Needing a break from the tacky Regency romances, I’ve just finished a Regency romance by Julie Klassen. She’s definitely my current go-to modern author for them, and although she’s no Jane Austen, her stories are intriguing, heartfelt, and somewhat religious without being overbearing. A few of her books have bored me to tears, but some, like The Girl in the Gatehouse and her Ivy Hill series would make great TV shows. A third book now joins those ranks: The Apothecary’s Daughter.
Lillian or Lilly Haswell has grown up without a mother. Romanticizing the abandonment of her family, Lilly often looks for her mother on the bridge overlooking the canal that goes through the town of Bedsley Priors. Her mother always spoke of traveling, about seeing the world, and Lilly hopes she’s doing just that, but will someday come back to them. Lilly’s father runs an apothecary shop, similar to what we know today to be a pharmacy, and Lilly and her younger brother Charlie help out how and when they can. Having a near photographic memory, Lilly is a great help–almost too much so, for she an easy resource for her father’s apprentice, Francis, to use as a crutch. She remembers all the correct ingredients to make the various potions, pills, and concoctions, while he seems to remember nothing.
Our heroine is at odds with the local manor house at the beginning, caught stealing flowers by Roderick Marlow, the young heir. That the theft was to make a sorely needed balm seems to matter little to him, and for years afterward, Lilly is loathe to encounter the man.
Throughout the story Lilly has several changes of fortune and almost too many suitors. We get to know her family and a few of the residents of Bedsley Priors, as well as a few characters from London. This is a multifaceted story with enough subplots and characters to make a fully formed miniseries or TV show, just like the other work by Klassen mentioned above. To its credit, it has a satisfying romance, but it’s perhaps a bit overdone in the sense that Lilly seems to be attracted and drawn to every handsome would be suitor that crosses her path. She doesn’t know what kind of man she wants. Show writers would probably cut some of the romantic possibilities–I counted five men all interested in her and it was excessive–but a way to keep them and “solve” things, as it were, would be to play up some of the other romances going on in the story.
Another reason I think this would make a great TV show is the timeliness of the medical themes. Today tensions till exist between the various categories of the medical profession. MDs and NPs are considered near sacrosanct by general society, while the just as knowledgeable practices of pharmacists, alternative medicine, chiropractors, herbalists, and the like are too often scorned and derided. Here we have a time in history when doctors had begun moving against apothecaries by force, instilling licensing, required schooling and classes, and the like. Not entirely bad, but not entirely good at the same time. What else is a doctor’s trade based on but an apothecary’s one? Why is it assumed that doctors and providers have intimate knowledge of medications, but pharmacists somehow do not? More important for today: Why are all traditional remedies and prescriptions roundly derided for manufactured pills, expensive radiation treatments, and more expensive surgeries, when the alternatives, although taking longer, would work with the body to truly heal it?
The plight of a licensed doctor is shown no more clearly than in that of Lilly’s hesitant suitor, Dr. Graves. He is a good student, but has no deep connection with healing in the way that Lilly, her father, the apprentice Francis, and also another apothecary, Mr. Shuttlesworth do. These apothecaries do more than dispense medicine, they make it from start to finish, spending hours laboring with mortal and pestle, growing and drying herbs, and filling the shoes of an occupation with a wealth of knowledge, that at least in this story, often exceeds that of the medical doctors. They also make house calls and treat patients at their bedside. Dr. Graves can’t begin to compete with them, even though he’s a satisfactory doctor. The apothecaries are physicians in their own right, and that is where the conflict comes–expensive schooling versus knowledge passed down through the centuries.
I don’t want to diss doctors, many are amazing and very knowledgeable, but all too many simply know only what they are taught and toe the line of the day instead of considering what’s really best for the patient. Too many are content to treat conditions instead of finding out what’s causing them and attempting at a cure. Strangely, vaccines, which are not a cure, are continually held up as one–think of the “let’s wait for a Coronavirus vaccine”–and more and often often mistaken for one by the general public. Really, it’s not the doctors’ fault, they are forced into it by the very medical schools that take them in, the various medical boards, licensers, and hospitals that all too often can’t see past the ends of their noses.
Happily, there are some doctors with curious minds who are finding out that cheaper medications and older remedies may actually be what helps the patient, not least of which is an all natural diet, which works wonders on the body. Happily, many in the general public are becoming tired at their diagnoses simply being managed; more and more often they are turning to the alternatives and finding relief and success.
This book doesn’t fully go into all these issues, and in some ways the apothecaries are ignorant, too, but it’s fascinating that we allowed the MDs to reign as if they are or were somehow better. It wasn’t that they were better, it was that they gave themselves power to secure their livelihood for ages to come. If that’s an uncomfortable truth to ponder, well, so be it.
Also in the mix of the story is the idea that a woman can be neither doctor nor apothecary. It’s the age old problem of woman’s primary province being the home, but some consideration can be made for different types of homes, I think, and the fact that being a healer comes naturally to many women. Lilly’s home is the apothecary business. She cares for her family and also the business. For some–not all–women this is entirely doable, and the difference we often fail to address in these modern days of feminism is that many women simply choose not to do both, because, well, it can be exhausting. And that’s ok and should be considered ok. Providing is a province men thrive at and it’s really ok to ceed that to them. And for most men, either way is ok, they really just want to make us happy, and enjoy what appreciation and attention we can give them, financial concerns aside. Sadly in our quest for society we’ve made it far more difficult for a family to exist on one income alone.
Well, this review grew a lot longer than I thought it would. Clearly, I have a volume of opinions on medicine and the sexes. It’s interesting to be at a time in history when many are rethinking these aspects of our lives and turning to the way things used to be done. Having the freedom to choose the old ways is a relief for many, and it’s a bit ironic that we derided the limitations of old only to realize now that we simply exchanged one set of limitations for another.
Updates: Despite enjoying Hannah Tinti’s fine first book, The Good Thief, I could not get into The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley. Although I appreciated the tall tale aspect, which is very American, the violence was unnecessary and off-putting, as was the odd relationship between father and daughter. I don’t think I made it 50 pages. Why do so many Americans think our gun culture is about being violent? It’s not. It’s based around practical things like hunting, and as a country, primarily about keeping the tyranny of fallible, human-run governments in check.
Am in the middle of both Tess of the D’urbervilles and The Man in the Iron Mask. Enjoying both, but they are lengthy reads and other books keep drawing my attention. Eventually, I will have some reviews on them. Currently reading The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier.
Just watched episode one of Cinderella, an Italian version with English dialogue and set in the 1950s. Delightful production! Sadly, though, Amazon does not have the second episode available for viewing.
As for K-dramas, I’m trying out Oh My Baby starring Jang Nara. I thought it was a remake of Three Men and a Baby, but it doesn’t look like it now. Also it’s hard to watch a show that hits too close to home, so not sure if I’ll continue with it. There’s a Japanese show on Viki called Peanut Butter Sandwich that looks cute, so I might try that instead. I’ve never watched a Japanese show before, and somehow Japan keeps inserting itself in my life. Maybe that’s just the way it is with Japan, who knows?