Doctor in Rags
post written by Emma Filbrun
Title: Doctor in Rags
Author: Louise A. Vernon
Major Themes: Doctors, Hutterites, Medicine
Synopsis: When his sister’s serious illness brings him into contact with the famous doctor Paracelsus, Michael’s life is changed forever.
I’m not sure I have ever read anything about Paracelsus, other than in Doctor in Rags. I do remember reading this book, and everything else written by Louise Vernon that I could get my hands on, when I was young. She was one of my favorite authors at that time, and possibly the reason I love historical fiction so much. Now that I stop to think about it, her books are a good introduction to historical fiction about the Reformation; they let you know there was violence and persecution, but in a more gentle way than some books I’ve read. They are fairly well-researched as well, and a lot of the conversation appears to be quotes from books that the main character wrote. I will admit that some of that makes the story drag, as in her book about Martin Luther.
Doctor in Rags begins with 10-year-old Gudryn’s illness; her widowed mother has sent for a doctor from the city to come to their castle to care for her. Twelve-year-old Michael can’t understand some of his mother’s actions, however, and when she talks to a group of Hutterites he is very mystified. Allowing these heretics to build a Bruderhof on their land is a crime—why has she done it?
Then there is the mysterious doctor who wears rags—because he can’t be bothered to get new clothes—but he is somehow able to heal people when the city doctors can’t. Michael thinks he wants to become a doctor, after watching Paracelsus at work, but he isn’t sure. Will he gain clarity for his future when he finds himself living with the Hutterites after his mother’s castle and lands are taken from her?
This is quite an interesting glimpse at the early Hutterites, as well as medicine in the Middle Ages. It’s not as gripping a story as a lot of the ones we read, but well-researched and written. We enjoyed it.