The Woman at the Front by Lecia Cornwall
About The Woman at the Front:
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.
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If you’ve been following around here for a while, you’ll know that I love historical fiction. In particular, books set during World War 1 have always held a strong fascination for me. (Check out my thoughts on other WWI novels like The Passing Bells or The War Nurse!) I also love finding strong female characters who are breaking barriers in their professions. And perhaps that’s why this story —The Woman at the Front — immediately piqued my interest.
The story follows the tale of Dr. Eleanor Atherton. Trained as a doctor but opposed at almost every turn, Dr. Atherton constantly encounters misogynistic attitudes and demeaning behavior. Still, she is undaunted in her quest to serve as a medical professional in the war. And Eleanor’s character was one of the things I enjoyed most about this book. She begins the book as a doctor — fully capable and trained in her own right, and confident in her abilities but still fairly young and naive of the realities of war. As the story progresses, her determination and grit gradually wins over the opinions of those working around her.
The story itself is beautifully written. There were several moments that stirred me to actual anger on behalf of what Eleanor was subjected to — and that kind of emotional response isn’t one that I normally get while reading. The author was able to capture both the realism of war and the horrors of trench warfare, while still imparting humanity and complex layers into the characters.
Well-researched and emotionally stirring, this is a historical fiction read that I gladly recommend! This will certainly make my top ten list of the year and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it too!