Based on a real missionary couple of the 1830's, Jody Hedlund's novel The Doctor's Lady is the story of the journey of the first white woman to cross the Rocky Mountains. Priscilla White has always felt called to missions, and after a severe illness left her infertile, she felt that calling reinforced. However, the only way the missionary board will allow her to go to India - which she has long felt is her calling - is if she is married, and that, she has accepted, will never happen. However, Dr. Elijah Ernest is also in the same predicament - except that his calling is to the Nez Perce of Oregon. Since neither can leave without a spouse, they make a business agreement to minister to the Nez Perce together, and then embark on the arduous, seven-month journey to far Oregon - across vast wilderness no white woman has ever seen, and through land full of danger, disease, and hardship.
Full of real disasters and mishaps that happened to the real couple, this novel is a journey back in time to when everything west of the Mississippi was new, dangerous, and exciting, and Hedlund does not make light of the hardships or work involved in such a journey. Even more poignant, though, is the journey Priscilla and Eli make as a couple - a journey that for them is just as new, dangerous, and exciting as their westward march, and one that is equally full of hardship and work. The characters are not perfect, but they are so easy to like - and as such it hurts more when they are hurting, to the point where my eyes did not always remain dry.
Both Priscilla's infertility and her loveless marriage are a burden and an embarrassment to her, so she bottles the pain inside and never speaks of it. By never acknowledging the truth to others, she is largely able to avoid becoming an object of pity; but by not sharing it with her closest friends and family, she also misses out on the loving support they would give her - support that she has been desperately needing for so long. It forces one to think about all the things - both big and little - one hides to avoid the pity, pain, or embarrassment that could result from sharing. The easy excuse is that it is no one else's business, which is largely true; but the truth is that sometimes we really need support from people who love us.
As usual, Hedlund did an excellent job writing a very historical novel without compromising the story itself. 5 out of stars!
Eli Ernest believes he has been given the God-given dream of traveling to the Oregon Country to set up a medical mission to serve and save the Nez Perce Indians. The year is 1836 and he has returned from his travel west to gain funding to set up his mission. Once in the Oregon Country, he doubts he will ever return to the East. As he nears his departure date, he chafes at the requirement placed on him by the Board of Missions that he must take a wife with him, as well as another missionary couple. He finally finds the couple, but has trouble finding a wife. He decides his only choice is the beautiful, but prim and proper, Priscilla White. He must get west and will do whatever it takes to get there.
Priscilla White is now 26 years old and has enamored of missionary work since the age of 15. She knows she will never marry and has put in her application to teach as a missionary in India. However, with the board's new requirement of marriage, her application is rejected. She had her hopes pinned on this job so she could leave her town and avoid the eventual pity and scorn that would come when everyone finds out about her infertility. Now, with her hopes dashed, she meets Eli. Their first encounter is full of sparks. Priscilla's mother becomes convinced she needs to go West with Eli. Eventually, both Eli and Priscilla realize that in order to pursue their God-given missions they must marry. They decide to marry each other and have a marriage in name only. Eli promises that if the journey west, which no white woman has ever done before, becomes too much, he will send her home with an annulment.
As the journey takes place via riverboat, horseback, and wagon, Eli begins to appreciate the value of his wife. She never complains about the arduous pace he sets, their scant food and their less than comfortable accommodations. Priscilla begins to see Eli for the brave, resourceful and caring man that has made him into a great doctor. Through the various trials along the way, both come to see that they are willing to give their lives in service to God.
The characters in this story are very well done and I admired Priscilla very much. I also like the author's added notes about the historical accuracy of some of the events that happened to the real person Priscilla was modeled after. I also liked the inclusion of the other missionary couple and their history with Priscilla as well as the fact they were real people too. I'm a history buff and this historical information added so much depth to the story for me. This is one readers won't want to pass by.
I loved Jody Hedlund's book, The Doctor's Lady! This is the first book of hers that I've read, but it definitely won't be the last. I love books that keep me wanting to turn the page to see what's going to happen next. This was one of those.
From the very first word, "Indians!", she had me wondering where this story of a marriage of convenience was going to go. Inspired by the true account of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, missionaries to the Nez Perce Indians in Oregon, Jody takes us on a journey of trials and hardships as well as triumph and romance. And threaded through the entire story is the message of how God loves all people.
Priscilla White knows the Lord is calling her to be a missionary. Then the missionary board declares that she must get married before she can go. What's she to do now? Nobody is going to want to marry her with her problem? Or at least she thinks.
I really enjoyed reading this book. I identified with the characters in that sometimes I don't communicate my heart to the special people in my life. The story helped me see the importance of sharing my true feelings.
I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for writing a review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255