The First World War was the first ‘total war’. Its industrial weaponry damaged millions of men, and drove whole armies underground into dangerously unhealthy trenches. Many were killed. Others suffered from massive, life-threatening injuries; wound infections such as gas gangrene and tetanus; exposure to extremes of temperature; emotional trauma; and systemic disease. Tens of thousands of women volunteered to serve as nurses to alleviate their suffering. Some were fully-trained professionals; others had minimal preparation, and served as volunteer-nurses. Their motivations were a combination of compassion, patriotism, professional pride and a desire for engagement in the ‘great enterprise’ of war. The war led to an outpouring of war-memoirs, produced mostly by soldier-writers whose works came to be seen as a ‘literary canon’ of war-writing. But nurses had offered immediate and long-term care, life-saving expertise, and comfort to the war’s wounded, and their experiences had given them a perspective on industrial warfare which was unique. Until recently, their contributions, both to the saving of lives and to our understanding of warfare have remained largely hidden from view. ‘Nurse Writers of the Great War’ examines these nurses’ memoirs and explores the insights they offer into the nature of nursing and the impact of warfare. The book combines close biographical research with textual analysis, in order to offer an understanding of both nurses’ wartime experiences and the ways in which their lives and backgrounds contributed to the style and content of their writing.
Working in a World of Hurt uncovers and analyses the range of responses to psychological trauma by male and female medical personnel in wartime in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Until now, academic and popular studies have focused on the trauma experienced by soldiers and civilians, saying very little about the mental strain endured by their healers. Acton & Potter seek to understand the subjective experiences of British, American and Canadian doctors, nurses, and other medical workers by studying personal accounts contained in letters, diaries and memoirs, both published and unpublished, and in weblogs. Offering an interdisciplinary understanding across a large chronological sweep of both the medical experience and the literary history of war, Working a World of Hurt demonstrates that while these narratives are testaments to the suffering of combatants, they also bear witness to the trauma of the healers themselves whose responses range from psychological and physical breakdown to stoical resilience and pride in their efforts to assuage the wounds of war.
importance of such ‘stories [as] self-contained accounts
in which an author attempts to explain the meaning of an experience
both to him- or herself and to others … Storytelling is, thus, simultaneously reflective and rhetorical.’60 Reading these diaries, letters and
memoirs from a multidisciplinary perspective that draws on psychological approaches to war experience alongside life-writing theory and a
literary-critical close reading of the texts offers a route into the subjective experience which cannot be reached through an objective analysis
of medical history. Moreover
infant’s body by rubbing and stroking. A prominent theme in regimens
was also ensuring babies were contented and their passions were not
roused: distress could cause illness or death.
In addition to vernacular medical texts, this chapter also draws on a
group of sources which have been termed ‘life-writing’ – that is, family
correspondence, diaries and journals – which allow the historian to
access the ways in which prescription and practice interacted. This is a
difficult task. The very nature of the time immediately after birth, in
which the mother was
This book explores whether early modern people cared about their health, and what
did it mean to lead a healthy life in Italy and England. According to the
Galenic-Hippocratic tradition, 'preservative' medicine was one of the
three central pillars of the physician's art. Through a range of textual
evidence, images and material artefacts, the book documents the profound impact
which ideas about healthy living had on daily practices as well as on
intellectual life and the material world in Italy and England. Staying healthy
and health conservation was understood as depending on the careful management of
the six 'Non-Naturals': the air one breathed, food and drink,
excretions, sleep, exercise and repose, and the 'passions of the
soul'. The book provides fresh evidence about the centrality of the
Non-Naturals in relation to groups whose health has not yet been investigated in
works about prevention: babies, women and convalescents. Pregnancy constituted a
frequent physical state for many women of the early modern European aristocracy.
The emphasis on motion and rest, cleansing the body, and improving the mental
and spiritual states made a difference for the aristocratic woman's success
in the trade of frequent pregnancy and childbirth. Preventive advice was not
undifferentiated, nor simply articulated by individual complexion. Examining the
roles of the Non-Naturals, the book provides a more holistic view of
convalescent care. It also deals with the paradoxical nature of perceptions
about the Neapolitan environment and the way in which its airs were seen to
affect human bodies and health.
densities of rhetorical, literary, ethical, political,
and cultural dimensions’.39 In some ways they appear to argue that
the value of autobiography – certainly its ‘truth value’ – goes beyond
that of other historical sources. However, they also identify numerous
threats to historical accuracy in lifewriting. Memoirists often present
their accounts as histories witnessed from particular perspectives, but
their writings go way beyond the mere describing of a remembered
past; they also perform ‘rhetorical acts’.40 In their war memoirs, nurses
are giving voice to their own
’s Tale: Bearing
Witness to a Modern War (London: Penguin, 1998).
3 Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson have observed that life-writing is, in itself, a
‘performative act’: Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography:
A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 2010): 61. See also their Chapter 3: 63–102.
4 See, for example: Henry Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines
(New York: Longmans, Green, 1901 ); Henry Rider Haggard, She
(London: Harper and Bros, 1886). G. A. Henty wrote over 100 adventure stories, with
parish registers. Recent work by Adam Smyth has shown the many ways
in which parish registers were a genre of lifewriting, a central part of a
Protestant means to ‘record and remember the dead’ following the abolition
of purgatory, a written form of communal memory.59 Smyth sees registers as
dramatically inclusive; he emphasises the attention paid to marginal people
who were often given a more detailed description or greater textual space
than respectable parishioners; and he underlines the ways that registers
responded to the high mortality of plague by linking
the excitement of journeys
‘into the unknown’ – none more so than Helen Dore Boylston, a
young nurse with the Harvard Unit, who spent the last two years of
the war on the Western Front and the remainder of her lifewriting
about the adventure of nursing.
Boylston was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1895,
when the United States of America was at the height of its pioneering
American nurses in Europe
powers. Looking both eastwards to the sophistication and style of
fin-de-siècle Europe and westwards towards a half-tamed wilderness,
, ‘(Author)ity abroad:
The lifewriting of colonial nurses’, International Journal of Nursing Studies
48 (2011): 1162.
143 Summers, Angels and Citizens, 150.
144 Lucy Bland, ‘White women and men of colour: Miscegenation fears in
Britain after the Great War,’ Gender and History 17, 1 (April 2005): 29–61.
Bland argues that if sexual relations between white men and black women
were ‘unacceptable’, those between black men and white women were
‘totally reprehensible’. Bland, ‘White women and men of colour’, 31.
145 Kara Dixon Vuic, ‘Wartime nursing