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Friday, February 27, 2009

An Inconvenient Wife

Chance, Megan. An Inconvenient Wife. Through the experiences of Lucy Carlton and her problems with hysteria (remember Freud?), we get a look into the cultural and social strictures of New York society in the 1880's, the role of women, and some of the medical procedures of the time. (The beginning is a little slow, but do stick around!)

Lucy married for love, but has a bit of internal conflict because her domineering father encouraged her courtship with William Carlton; another problem in their marriage involves sexual expectations. The marriage is not entirely happy for either Lucy or William, for many reasons.

Lucy's problems are diagnosed as female hysteria, and after treatments from several doctors (who recommend everything from surgery to a mental institution), she begins treatments with Dr. Victor Seth, a neurologist.

At this point, things get a little strange as Dr. Seth uses "electric therapy" (ahem!) and hypnosis in an attempt to cure Lucy. As her treatments continue, Dr. Seth becomes fascinated with his patient, and through the use of implanted suggestion, begins using Lucy as a means of furthering his research.

The problem for Lucy and her husband is that the cure may be worse than the disease. Twists and turns, manipulation, and scandal all result from Lucy's treatment. She is becoming more of the woman she was intended to be, but how much of her personality is under the control of the good doctor?

You can't help but think a little of Edith Wharton and Henry James (actually, his brother William James is mentioned in the novel), but this novel is definitely written by a 21st century author who brings not only knowledge of the time period, but a modern sensibility the narrative.

Intriguing, disconcerting, and thought-provoking, the novel follows Lucy on her compelling and surprising journey of identity; a journey that uncovers secrets and leads to unexpected consequences.

I don't want to reveal too much!

Another review - by Katherine (A Girl Walks into a Bookstore)

Fiction. Historical. 2004. 416 pages.


  1. I think this is an older book that was reissued? I saw this at my library and contemplated checking it out, but it was in such a scruffy condition I decided not to. I may have to buy it now, though. You make it sound very appealing!

  2. Danielle - It wasn't what I was expecting, but boy, did it hold my attention!

  3. I read this one last fall and enjoyed it as well!

  4. JenClair, I finally discovered this blog of yours and am enjoying it IMMENSELY!!
    Thanks for the thoughtful reviews and the new authors I've never heard of.
    Right now I have almost finished making my way through the Harry Bosch novels of Michael Connely....the last deep dive I took into an author such as he was Charles McCarry, who wrote the Paul Christopher spy novels. (Spy stories are my all time favorites.)
    I am looking for my next series...and think I might find it via your wonderful blog!

  5. This sounds really, really good. Yep, another one for the list!

  6. I'm with Iliana, another one for the list as this review definitely had me intrigued.

    Interestingly enough, one of my literature classes had a 'madness' theme, and this very subject matter was discussed as well as the treatments made available.

    I can't wait to see if my library has this. Thank you.

  7. The setting alone makes me want to read this. I find that time period fascinating.

  8. Jenclair-that book sounds very interesting and I'll have to look for it in the library. I read the Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell and it was a similar tale. Thanks for sharing your review!

  9. Katherine - I just added a link to your review!

    Allison - I've read a few of the Harry Bosch novels, but have never read anything by Charles McCarry - thanks for that recommendation and the nice comments!

    ilaina - I just picked up some titles from your blog!

    J.C. - I can see some interesting reading on this topic. I've carried a grudge for years against Freud and his convenient diagnosis of hysteria, but it does make for a fascinating literary development.

    Sherri mentions The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell -- another look at the problem. it is frightening to think of what some women endured; Esme broke my heart.

    Nymeth - I like this time period, too, and the novel gives a lot of details about how claustrophobic the world of the New York rich was.

    Sherri - The diagnosis is the same, but Esme's story is much sadder than Lucy's I'm glad you mentioned this book because I didn't think of it! Thanks!

  10. Intriguing, indeed. This book sounds like one I would usually steer clear of, but your review has me hooked.

  11. This sounds fantastic! Reminds me in a way of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper.

  12. Framed - It was certainly interesting! Knowing that mental institutions were a solution to the problems of uncooperative or troublesome women is chilling. Of course, there are other elements that are unnerving, too.

    Jordan - Yes! And, now that I'm thinking about it, Kate Chopin's work also has similar elements-- at least in regard to women who didn't fit compliantly into their roles. Thanks for reminding me about The Yellow Wallpaper.

  13. This sounds fascinating! I love the Victorian period, and I love books that deal with gender issues/sexual ethics. This is right up my alley!

  14. Jenny - I think you will like this one, then. It has several ethical issues.