Frank G(ill) Slaughter MARY McGRORY - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["In a Dark Garden"] turns back into nineteenth-century history, to deal with a young Confederate field surgeon: an elaborately romantic tale, it details a smashing series of victories he wins with his scalpel for both sides during the Civil War. First and last a doctor, Julian Chisholm (of the Cape Fear Chisholms) serves the Confederacy out of quixotic chivalry. He defies high brass, rides hell-for-leather with the cavalry, performs prodigies of delicate surgery in a mine crater at Vicksburg, aboard a Nassau-bound clipper in a roaring gale, under snipers' rifles at Chickamauga….

The theme of the doctor's dilemma in wartime is one which [Frank G. Slaughter] (who served in the Medical Corps during the recent global conflict) is eminently fitted to handle. This is his sixth novel, and his first in the field of historical romance: this time, his crusading young doctor is trapped by both his milieu and his century—and the dragon he must slay is, so to speak, a personal one….

It is apparent that the author has delved in the military annals of the Brothers' War—when medical departments were flyblown annexes to the braided pomp of staff, and the amputation knife was only a slash ahead of the dreaded "hospital gangrene."…

To this reader, Dr. Chisholm's supporting cast seemed rigidly typed—although their almost period-piece quaintness is jarred more than once by the conscientious reporting of the sex scenes. Perhaps no novelist can make a harmonious blend of ether and wistaria. In any event, reading about operations is still the next most satisfactory thing to talking about one's own.

Mary McGrory, "Dr. Chisholm, Confederate Surgeon," in The New York Times Book Review (copyright © 1946 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 29, 1946, p. 4.