The Most Beautiful Man in Existence
When I first started this book, I wondered why AAR had been asked to review it. It is, after all, an academic book – a biography of a nineteenth century doctor, based primarily on his extensive journals. It’s a book most romance readers are unlikely to hear about, let alone read. After I had finished the book. I was still wondering. That being said, I basically liked the book. It provides a very vivid picture of the life of a nineteenth century doctor, and it also raises some interesting questions for those of us who like to read about fictional rakes.
The book is a detailed account of the life of Alexander Lesassier, from his birth to his death. Lesassier was the son of an unsuccessful doctor, who struggled all his life to make a living in his father’s profession. For years he served in the military (during the Peninsular War), then spent many years in Edinburgh trying to make ends meet as an obstetrician. In the final years of his life he rejoined the military and served in India.
This book is definitely informative; authors interested in writing a book set during the Peninsular War, especially a book about a doctor, would surely benefit from reading it. The process of becoming a doctor is explained well, and the detail about the wartime duties of a surgeon was useful and interesting.
At first, the second part of the title seemed like a misnomer, because nothing particularly scandalous went on. Lesassier consorted with a few Portuguese whores during his stint in the army, and got a couple of cases of venereal disease, but that was about it. Then he came to Edinburgh and the title started making a little more sense. Lesassier married, but saw no problem in sleeping with his servants – sometimes two at once. He also slept with a huge number of his patients, which is pretty shocking considering his specialty in obstetrics. His behavior understandably led to several scandals, which gradually brought ruin to his career. Still, more of the book seemed to be devoted to his financial troubles than his sexual exploits.
As a reader of romance, I found The Most Beautiful Man in Existence to be a healthy dose of reality. I enjoy rake heroes; but Lesassier, a dashing man who embodied many of the characteristics of the regency rake, was pretty unpalatable. Fictional rakes are a lot more romantic, perhaps because their dalliances cease as soon as they clap eyes on the heroine. If we had to read about their tawdry pre-heroine antics, we might not like them as much. Most interesting to me were Lesassier’s bouts with venereal disease. I’ve never stopped to think about the likely result of so much sexual activity, and I’ve certainly never seen a hero who had to suffer the consequences of his multiple bed partners.
While this book is interesting, it’s not perfect. The first quarter, which covers Lesassier’s attempts to get a medical education, is particularly dry and hard to get through. It’s informative, but not particularly entertaining. The first part is also stuffed to the brim with quotes from novels of the day, which the author uses to back up points she is making about nineteenth century life. I found the quotes distracting and unnecessary.
However, once Lesassier enters the army, the book really picks up, and on the whole it’s rather good. While I doubt hordes of romance readers will race to the book store for this one, the intrepid reader might enjoy it, particularly for research purposes. And authors: this reader wouldn’t mind reading about a doctor hero – as long as he avoids sleeping with his patients and doesn’t get venereal disease.
I've been at AAR since dinosaurs roamed the Internet. I've been a Reviewer, Reviews Editor, Managing Editor, Publisher, and Blogger. Oh, and Advertising Corodinator. Right now I'm taking a step back to concentrate on kids, new husband, and new job in law...but I'll still keep my toe in the romance waters.
|Review Date:||April 3, 1999|
|Book Type:||Non Fiction|