‘The Quack’s Daughter’: Book offers look at life in Davenport in 1880s

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June 15, 2014 | 12:01 am

When I think about the Victorian era in America, my thoughts admittedly turn to whalebone corsets. This was a stuffy time filled with stuffy people.

Thankfully, University of Iowa Press author Greta Nettleton is here to dispel that singular line of thinking.

Nettleton’s book “The Quack’s Daughter” follows the life of her great-grandmother Cora Keck, who was born and raised in Davenport. Using Cora’s college diary as a base, Nettleton constructs the narrative of Cora’s life, giving readers insight into Cora’s childhood in Davenport and her struggles and joys as a music student at Vassar College, revealing that life in 1880s Davenport looked “less like cliched Victorians and more like ‘bobby-soxers’ from Grease.”

Excerpts from Cora’s college diary quickly dispel the myth that all Victorian women were stuffy.

While Nettleton’s great-grandmother proves to be a lively subject, “The Quack’s Daughter” suffers when Nettleton shifts the focus away from Cora and on to other topics, including the history of Vassar College.

Nettleton relies too heavily on Cora’s diary for the narrative and struggles to continue the narrative when it ends, resulting in rushed passages about Cora’s scandalous marriage and adult life. The supposed climax emerges in the final chapter, where it occurs and is quickly resolved.

If Nettleton’s next book is structured around a climactic moment, instead of one source, readers will be in for a treat.

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