Friday, July 15, 2022

Recommended dosage: JOYCE DENNYS, Mrs Dose, the Doctor's Wife (1930), Repeated Doses (1931), and The Over-Dose (1933)

A Doctor's Wife must wear a False Nose to disguise herself, and thus persuade her husband's patients, and even more, the people who are not her husband's patients, but who might be, that she is like Caesar's Wife, above suspicion.
She must, if possible, however dark her thoughts and evil her intentions, persuade people that she is a model of wifely devotion, motherly love and womanly yearnings.

One can't help but wonder exactly what dark thoughts and evil intentions Joyce Dennys—herself a doctor's wife—must have concealed beneath her own False Nose. But I for one won't judge her because her three volumes of sketches about the triumphs and tragedies of doctors' wives surely outweigh her misdeeds, however horrific.

Full disclosure:
Back in 2018, I reviewed the first volume of these sketches and was a bit condescending about it. But recently, with the world burning down around us, and because I adore Dennys' other work so much, I decided I would check out the second and third volumes and see how they compared, and promptly became infatuated with them. I then went back to re-read volume 1, and loved that one too. One would have thought the world would have felt pretty doomed in 2018 too, but somehow in 2022 my perspective on Dennys' playfully silly humor—and its undoubted source in her own life experience—made it just what the doctor (or, more aptly, the doctor's wife) ordered. I even noticed, looking back at my original review, that I particularly pointed out as unfunny a passage about doctors' training including a long course on dealing with the fallout from killing their patients, which, on my recent re-read, I marked down as particularly giggle-inducing! What a difference four years (and a bad memory) makes…

The books are undoubtedly rather slight—130 to 150 pages each of short sketches, most under 10 pages of fairly large print, dealing with an array of doctors' wives and the absurd problems they face through wearing, misplacing, losing, or even refusing (gasp!) to wear the False Noses so essential to their husbands' success. There's Dr. Tonsil's wife, who takes him from provincial poverty to the prestige of Harley Street by providing invaluable advice as to his medical strategy:

So after that, whenever he was in Doubt, and sometimes even when he wasn't, Joshua took out people's Tonsils. Anyhow, it didn't do them any harm, and sometimes it even did them good. And the patients really seemed rather to like it.

There's Mrs. Plexus, who, while her doctor is neglecting his patients because he's distracted by another woman, takes a postal course on medicine and surgery in order to treat his patients herself and save his practice. There's the impoverished Dr. Valvular from Plymouth, who benefits from an Indian Rajah's confusion of him with his wealthy uncle Sir John Valvular. There's the dramatic tale of the Great False Nose Rebellion. Not to mention the tale of Percy Mugwell, whose "trouble was that he had been born with a lot of money and hardly any brains, and that he started every morning with a double brandy instead of early morning tea, and continued throughout the day in a crescendo, and was finally carried upstairs by the butler and the valet at bedtime":

He hadn't even got neurasthenia, unless you can call seeing pink rats in beach pyjamas neurasthenia. Some people do of course.

How I'd love it if this were my copy!

Following an auto accident, Mugwell finds himself at a health farm known as Vitamin Towers with rather unique strategies for promoting "Nature's Way".

And if the story of Vernon Glucose, the husband of Dr. Kathleen Glucose, who places his ambitions of being a composer ahead of his False Nose, grates just a bit from its portrayal of him as effeminate because he's good at the domestic side of things (and his wife, of course, is masculine and dominating), I nevertheless found it inducing a giggle or two—and at least it does acknowledge that women can be doctors as well!

The vignettes are often so ridiculous as to almost partake of the avant-garde interest in absurdity as a high-falutin' intellectual concept. But this time I saved them for bedside reading, for which they really are perfect, each chapter requiring 10 minutes or less, so I could really fine-tune when I was just tired enough to need to stop. But
of course, as much as anything, the appeal of these books is Dennys' delightful illustrations. It's high time she is acknowledged as one of the great humorous illustrators of all time.

And helping to make that happen was the publication, last year, of a catalogue of her work, compiled by Sarah Bussy,
which provides details of Dennys' life and also reproduces some of her really delightful paintings, which aren't as readily available online as her book illustrations. I ordered it a while back and have loved perusing it and learning more about a favorite author. I was all ready to link to the website of the Fairlynch Museum in Budleigh Salterton, and recommend that those interested in her work snatch up a copy right away, but alas, it no longer seems to be listed there. I hope they'll print more copies, as it's really delightful.

And of course, if you haven't read Dennys' humorous fictional correspondence about England in wartime, Henrietta's War and Henrietta Sees It Through, then you should run, not walk, to get hold of them. These letters originally appeared in The Sketch while the war was being waged, and are irresistible, often hilarious looks at the lighter side of the Home Front. In fact, I've just been launching a much-needed comfort re-read of them and have discovered that the two volumes (compiled in the 1980s by publisher Andre Deutsch) are not, in fact, the complete original articles but a "selection". Of course, you know me, so I've already downloaded most of the original articles from the British Newspaper Archive. Seems like quite a lot of material was not included in the books, which is sad but also, woohoo! I get to read "new" Henrietta episodes! More to come on that soon, I imagine...


  1. I loved both the wartime ones but had no idea of the others - thank you for the info

  2. Posted for Jerri:

    Wow, your description of the doctor related volumes had me drooling and enjoying the images, but your final disclosure of more Henrietta out there!!! I own hardbacks with dust jackets of the two published Henrietta books, but I would rush right out and purchase either a supplemental book with the missing items or even better a combined edition with the missing letters and illustrations interleaved with the ones I know! A Mrs Dose Furrowed Middlebrow edition would be nice, but a comprehensive Henrietta would be wonderful!!!

    Let me see if I can get this comment to be accepted.


  3. I wholeheartedly second the plea for a comprehensive/supplemental Henrietta! An FM Mrs Dose would be lovely, too.

  4. I hadn't remembered the author of the Henriettas - both of which I have and love - till I read to the end of your post. I guess I should now go on a Mrs Doctor search. Or a Henrietta one since I have no clue which country they are currently inhabiting :-( Gil


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