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Saturday, December 2, 2017

Book Review: The Beauty Doctor by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard
July 24, 2017
361 pages
Publisher: Belle Epoque Publishing
In the spring of 1907, Abigail Platford finds herself unexpectedly adrift in New York City. Penniless and full of self-doubt, she has abandoned her dream of someday attending medical school and becoming a doctor like her late father. Instead, she takes a minor position in the office of Dr. Franklin Rome, hoping at least to maintain contact with the world of medicine that fascinates her. She soon learns that the handsome and sophisticated Dr. Rome is one of a rare new breed of so-called beauty doctors who chisel noses, pin back ears, trim eyelids and inject wrinkles with paraffin. At first skeptical, she begins to open her mind, and then her heart, to Dr. Rome. But when his proposed partnership with a proponent of the early twentieth-century eugenics movement raises troubling questions, Abigail becomes ensnared in a web of treachery that challenges her most cherished beliefs about a doctor’s sacred duty and threatens to destroy all she loves. A suspenseful work of historical fiction grounded in the social and moral issues of the Edwardian era in America. (This book currently is one of six finalists in the category of Published Fiction, 2017 Arizona Literary Contest.)

Beauty surgery is a dubious venture in 1907; a curiosity, but far from legit medicine. Abigail Platford is a fresh-faced beauty with aspirations of becoming a doctor. And while a medical degree is out of reach for a penniless girl, an assistant position with a beauty surgeon may just be what the doctor ordered.

The Beauty Doctor is a fascinating look at early 1900s New York society. The book takes a potent look at class structure, gender equity, and ethical questions of science. Abigail is naïve enough to engage with the duplicitous Dr. Franklin Rome, but self-possessed enough to question his motivation. When Rome partners with an enterprising and questionable investor to create a beauty institute, the novel takes a dark and dramatic turn. The beauty doctor is historical fiction meets macabre thriller.

The Beauty Doctor is a bit of an isolating read; few characters are worth identifying with, save Abigail. She is smart and resourceful while maintaining charming likeability. Her unbreakable spirit and wide-eyed optimism contrast nicely with the dark subject matter within. She’s not perfect, however. Abigail is seduced by the opportunities Rome provides, albeit temporarily. Given the historical context, however, who can blame her? Ultimately, Abigail navigates a world where she is very much an underdog with pluck and determination.

Bernard’s fictional take on the advent of plastic surgery is both educational and entertaining. It’s demoralising, however, that in the last 100 years not much has changed; female insecurity remains highly profitable.

Five sheep

Reviewer: Bianca Greenwood

About the Author:
Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is an award-winning author of historical fiction. Her recent release, THE BEAUTY DOCTOR, is a suspenseful tale that takes place in the early days of cosmetic surgery—when the world of medicine was a bit like the wild, wild West and beauty doctors were the newest breed of outlaw.

As the former Executive Editor of the internationally-subscribed AESTHETIC SURGERY JOURNAL, the author's in-depth knowledge of plastic surgery lends a unique perspective to her novel, THE BEAUTY DOCTOR. Set in 1907 in New York City, this thought-provoking tale powerfully evokes the atmosphere of the Edwardian era and, in the context of a page-turning plot, examines some of the most important social and moral issues of the time. The story unfolds with an extraordinary cast of characters, including Abigail Platford, a young woman with the dream of becoming a doctor and a determination to defy Edwardian society’s expectations of her; the talented and ambitious beauty surgeon, Franklin Rome; Joe Radcliff, a wealthy inventor and collector of human oddities, who will stop at nothing to assert his power; the hard-drinking Russian Countess, Alexandra Gagarin, and her cross-dressing female companion, Ronnie; and Baron Ludwik Rutkowski, guardian of the rare and beautiful conjoined twins from Spain, Melilla and Valencia Rosa.


  1. Thanks for the great review, Sharon! I really enjoyed your comments and observations about the book. Love the line "historical fiction meets macabre thriller." I may borrow that!!

    1. Bianca Greenwood is the one who reviewed your book :) I just posted it to the site for her :)

    2. Borrow away! Thanks so much :)

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