Dr. Sweeney's Journal

Dr. Sweeney's diary

Cather Draws Inspiration from Troop Ship Notes

Dr. Frederick C. Sweeney, the local doctor in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, was called whenever a guest took ill at the Shattuck Inn.  It was the year 1919 and he was just back from military service in the Medical Corps in France.  His patient was Willa Cather, who had contracted influenza. By this time, Cather was at work on One of Ours, her novel based on her cousin, G.P. Cather, who had been killed in France during the war.

It was Dr. Sweeney's habit to talk with patients; he had treated Cather before and knew her well.  He frequently talked of his war experiences, including a shipboard outbreak of influenza. When Cather asked if Sweeney kept a diary, he replied that he had and reluctantly agreed to loan it to Cather.

While the diary is not remarkable, it gives many details of the ship: its size, the crew, the food.  Particularly graphic are the details of the flu epidemic, the ominous nosebleed, the lack of medicine, the burials at sea.  Cather wove these details into One of Ours in her masterful way, even describing Dr. Sweeney: "The doctor was a New Englander.  He was a brisk, trim man, with piercing eyes, clean-cut features, and gray hair just the colour of his pale face."

Dr. Sweeney's Journal