FICTIONAL FOREMOTHERS BY WOMEN, 4
Fiona Subotsky (MWF President, 1999-2000)
Annie Swan and Dr Elizabeth Glen
Annie Shepherd Swan was another very popular Scottish author whose somewhat romantic and sentimental style suited the serial fiction for women she wrote and, indeed, edited. Other names she used were (1859-07-08)Annie S. Smith, David Lyall and Mrs Burnett-Smith.
Annie S Swan (1859 -1943)
‘Elizabeth Glen, M.B. The Experiences of Lady Doctor’ (1895) is a set of loosely connected stories presented as if told by a female London doctor to her best friend. They are not ‘case histories’ as such, because the medical details, diagnosis and treatment are neither usually recounted, nor the point.
Dr Glen sets up in General Practice in Bloomsbury and gradually attracts patients, where she exhibits not only medical acumen, but also great compassion, with a firm manner if necessary. We gather that she was brought up in Scotland, as her fond memories of it are frequently mentioned. She had obtained her degree at Dublin University ‘and studied for twelve months at the schools of Paris and Vienna’.
I’ll concentrate as an example on one of the stories - ‘Port Leyton’s Heir’. Dr Glen has been called in by a Mrs. Letitia Leyton Brooke – “one of my aristocratic patients, and one of the sort that makes one endorse the most radical notions, even to the total abolition of the aristocracy.”
The real patient is in fact her older son, who, whilst the heir to the Port Leyton estate, is a ‘poor little crippled hunchback’ whose health is now declining. Elizabeth befriends this unloved child, who has a sweet character, and is only too aware that his mother, father and spoiled younger brother would prefer him to die. Dr Glen begs his parents to allow the boy to return from London to the countryside, where he has been happier, but the request is refused. Even at his death his parents are too busy with other engagements, and it is Elizabeth who sadly closes his eyes and ‘saw the seal of eternal peace set upon his brow’.
At last we come to Dr Elizabeth’s own story of romance. She confides in her friend that when young she had been inseparable from a boy, and then young man, Keith Hamilton; their families assumed they would suitably marry one day, although nothing explicit had been said between them. Elizabeth had told Keith she was planning to study medicine and travel to India, to which he replied:
“It is intolerable to think of you subjected to experiences which will rob you of that exquisite womanliness which makes everybody love you.”
Elizabeth bridled at this, and became more determined than ever to follow her own course. Years later, she comes across Keith in Switzerland, and learns that he now has a new young fiancée, Effie, who however, has suddenly become mortally ill. Elizabeth tends her and has to watch as she dies in Keith Hamilton’s arms.
If you have recovered sufficiently from this sad scene, you will be relieved at the last chapter where Keith and Elizabeth marry very happily.
The author concludes:
that the woman whose intellect has been fully developed and whose heart beats warm, and sweet, and true to her sex, by bringing all her powers of head and heart to bear upon her surroundings
achieves the highest possible results, and more nearly than any can make the perfect home an accomplished fact.
This is not everyone’s highest ambition!