Great Plains Studies, Center for

 

Date of this Version

Spring 2008

Citation

Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 2, Spring 2008, pp. 167-68.

Comments

Copyright 2008 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Abstract

The back cover of Cowboy Girl promises the story of Caroline Lockhart, "a woman whose work and life teetered between realism and romanticism, who wrote novels 'like a man' yet ran her businesses and love affairs like a liberated feminist." What John Clayton delivers is the life story of a racist and elitist who spent much of her free time trying to "get" her enemies.

Lockhart's second novel, The Lady Doc (1912), is a book about revenge, literally. Lockhart wrote the novel to attack the character of one of her enemies, Dr. Frances Lane. Its main character, Dr. Emma Harpe, is blatantly based on Lane and so completely unsympathetic and unrecognizable as a human being that many contemporary critics found the book offensive. As Clayton observes,

She did her job well-too well. This was precisely the critics' problem: Emma Harpe was such a horrible character that you didn't want to read about her. At least the villain Smith had been a cowboy, with those courageous frontier virtues and an attraction to the schoolmarm. Dr. Harpe was just brutal and sordid. She had no redeeming qualities, and readers especially wanted redeeming qualities in a female character.

Lockhart and Lane were both members of the upper class of Cody, Montana. They crossed swords when Lockhart learned of the appalling medical treatment given to an injured dam worker at the hospital Lane ran with her partner. Failing at instigating a criminal investigation into the incident and at helping the victim to sue Dr. Lane for malpractice, Lockhart sought literary revenge. The Lady Doc features an amoral and incompetent protagonist.