Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Write-Up: Wedded to War, by Jocelyn Green

Jocelyn Green.  Wedded to War.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012.  See here to buy the book.

Wedded to War is Jocelyn Green’s first novel, and the first book of her Heroines Behind the Lines series, which focuses on the American Civil War.  Wedded to War is about an upper-class woman who decides to becomes a nurse for Union soldiers.  Green’s third book of the series, A Yankee in Atlanta, is about a woman who dresses like a man and fights in the Civil War.  Green’s upcoming book, Spy of Richmond, is about a southern woman who engages in espionage for the Union.

Does any of this sound familiar?  Well, it does to me, since I read Lynn Austin’s Civil War trilogy, which came out in the early 2000’s.  Lynn Austin’s Candle in the Darkness is about a southern woman who helps the Union in an attempt to end slavery and the war (see my review here).  Austin’s Fire by Night is about an upper-class woman who decides to become a nurse, and one of its main characters is a woman who dresses like a man to fight in the Civil War (see my review here).
Jocelyn Green does read Lynn Austin (see here); she reads other books, too, and she even includes a bibliography of scholarly historical works in the back.  Green is probably drawing from things in history.

Reading Green’s books is not the same experience as reading Lynn Austin’s books, even though they overlap in areas.  I found that to be true in my reading of Wedded to War.   Wedded to War and Fire by Night both have an upper-class woman who wants to be a nurse.  Both have a churlish doctor.  Both have a woman dressing like a man to fight for the Union.  In both, the upper-class protagonist has to clean dirty sheets.  But there are differences.  The churlish doctor and the woman who dressed like a man are not central characters in Wedded to War, as they were in Fire by Night.  The upper-class woman’s motivation for wanting to be a nurse is a bit different: in Fire by Night, Julia Hoffman is trying to show a man she loves that she is not superficial; in Wedded to War, Charlotte Waverly wants to make a difference in the war and is inspired by the example of her late father, who sacrificed his life by helping people with cholera during an epidemic.  There are numerous other differences between the two books.

In terms of which book I liked better, it was Lynn Austin’s Fire by Night.  Lynn Austin’s writing style grabs me and makes me feel as if the characters are real and that I am living life with them.  But there are advantages to Green’s Wedded to War that are not in Lynn Austin’s Fire by Night.  Green includes a bibliography at the end.  She has an appendix that says which parts of her book were historical, and which parts were poetic license.  She also quotes primary sources.

I do not feel like regurgitating the plot of Wedded to War, but I will comment on two things that stood out to me:

1.  Dr. Lori Ginzberg, professor of History and Women’s Studies at Penn State University, praises Wedded to War:  “Although fictional, Wedded to War brings to life the important, and often dismissed, story of women’s entrance into Civil War nursing – and, in particular, the virulent opposition they faced from military doctors. It reminds us all that the access to employment and political rights that American women take for granted were achieved on deeply-contested ground, and that women showed both ambition and courage in opposing those who wished to defend their own turf.”  I find that to be remarkable—-a women’s studies professor praising a book from a conservative Christian publishing house.  I love when different people are brought together and find common ground.

2.  In my reading of Wedded to War, the plight of Ruby stood out to me.  Ruby immigrated to the United States from Ireland with her husband Matthew.  Matthew is out fighting the war, and Ruby is left alone in the city.  She struggles to support herself.  She seeks help from charities and Christians who protest against prostitution, but these people are very picky about whom they help: they want to help the so-called “worthy poor,” and they fear that recommending a prostitute or a disreputable woman for jobs would bring them a bad name, and possibly hurt the employer.  Ruby is not a prostitute in the beginning, but she has no references because she knows hardly anyone in the city, and she is acquaintances with a prostitute, so some people assume that she is a prostitute, too.  A wealthy man, Phineas Hastings—-who is a love interest of the book’s protagonist, Charlotte Waverly—-rapes Ruby when she is working for him and his mother, and Ruby flees and hesitantly resorts to prostitution.  Ruby becomes pregnant and seriously contemplates having an abortion, since she has no means to raise a child.  Fortunately for Ruby, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell finds her a place to work: Ruby helps Charlotte Waverly, the nurse.  Phineas threatens Ruby that he will tell Charlotte about Ruby’s history if Ruby tries to discourage Charlotte from marrying Phineas.

Ruby’s vulnerability is a sobering part of this book, especially when one considers that such things happened (and happen) in real life.  I could somewhat understand the perspective of those who were reluctant to help Ruby, since they did not want a bad reputation, but Christians (and others) should try to help prostitutes—-and others with no place to go or who are seeking a new beginning—-to get on their feet so that they do not feel forced into that kind of life.  See here for the story of a minister who is doing precisely that.

I thought that some of the main characters of the book were judgmental towards Ruby, even when they were trying to be compassionate.  When Ruby tells Charlotte, Charlotte’s sister Alice, and their mother Caroline that she had been a prostitute, the three agree to accept Ruby, saying that everyone has made mistakes.  Only Alice seems to recognize, on the basis of the character Cosette in Les Miserables, that women often resort to prostitution out of desperation.  Caroline and Charlotte may think that Ruby made a mistake, but what do they suggest that she had done?  Ruby at one point says that she would rather die than be a prostitute again.  Is that what we are to believe she should have done to preserve her integrity?  Regarding abortion, there is a reference to adoption in the book and how adoption is easy.  Maybe that was the case then, but my understanding is that it is not so easy today.

I may read other Jocelyn Green books in the future.  I enjoy Lynn Austin’s books more, but I appreciate stories about the American Civil War, especially when those stories deal with faith.

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