19 February 2018

Wither the Nurse Novel?

Much of this past weekend was spent reading Backstage Nurse, a W.E.D. Ross novel published in 1963 under his "Judith Rossiter" pseudonym. The book is 220 pages long, the print is of good size, and yet I'm nowhere near finished. I'm taking time to pause and consider because Backstage Nurse is my first nurse novel. By great coincidence, it was also the author's first nurse novel. He went on to write fifty-six more.

Rightly or wrongly, I've always associated the subgenre with Harlequin. However, if the back cover of Backstage Nurse is anything to go by, it had some pretty significant competition.

Must say, Jane Corby's Staff Nurse doesn't do much for me, but doesn't Dr. Jeffrey's Awakening sound interesting? And what about Jane Arden, Space Nurse?

Sadly, Avalon is no more; Amazon bought it for its backlist in 2012. Its last nurse novels – Everglades Nurse and Nurse Misty's Magic – were published in 1987, by which point the Harlequin nurse novel was long a thing of the past.

The rise and fall of the Harlequin nurse novel is reflected in this bar graph I put together over the weekend:

cliquez pour agrandir
I do like a good bar graph – "an understatement," says my eye-rolling wife – but this one doesn't give a complete picture. As with Avalon's "NURSE STORIES" – Susan Lennox's Doctor's Choice, for example – not all nurse novels published by Harlequin had "Nurse" in the title. "Hospital" featured frequently, and "Surgeon" sometimes, but the most prominent after "Nurse" was "Doctor."

As I've discovered, more often than not, doctors are the object of a nurses longing.

Interestingly, the first doctor to appear in a book published by Harlequin was a woman; the beautifully-named Serenity Parrish, heroine of Joseph McCord's His Wife the Doctor (1949), the publisher's thirteenth title. No longing nurse in this one, sadly.

The first nurse as heroine doesn't appear until Registered Nurse by Carl Sturdy (Charles Stanley Strong), which was published in 1950 as Harlequin's forty-seventh book.

As far as I've been able to determine, the heyday came in 1961, which saw forty-eight Harlequins featuring nurses as the main character.

The last new Harlequin to feature "Nurse" in the title was Roumelia Lane's Nurse at Noongwalla, which hit the racks in January 1974:
Alex had always been fascinated by Australia and went out there from England to get a job as a nurse. 
There she met the autocratic boss of a logging camp, Grant Mitchell, who told her, "There's no padding around in this job, Miss Leighton. Just dust and drought and a twenty-four-hour day." 
She would show him she wasn't scared of hard work, or of him!
And she did. She showed him.

Curiously, in the early 'eighties, Harlequin revived several of it's old nurse titles – General Duty NurseQueen's NurseResident NurseNurse BarloweNurse TemplarNurse AideNurse in WhiteNurse of All WorkA Nurse is BornNurses Are People, The Nurse Most Likely, and Staff Nurse (not Avalon's Jane Corby classic) – in its short-lived Harlequin Classics Library and even shorter-lived Harlequin Celebrates series.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the nurse novel continued on without a hiccup in Harlequin's Mill & Boon imprint. It does to this day in M&B's Medical Romance series. Released just last year, my favourite title is Kate Hardy's Mummy, Nurse... Duchess?:
The duke and the single mom! 
Nurse Rosie Hobbes knows charming men cannot be trusted. Visiting pediatrician and sexy Italian duke Dr. Leo Marchetti is surely no exception! Her toddler twins are now the centre of her life, and she expects Leo to run a mile when he meets them. Instead his warmth leaves her breathless!
Not just a doctor, but a duke. Sexy to boot! Looks like he showed her!

Are we on the cusp seeing a nurse novel revival? I ask because select titles in the Medical Romance series have begun appearing in Canada, though only in bastardized "LARGER PRINT" editions.

Yes, bastardized.

Look what they've done to Mummy, Nurse... Duchess?


I blame Rupert Murdoch.

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  1. Wither, indeed? "Passports to a dream..."

    This was an unexpected post, Brian, but most enjoyable. Nurse novels were definitely a "thing" in my youthful days - my sister was an a dedicated Harlequin reader and I occasionally dipped into her stash, in between my dogged teenage dalliance with the Great Russians (I was the "literary" sister), but they (the romance novels) never really "took".

    I shall remain untempted by that genre, but I do like to hear about what I'm missing.

    1. If Harlequin is anything to go by, the nurse novel reached its peak in the year I learned to read, and was pretty much over by the time I began haunting used bookstores. I see them from time to time when volunteering for our public library's book sales, but have never been tempted.

      Curiously, it seems none of W.E.D. Ross's novels were published by Harlequin. I wonder why not.

      As for he genre... well, let's just say this may be the last nurse novel I ever read.

    2. The problem with WED Ross is that he was a terrible author, which may be why Harlequin never published him; their nurse novels are usually much better written. If you want a great nurse novel, look for one by Florence Stonebraker, Marguerite Mooers Marshall, Jeanne Judson, or Faith Baldwin.


    3. Thank you, Susannah. Though I've tackled only two of his 300+ novels, I'm ready to agree that W.E.D. Ross s indeed a terrible writer. I eventually did finish Backstage Nurse. If you are at all interested, my review is available - gratis - at the Canadian Notes & Queries website:

      Nurse Grant's Heart Problems

      In researching nurse novels - a genre new to me - I happened upon your site. I'd feared that you'd given it up, but see that you're back. Wonderful! I very much enjoyed your reviews.

  2. The more recent I'm a Registered Nurse, Not a Whore, by Anne Perdue, is not quite of this genre, but I like to think of the reader who might have picked it up by accident. LUCKY accident, because it's a very good book. https://49thshelf.com/Books/I/I-m-a-Registered-Nurse-Not-a-Whore

    1. A title I'm sure I'd never encountered. Once read, it is not forgotten. Thank you for the suggestion, Kerry. I'll be picking up a copy.

  3. The queen of Harlequin nurse novels was undoubtedly Betty Neels. Her heroines are almost always nurses.

  4. Ah: career prospects have left the nurse novel behind.

    In my 1967 high-school yearbook (the year I started hs), the graduating Grade 13 boys had varied career ambitions: several engineers, lawyers, teachers, ministers, and so on. All of the girls were going to be either nurses or social workers. I'm thinking that, aside from teacher, there wasn't a lot of choice then - and, really, I think most expected to marry and stay home with the kids. Society was still dictating that - at least in my (very) small Ontario city.

    1. Times have certainly changed. Our daughter will begin studies at my alma mater this September, joining a student population that has more women than men. A clear majority of students graduating with a medical degree are women. Our lawyer is a woman. Our minister is a woman. I remind myself of these things when feeling pessimistic.