Mirriam-Webster’s defines an apothecary as a medical professional who sells drugs or compounds to physicians, surgeons, and patients. In literature the most famous mention of this profession is in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ where Romeo is given the elixir of death. Our pharmacist today fills doctor’s prescriptions and may mix drugs together to make a balanced medicine. It was not always that way.
In “The Apothecary’s Daughter” we are transported to an earlier time when the local pharmacist could do more than that. In 1810 in England the apothecary was not only the pharmacist but also a general practitioner who could act as a surgeon or midwife. There is a secondary plot in this book concerning the missing mother. “My mother had disappeared on one of those narrow boats two months before, or so the villagers whispered when they thought I could not hear.”
Our main character is Lilly Haswell, the apothecary’s 13-year-old daughter, who is very knowledgeable about the profession, but is not allowed to be one because she is a woman. She spends most of her time preparing herbs and remedies by rote and helping Francis, the trainee, remember his lessons. His dream is to be an apothecary when he passes his exams. But he has trouble remembering the formulas. Will he be able to finish his exams and become an apothecary?
When her uncle and aunt offer to educate her in London, Lilly finds a whole new world out there. She also figures she will find her mother. Her uncle knows something about the mother who disappeared when Lilly was young. “When her mother had first disappeared, Lily had felt a rolling tincture of emotions — bewilderment, grief, guilt — certain her leaving was due to something Lilly had said or done.”
There is also Charles, her brother.
“By Charlie’s first birthday, it was evident that something was not right with the lad. Very little could hold his attention. He did not want to be held or petted. Was slow to creep, stand, and walk. He remembers his mother saying she will return. He doesn’t want Lilly to go to London, ‘You are not making this easy,’ states Lilly to her brother. ‘Do not be sad, Charlie. It won’t be forever. I will come back and see you.’
“He stared off in the distance once more. ‘’At’s what she said.’
“Lilly’s pulse quickened. ‘What?’
“Charlie kept staring, but did not reply.
“’Do you mean mother? She told you she was leaving?’
“’No more leaving,’ he whispered.”
Will Lilly find what happened to her mother and at the same time find a love for her future? Lilly has many suitors. Since Lilly can’t become an apothecary as her father, she must be married off. This presents a strain that reminds one of Jane Austen’s book, “Sense and Sensibility,” in the underlying massage that a woman is nothing without a man.
I found the information contained in this story about the trade very informative. It seems well researched.
This book is one in the historical fiction genre published by Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group. You should be able to get this book at your local bookseller.
Everything has a history. All professions started some place. I would like to hear your story. Contact DANE at email@example.com. You will get a response.