Pat here: I’m still in the process of moving from one side of town to the other and everything is still in boxes except my computer. Which is convenient since I have a new book coming out Tuesday—AURA OF MAGIC, the fourth in my Malcolm and Ives Unexpected Magic series—and I really need to tell people about it. There’s an excerpt and buy links on my website.
Since I like mixing things up, this time the scientific protagonist is the heroine, Brighid, the Countess of Carstairs. She comes from a long line of physicians and has been trained by her family to the same standards as the men who were allowed to attend university--except, of course, she was expected to marry. Devoted to the village where she grew up, she obediently wed the highest ranking aristocrat in town, then continued her family's medical practice—illegally.
By the 1830s, even the role of midwife had been usurped by men. While women were quietly learning techniques from each other, men pontificated to the public in pamphlets and pulpits about the evils of letting excitable, delicate women perform medical procedures—like giving birth. While experienced midwives had learned the hard way that they must wash their hands and wear clean clothes and use clean linens, men were inventing forceps and other instruments that they declared women too feeble to use.
Just as one example of how midwives were vilified, the medical journal The Lancet declared, “The women of England are. . . wholly deficient both in the moral and physical organisation necessary for performing the duties of that most responsible office.” Yet some male practitioners were as lethal as the worst midwives. The 1845 Medical Gazette condemned the “disembowelling accoucheurs” who cut out womb or intestines with scissors or knife.
But such ugliness led the public to go to male doctors instead of the traditional midwives, who didn't have the ability to fight back. Women continued dying in childbirth at a high rate in the hospitals where men performed their “scientific” procedures-- because hospitals did not use the sanitary practices midwives understood. But it was the men who ruled the courts and the minds of other men, and so women were barred from their age-old traditions.
It’s against this background that my heroine, after her husband’s death, decides to establish a midwife’s school for women. It was the rational, charitable thing to do to prevent more women from dying in what ought to be a natural process. When the king’s man arrives in town—Bridey has every right to resent him and be afraid of what he can do. My hero, Pascoe, being all Ives male, doesn’t really care what she’s teaching behind closed doors—all he wants is someone to take care of his irrepressible, mysterious brats while he goes about the king’s business. Taking care of children was women’s business, was it not?
But, of course, when Ives and Malcolms come together, ghosts and riots, and laughter and love happen, because this is romance.
In real life, women had to fight for the right to care for their own bodies. In the late Victorian era, Florence Nightingale began to turn the tide, ever so gradually.
But why is it that women allow men to bully them in public and push them aside, even in these modern times? Why are women still so underrepresented in public that it’s hard to make our voices heard? I wish I had an answer.