As I mentioned in the previous post, any sign of illness and I stop being able to read. Hugely irksome, as you can imagine. But I did manage to read one book last week - the font was sufficiently big, and the story adequately undemanding, while yet being rather wonderful - it was Joyce Dennys' Repeated Doses. As the title suggests, it is not the first in the series. And, using my last months of spontaneous book-buying, I scurried away to buy Mrs. Dose the Doctor's Wife and The Over-Dose. These are, respectively, the first and third books in the series, published between 1930 and 1933.
I say series. These books are divided into various sections - not really short stories, but more like episodes in various lives. Like Henrietta in Joyce Dennys' now much-beloved Henrietta's War (wrote about it here), and Dennys herself, all the heroines are doctors' wives. Or rather, all the stories are about doctors and their families - usually with an instrumental wife. Though they all have different names, they have a shared characteristic running through (I believe) all three books - that of 'false nosery', in Dennys' words. Let me explain, by quoting the first book:
All Doctors' Wives wear False Noses. This fact is not generally known, except to Doctors and their Wives themselves. Even their children hardly ever realize, until they grow up and possibly become Doctors or Doctors' Wives, that their mother went through her married life with a False Nose firmly fixed to her face. There have been cases when even the Doctor himself has forgotten that the Nose he sees as breakfast is not the Nose he wooed. But these are exceptional cases, for Doctors are, as a rule, discerning and disillusioned people.
A Doctor's Wife must wear a False Nose to disguise herself, and thus persuade her husband's patients, and even more, the people who are not her husband's patients, but who might be, that she is like Caesar's Wife, above suspicion.
She must, if possible, however dark her thoughts and evil her intentions, persuade people that she is a model of wifely devotion, motherly love and womanly yearnings.
If she meets the Vicar being carried in at her front door with his throat cut, as she goes out to a Bridge party, she must not divulge this spicy bit of gossip to her friends, and if during the afternoon somebody comes rushing in to say that the Vicar has been hanged, she is denied the exquisite pleasure of saying, and it is at such times that the False Nose hangs most heavy, "Excuse me, but his throat was cut, I saw it; your deal, I think."
And so it goes. These are stories about the diplomacy of doctors' wives, the peculiarities of the medical profession, and the length to which the wives will go to secure patients for their husbands. (That sounds more macabre than I intended...) In many ways, I think being in a doctor's family must be quite similar to being in a vicar's family - certainly in terms of diplomacy, presenting the Public Face of the Profession, and keeping schtum on all sorts of topics.
Dennys' stories in Repeated Doses exaggerate a bit - a woman seeking treatment for a wart ends up in a Rest Home; a name mix up causes an international incident; baskets of fruit become the front line for deceit and intrigue. All great fun.
And, which is half the pleasure with Dennys' books, they are illustrated by Dennys too. I've scattered some of those illustrations throughout this post, and they might prove irresistible to you... They make a lovely set of books - really thick, chunky books, with thick paper, and a feel of luxury quite unexpected for the early-thirties. Obviously they got printed just before printers started economising... I'm so grateful to have heard of Joyce Dennys, and these are real treats to enjoy, return to, and treasure.