Notes on Courage Rises
Warning: If you have not yet read Courage Rises, you will want to do that before you continue with this post. Spoilers follow.
The positive reception of Courage Rises, my first Pride and Prejudice novel, was a wonderful confirmation for me, and I am very grateful to the readers who have been very supportive and enthusiastic. I cannot tell you how pleased I am that Courage Rises struck a chord for so many of you.
There are, of course, those who felt that the story was entirely implausible. Oddly enough, however, it is the facts that I plucked from historical accounts that seem to have caused the most consternation on this score. So let's look at them.
First, of course, was the idea that Sophia Hawke could disguise herself as a male soldier. Such an action is not out of the realm of possibility, as there have been women like Sophia in every war perhaps until WWII, when standards for accountability were higher and there were places for women to serve without having to pretend to be men. While it would be difficult to pull off such a deception today (and certainly less necessary), women dressing as men and fighting in wars, sometimes to follow their husbands, sometimes to escape their home lives, and sometimes for the adventure of it, was not unheard of in Jane Austen’s time.
A few women who we know dressed as men and fought in the Napoleonic Wars include Nadezhda Durova (cavalry, awarded the Cross of St. George), Eleonore Prochaska (drummer, infantry, killed in action), Freiderike Krügar (Infantry, Iron Cross, discovered to be a woman but allowed to remain in service), and Anna Lühring (who, inspired by the death of Prochaska, joined the Lutzow Free Corps).
Though she did not fight as a soldier, Margaret Ann Bulkley/James Barry dressed as a man in order to attend medical school as a teenager and never returned to life as a woman. Barry joined the British army after graduating from the University of Edinburgh Medical School in 1813 and served in Africa, India, and Jamaica. She is credited with one of the first successful Caesarean sections (both the mother and child survived). Barry eventually became the Inspector General of Her Majesty’s Hospitals in Canada, and her sex was discovered only after her death.
Another issue seems to be the accuracy of Sophia's shot. The Baker rifle, the one Sophia Hawke carries, was a bit more than a decade old at the beginning of our story, and it signaled a significant change in wartime weaponry. It could fire two shots before requiring reloading, and its accuracy was unparalleled at the time. It took a bit longer to reload than the standard Brown Bessie musket carried by other troops, but its longer range and increased accuracy made up for that. The Baker rifle was selected for use by the rifle corps specifically because it was accurate up to three hundred yards which, as you might guess, had the potential to greatly influence the outcome of a battle. It had been in use since 1800 and was adopted by the rifle corps (later the 95th Regiment of the Foot) in 1802.
Other readers opined that Elizabeth would never have dealt with an epidemic in the way that she does in the book, setting up her own hospital so as to gather the afflicted in one place. What I can tell you is that while we are very fortunate to have access to modern medical care, the early 1800s were not, as some might claim, quite the same as the Middle Ages in terms of scientific knowledge.
The institution we recognize as the modern hospital was born a good deal earlier than our story (Westminster Hospital was opened as far back as 1719). It was during the Regency period that French doctors began to toy with the idea of antiseptics, and British chemist Humphry Davy, in 1800, published his findings on nitrous oxide, suggesting its use as an anesthetic for surgical patients.
Old practices such as bloodletting were still in use, but not universally accepted. While older doctors were often staunch advocates, younger doctors like Dr. Hughes Bennett, born in 1812, (a little late for Courage Rises) fought just as strongly against it. The point is, the tide was turning, particularly after the famous and sought-after London physician Sir Richard Croft routinely bled Princess Charlotte during the pregnancy that ultimately killed her. Christian Stockmore, her regular physician, had declined to be a part of Croft’s team because he did not agree with the treatment and, as a foreigner, did not want to be blamed if something went wrong. So these types of treatments were certainly being actively questioned.
Most physicians at the time also had some knowledge of germ transmission. Most knew to wash their hands before working with patients and the importance of keeping the sickroom clean. They did not yet know why this was important, but most would likely have performed the function anyway, as it had been reported to reduce cases of secondary infection. By 1854, John Snow, a London physician, had published the first modern theory of disease transmission.
Sometimes we believe that the marvels of modern medicine began to arrive only relatively recently, but it has actually taken a very long process of building upon the discoveries of previous generations to achieve these accomplishments. Those who came before us were not entirely without medical knowledge.
I enjoyed all the historical research I conducted in the writing of both Courage Rises and Courage Requires. In the end, writers should take the literary license to do what they must for their stories, but I caution readers that just because it sounds impossible doesn't mean that it is!
If you enjoyed Courage Rises, I encourage you to finish the story of the Darcys, Fitzwilliams, and Hawkes in the second and final book of the series, Courage Requires!