Title: The Woman at the Front
By: Lecia Cornwall
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Andra
When Eleanor Atherton graduates from medical school near the top of her class in 1917, she dreams of going overseas to help the wounded, but her ambition is thwarted at every turn. Eleanor’s parents insist she must give up medicine, marry a respectable man, and assume her proper place. While women might serve as ambulance drivers or nurses at the front, they cannot be physicians—that work is too dangerous and frightening.
Nevertheless, Eleanor is determined to make more of a contribution than sitting at home knitting for the troops. When an unexpected twist of fate sends Eleanor to the battlefields of France as the private doctor of a British peer, she seizes the opportunity for what it is—the chance to finally prove herself.
But there’s a war on, and a casualty clearing station close to the front lines is an unforgiving place. Facing skeptical commanders who question her skills, scores of wounded men needing care, underhanded efforts by her family to bring her back home, and a blossoming romance, Eleanor must decide if she’s brave enough to break the rules, face her darkest fears, and take the chance to win the career—and the love—she’s always wanted. (Goodreads)
As a fairly new reader to the historical fiction genre, as well as a first time reader of the author Lecia Cornwall, I was elated as I started to read Eleanor Atherton’s story as I became swept away by the story, Eleanor’s life, and the story-telling style of the author.
The setting is England and France during WW1. Eleanor Atherton has always wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a doctor. Her twin, Edward Atherton, was the child their father, Dr. John Atherton, hoped would become a doctor. However, Eleanor did become a doctor and Edward is serving overseas in France, as an adjunct at headquarters. Eleanor is offered the opportunity to go and accompany the Countess of Kirkswell’s son (and Eleanor’s brothers best friend), Lord Louis Chastaine, the new Viscount Somerton, home from the war as he has sustained an injury while performing his duties as a fighter pilot. Luckily for him, it was not a fatal injury. But as sole heir, his mother would like him to return home in one piece.
What ensues is a tale beginning with Eleanor sojourning to France – #46 Casualty Clearing Station at Sainte-Croix, to monitor Louis’s injuries as his primary physician until he is ready to come home and then accompany him back home. As she makes her way, on the train ride to Arras she meets Fraser MacLeod, a stretcher bearer, who is going to the same casualty clearing station. At the clearing station, Eleanor encounters resistance with respect to her ability to look after Louis – both from military personnel as well as Louis himself.
This is a story of a woman’s fortitude in the face of male oppression with respect to her chosen profession. It is also a story of survival and proving to oneself that they are good enough to succeed in their chosen profession, social expectations be darned! And last, but not least, it is a love story – in the worst of times. Of course – I would counter that with the sentiment that it is never a wrong time for a love story.
The growth of Lord Louis Chastaine was a welcome thing. At first he was just a playboy and while I can see where Eleanor was infatuated with him as a teen, I could not imagine this smart woman falling for Louis’ behaviour as an adult. But as the war progressed and as he was recovering from of his injury, you could see the effect that Eleanor was having on Louis – thank goodness. Now if only her familial relationships could right themselves?
I found that even though this is a work of fiction and the story does not have to run true to reality, the author did her research and much of the story was historically correct. I truly felt as I was there right along with Eleanor in the field (scary as that might be). I found the imagery very palpable. I really can’t imagine being on the front lines during a war. What a brave (and determined) woman Eleanor was! And I am certainly very glad that the times have changed. I was totally incensed when Eleanor’s dad said the following:
“I have never wished or expected you to practice as a doctor in your own right. In my opinion no woman is fit for that.”
If you like historical fiction with the main story beginning in 1918 with a strong woman following her passion, the I suggest picking up The Woman at the Front by Lecia Cornwall and settle in for an enjoyable, engaging and thought provoking read!