Friday, June 13, 2014

Victorian Nurses and Celebrating the Release of Wanton Wager!

My newest Whitechapel Wagers novella, Wanton Wager, is available now from most ebook retailers. Like my debut release, Scandalous Wager, this one is set in Whitechapel in 1888 during the time of the Jack the Ripper murders. None of Wanton Wager's characters are directly involved with the events, but the fear and anxiety related to the crimes touches their lives, especially when my heroine's sister goes missing.

The story features a probationary nurse, Ada Hamilton, who lives and works in Whitechapel above her family's pub, The Golden Bell. The eldest of three daughters, Ada takes her responsibility to her family as well as her nursing career seriously, to the point of accepting the hospital mandate that female nurses must remain unmarried for the duration of their employment. When Ada's sister goes missing, she becomes obsessed with finding her, even if it means tangling with a cruel and possibly dangerous nobleman.

My hero, William Selsby, is an aspiring medical man himself and was a captain in the British Army. He saw action at the Battle of Kandahar during the Second Afghan War and was wounded in that conflict. The pain of those wounds and the resulting betrayal by his fiance still haunt him eight years later. His connection to a debauched nobleman leads him to Ada Hamilton, a woman who overturns all of his expectations.

While researching the story, I learned a good deal about the nursing profession in Britain in the Victorian era. I also spent some time reading about the history of hospitals during the era. In fact, I used the London Hospital, now called the Royal London Hospital, as a model for Samaritan Hospital. I became interested in that particular hospital, still located in Whitechapel, after watching an excellent but short-lived BBC television series called London Hospital (but called Casualty 1900s when it aired in Britain), based in part on its history. The show gave me some notion of the challenges faced by nurses and doctors during the 19th century, yet it also highlighted the advances in terms of cleanliness, treatments, and technology.
Any study of nursing in Britain necessarily involves mention of Florence Nightingale. It is said that Nightingale laid the foundation for nursing as a profession, and she was undoubtedly responsible for advancing the cause of nursing, women in the workplace, and spreading medical knowledge during her lifetime. She founded a nursing school at St Thomas's Hospital in London and continually campaigned for sanitary conditions in medical environments. Known as the Lady with the Lamp, Nightingale was renowned for continuing to make her rounds, particularly when working with wounded soldiers in the Crimea, late into the night.

Another interesting nurse I encountered during my research was Edith Cavell. She trained at The London Hospital in 1896 when training and work for nurses was grueling, with work hours from 7am to 9pm and an annual salary of ten pounds. Edith stuck with it and the following year she was seconded with other nurses to assist during a typhoid epidemic in Maidstone. She received a medal for her efforts. Later she was recommended for private nursing and later worked in various infirmaries. In 1907 she was recruited to become matron of a Belgian nurse training school and eventually became a training nurse for multiple hospitals and schools. When World War I broke out in 1914 and the Germans occupied Brussels, Cavell began sheltering British soldiers and funneling them out of occupied Belgium. She was arrested in 1915 and charged with harboring Allied soldiers. The Germans executed her that same year.

Eva Luckes was Edith's matron at The London Hospital during her training. She of all women must have understood the challenge of nursing work, as she herself initially dropped out of training in 1876, finding the duties too strenuous. She went back, however, and tried again, completing her training in 1878. In 1880, at only 26, Luckes applied for and won the position of matron at The London Hospital, despite the concern by some committee members that she was too young and pretty. Though Luckes was not a Nightingale trained nurse, she did seek advice from the nursing pioneer and she set about instituting reforms at The London Hospital related to nurse training, hoping to educate and maintain a higher caliber of nurses.

These three women were among many who chose to commit themselves to a changing and almost unbelievably challenging profession during the Victorian era. The sacrifice of marriage and a family was one that hospitals required of nurses until the 20th century. Not only was this a personal sacrifice, but it also left older nurses without children or husbands to care for them in what we might consider retirement years. One bit of research I read mentioned a nurse who worked into her eighties, as she had no other means of support and no family to assist her.

To read about my probationary nurse heroine, Ada Hamilton, buy Wanton Wager for 99 cents at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Gumroad

Here's an excerpt! 

Will did not expect to find Miss Hamilton living above a taproom in Whitechapel. He directed the hansom driver to the address Ashdowne gave him and was surprised to be dropped at the doorstep of a rather noisy, ramshackle public house. He knew he looked a fool to all those who spared him a glance, dressed in his best clothes and bearing gifts for a lady. The barkeep turned out to be the least welcoming Will had ever met in his life. When Will asked for Miss Hamilton, the giant of a man turned an alarming shade of red before begrudgingly pointing to a dark stairwell near the bar.

Now, waiting in a modest yet homey room that looked to serve as the family’s living area, dining area, and makeshift kitchen, Will fought the urge to leave, to seek another hansom and return to his lonely, eventless life. To forget about this business of Ashdowne’s kept woman and the crime-ridden East End district where she lived. 

What would he say to her? What could he say? He had been sent by her lover to see if he might be her next? The whole business was dishonorable, and yet he could not resist the desire to at least meet her. To see the red-haired beauty who gave men comfort. A shiver ran down his spine at the thought, and his leg and arm began a slow burning ache. Perhaps they had already been aching. He had learned not to notice and usually ignored his body, trying to drone out sensation. But thoughts of Miss Hamilton brought nothing but sensation.

And then she walked into the room. 

Ashdowne had said her hair was red, but it was nothing like the tame amber shade of Emilia’s hair. Miss Hamilton’s hair was fiery, a most striking shade of true, rich red. It swept down over her shoulders in jumbled waves, and the sheen in her blue eyes and bee-stung plumpness of her full mouth suggested he’d woken her. 

He was a cad, an utter wretch for disturbing this woman and expecting anything at all from her. 


Could she not see clearly he was not Ashdowne? They might both be wanton wretches, but their outward appearance was not similar at all. Ashdowne was dark, with black hair and nearly black eyes. Will knew everything about his own looks was light, from his blonde-brown hair to his grey eyes. 

“No, Miss Hamilton. I’m sorry. As you can see, I am not Frederick. My name is William Selsby.” 

Disappointment was plain on the woman’s lovely face, and Will wished he’d taken that cab back to his lodgings on Moreton Terrace after all.

She rubbed her finger across the arch of her eyebrow and closed her eyes for the briefest of moments before speaking. “Forgive me, Mr. Selsby. I do not wish to be rude, but it is quite late, and I do not believe we are acquainted.”

“No.” How to begin? How to explain the reason he had burst into her life?

When he made no further reply, they stood and stared at each other for a moment. Will savored the opportunity to study her. He had never seen a young woman stand so stock straight and confident. No debutante he had ever met could manage such a feat. The diminutive woman before him would put many of his own soldiers to shame. 

But her stance and air of self-possession was a striking contrast to her delicate beauty—wide, full lips and strikingly beautiful blue-green eyes together with her small frame and lush curves made her seem more a manifestation from a fairy story than a flesh and blood woman he had roused from her bed in a cramped room in Whitechapel.

She let out a sigh. “Then why are you here, Mr. Selsby? What business could you have with me at this hour?”

She studied him then, skimming her gaze down his body in an assessing manner that made his skin burn beneath his evening wear. She focused her gaze on the items in his hands. Ashdowne had advised him to bring flowers and a small gift to encourage amity with Miss Hamilton.

“You come bearing gifts, sir. Who do you expect to woo?” 

Every irrational urge inside of him wanted to woo her, this petite woman with such exotic beauty and the backbone of a soldier. But the look in her eyes, the slight grimace on her face when she looked his way, told him she had no interest in furthering their acquaintance.