, Jacob is seeking investors for a fledgling business. Then he meets Vita – and together they hatch a plan that should satisfy both their desires. Months later, Vita seemingly has everything she ever wanted. But alone in a big city and haunted by the mistakes of her past, she wonders if the life she always thought she wanted was too good to be true. When love starts to compete with ambition, what will come out on top?
From the author of The Floating Theatre, The Physician’s Daughter is the story of two people trying to make their way in a world that is struggling to escape its past.
Each chapter of ‘The Physician’s Daughter’ is headed with a quotation which highlights the irony and ridiculousness of male thinking during the 19th Century, for example, the opening chapter begins with:
‘Hysteria is often excited in women by indigestion’ (On Diseases Peculiar to Women)Dr Hugh Lenox, 1860
I looked forward to these chapter quotations and found them, quite frankly, gob smacking! From findings that ‘flat-chested females were unable to produce a well-developed infant’, to ‘the majority of women (happily for them) are not much troubled by sexual feeling of any kind’ Dr William Acton, 1888. Certainly, highlighting the view of the patriarchy and the medical profession of the period. Conway sets the scene nicely and introduces our protagonist Vita Tenney who is determined for the world to change as she seeks a position as a trainee doctor. The novel is set at the end of the American Civil War and the aftereffect of war is a consistent theme running through the story; this is also told through the perspective of Jacob Culhane, a previous soldier and prisoner of war. Vita’s father completely rejects the idea of his daughter becoming a doctor and following in his footsteps; the complex nature of grief is explored through her father and despite his harshness, there was a real sense of sadness at how loss affected him and by default the entire family. He states that Vita must marry instead, however Vita has other plans she’s determined to follow.
Vita and Jacob’s lives converge as they both attempt to control their futures despite hardships and adversary. I liked both characters, although at times Vita needed to open her eyes a little where Jacob was concerned; I did feel he forgave far too readily for her ‘betrayal’. I really felt for Jacob as he battled his ‘shakes’ from the war in a time where post-traumatic stress was not understood or treated well.
The story splits for a time and follows Vita and Jacob’s separate journeys until they find each other again; I thought the pace and engagement really picked up at this stage and I found it hard to put the book down.
With themes of grief, trauma, love, war, and the quest to follow your heart despite the odds, this book comes highly recommended from me. For readers seeking an engaging historical relationship drama with heart, then do pick up Conway’s ‘The Physician’s Daughter’.
THE BLOG TOUR
Martha Conway has been nominated for an Edgar Award and won the North American Book Award for Best Historical Fiction. She teaches creative writing for Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, she is one of seven sisters. She now lives in San Francisco with her family.