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Embodied sympathy and divine detachment in Crimean War medical poetry.

In October 1854, the London Times attempted to solicit donations, both monetary and material, for soldiers wounded in the Crimean War:
   Every man of common modesty must feel, not exactly ashamed of
   himself, but somehow rather smaller than usual, when he reads the
   strange and terrible news of the war. Here we are sitting by our
   firesides, devouring the morning paper in luxurious solitude,
   lazily tracing the path of conquest on one of ARROWSMITH'S
   maps ... to us war is a spectacle, and if we happen to have no
   friends engaged in it, a very amusing spectacle. (1)

While this language was used to elicit sympathy for thesoldiers' suffering (the "terrible news"), therhetoric of distance, of spatial remove, nonetheless strikes the reader.Every man would feel spatially different, "smaller thanusual," when he reads the "strange" news of thewar. "Strange" again makes the war alien or other, andthis effect is further accentuated by the image of the reader"lazily tracing the path of conquest". Here, thedifference between "conquest", a verb implying speed, andthe "lazy" tracing, is palpable. Finally, the editorialends with an image of "spectacle," analogous to a theaterproduction, one the viewer can watch, and react to, from adistance.

While Mary Favret's recent (2009) War at a Distance:Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime argues for the Napoleonicwars as the first instance of "war at a distance," I arguethat the discourse of detachment, or "abstraction," wasmore pronounced in the Crimean War, the first widespread conflictinvolving the use of anesthesia, in this case chloroform. (2) The lackof visible suffering allowed medical professionals and newspaper readersto detach from patients' pain. Exploring medical poems--poemswritten about patients, surgeons, and, increasingly, nurses--allows usto access this larger debate within a medical setting. This essay arguesthat readers detached from the pain of these soldiers by reading poetrythat mythologized surgeons, nuns, and mostly Florence Nightingale, themystical "lady with the lamp." Thus myth, in this casemyth associated with divinity, becomes an important category ofabstraction, one not addressed by Favret in her Romantic-era book.

In these abstract poems, sympathy becomes not sympathy for theindividual patient, or even for the individual caretaker, but for arepresentative of a higher power. Ironically, this sympathy results in adetachment from the patients themselves. Through the lens of both thespasmodic and the religiously-tinged poems depicting nurses and surgeonsin the war, I argue that these poems grapple with the limits of sympathyand the dangers of a particular type of detachment--a spiritual"rising above" worldly circumstances.

War and Medicine in the Crimea

While earlier medical poems were written by doctors, surgeons,or even patients, none of the poems I have found were written by anyoneinvolved in, or even in physical proximity to, the Crimean War. (3) Thissense of distance was only increased by the confusion regarding the aimsof the Crimean War in general, and of the British Medical Officespecifically. While military historians have covered this groundextensively, it suffices here to say that what began as an argumentbetween French Catholics and Greek and Russian Orthodox over theownership of the keys to the Nativity in Bethlehem exploded into alarger concern over Russia's (read Eastern) domination of Western(read Christian) territories. Ironically, it was Russia's 1853encroachment on non-Christian Turkey which sparked the war itself.Unlike the roughly concurrent American Civil War, the British fought afairly unknown enemy in a very far-away place. People read, mostly inthe London Times, of the Battle of Inkermann, fought in the dense fog,and the battle of Balaklava, a decidedly un-heroic loss latermemorialized and re-formulated by Alfred Lord Tennyson's"Charge of the Light Brigade." (4)

Like the political situation, the medical one wasbureaucratically dense and confusing. At the end of 1855, a number ofsurgeons arrived to minister to the British army, but they served undera Medical Office that had not changed since 1810. Headed by aDirector-General, Dr. Andrew Smith, the hierarchy also includedInspector-Generals of hospitals, Deputy-Inspectors, First-classSurgeons, Second-class Surgeons (or regimental surgeons), and AssistantSurgeons. (5) Although their salaries were low and they were expected tooperate in the trenches or even on the battlefield, the requirements forserving were competitive and exclusive. An assistant surgeon positionrequired a diploma from the Royal College of Surgeons in England,Scotland, or Ireland; attendance at a "hospital ofcelebrity" for eighteen months; and an A.B. or A.M. (the AmericanBachelor's or Master's degree) in addition to the Young men had to be single and between 21 and 24 years of age.(6)

Yet for all that requirements were stringent, most of theserecruits were not trained in military medicine. According to WilliamFergusson M.D., Inspector General of Military Hospitals,
   The position of the young physicians ... was pitiable and
   ridiculous ... Their station in society ... proclaimed them to be a
   class far superior to what the army had commonly received.... To
   one of them I was attached in the first campaign. He could read
   Hippocrates in the original Greek, but he did not know the grain
   scales and weights when he saw them; and to have touched a bleeding
   wound, even while the sound of the cannon was booming in our ears,
   would have been to lose caste ... To have placed such a man over
   the heads of all who were experienced in military medicine and
   disease, while he was not fit for any work, was as stupid and gross
   an abuse as could have been imposed on an army. (7) 

Again, notions of class difference leap from the page (readingHippocrates is contrasted with "grain scales" and"weights"), and Fergusson's choice of"caste" in his discussion of an imperialist war is aninteresting one. The lack of "experience" in"military medicine and disease" proved costly when an 1854Cholera outbreak depleted the army's supplies. Following this, inthe winter of 1854-55, the cold Russian winter wreaked havoc on thetroops, causing a large number of deaths from cold and illness.(8)

Stephanie Markovits has thoroughly explored the role of themedia in communicating information about the Crimean War.Simultaneously, papers like the Times simultaneously attempted sympathyfor the soldiers' situation (asking for the public to send moneyand linens), but helped, as in the beginning example, to maintain thatsense of distance from war. Also, with advances in anesthesia, mainlythe use of chloroform, the wounded body could no longer feel, leadingmany to feel detachedfrom it.

Spasmodic Poetry: The Rhythm of Humanity

As biographer Martha Westwater notes, Sydney Dobell himselffelt that his sonnets on the war lacked "adequacy"precisely because of their removal (or detachment) from the war itself.9 Nonetheless, Dobell attempts to construct sympathy with his charactersthrough bodily images and varied rhythms, the rhythms that earned himand a small group of poets the title of the "spasmodics."In "The Army Surgeon," included in the 1855 Sonnets on theWar, Dobell connects the wounded soldiers with organic waste, birds, andeven a "melting pot" of pain:
   Over that breathing waste of friends and foes,
   The wounded and the dying, hour by hour,--
   In will a thousand, yet but one in power,--
   He labours thro' the red and groaning day.
   The fearful moorland where the myriads lay
   Moved as a moving field of mangled worms.
   And as a raw brood, orphaned in the storms,
   Thrust up their heads if the wind bend a spray
   Above them, but when the bare branch performs
   No sweet parental office, sink away
   With hopeless chirp of woe, so as he goes
   Around his feet in clamorous agony
   They rise and fall; and all the seething plain
   Bubbles a cauldron vast of many-coloured pain. (10) 

The rhythm of this sonnet remains rather consistently iambicpentameter, and this pattern corresponds with the "breathingwaste" of "friends and foes." One is meant toenvision soldiers on both sides connecting in their labored, yetconsistent, breathing, their physiological apparatus. Again and again,the soldiers are connected: "in will a thousand, and yet one inpower." Like any organic creation, the soldiers move together,groan together, as a "moving field of mangled worms." Thebreathing, the power shared by the men, is also shared by all life,including the lowest organic forms. To reinstate this parallel, Dobellbrings in the metaphor of baby birds "orphaned in thestorm," "ris[ing] and fall[ing]" almostrhythmically around the surgeon's feet. Aside from the surgeon,strangely detached from the emotion and rhythm of this poem, the plainbecomes more and more unified, like a soup assuming the many flavors ofthe soldiers' individual sufferings.

Dobell's adjective, "many coloured,"reinstates the Newtonian resonance between the color spectrum, music,and organic vibrations; as far back as Isaac Newton, philosophers hadargued that the color spectrum and musical octave (both related to therhythm of forms like poetry) "could discover the fundamental'harmonic' principles that structured all physicalreality, including the brains and nervous systems of livingorganisms." (11) What if the vibrations of the material world allshared a rhythmic similarity, a similarity that could connect allpeople? Dobell's poem espouses a similar belief in the unifyingpower of the human body. *

This interest in vibrations and rhythm also resonates inDobell's auditory poems that rely on a cacophony of voices toreplicate the confusion of the wartime wounded:
   "See to my brother, Doctor; I have lain
   All day against his heart; it is warm there;
   This stiffness is a trance; he lives! I swear,--
   I swear he lives!" "Good doctor, tell my ain
   Auld mother;"--but his pale lips moved in vain.
   "Doctor, when you were little Master John,
   I left the old place, you will see it again.
   Tell my poor Father,--turn down the wood-lane
   Beyond the home-field--cross the stepping stone
   To the white cottage, with the garden-gate--
   O God!"--He died. "Doctor, when I am gone
   Send this to England." "Doctor, look upon
   A countryman!" "Devant mon Chef? Ma foi!"
   "Oui, il est blesse beaucoup plus que moi."

The first speaker significantly has lain against hiscomrade's "heart" the entire day and feels itswarmth. Dobell employs a typically spasmodic rhythm (he lives! Iswear--I swear he lives!) to replace the "stiffness" ofthe soldier with some kind of rhythmic regularity. In this poem, dashespunctuate the commonplace with the sublime; "tell my ain/ Auldmother" is cut off by "his pale lips moved invain," and the long instructions to report to anothersoldier's father are suddenly punctuated by "Hedied." Significantly, the connection across "friends andfoes" remains a strong one, physiological and mortal similaritieswinning out over national allegiances. Directly following the line"Doctor, look upon a countryman!," Dobell gives us a pairof lines in French, translated as "Behind my head? Faith! Yes, hehurts much more than I." The soldiers remain connected by theirbodily similarities, but this is an instance of sympathy not just forbut also among the soldiers, as the French soldier tells the doctor toattend to his comrade first.

For Sydney Dobell, this selfless resignation for the sake ofanother typifies an active Christianity.* As Mason writes,"Dobell connected his interest in art, and specifically poetry,to his religious belief, both expressive of a pulsative and convulsiveemotion that put the individual in a correct state of mind tocontemplate God." (12) Again, this "emotion" isboth psychological--it allows one to "contemplateGod"--and physiological, resembling the systolic and diastolicback-and-forth of the human heartbeat. In his Thoughts on Art,Philosophy, and Religion, Dobell examines the time between heartbeatsand concludes that
   The interval of time between every healthy heart-throb is
   precisely equal to the throb itself. Physiology has already
   shown that other recognizable organic motions of the body--
   for instance, the action of the lungs--bear definite relations
   to this motion of the heart: and in all modesty I would suggest
   to the great Physiologists here present whether there be not
   reason to infer that every portion of the incessant vital action
   of the system is keeping measured dance to that great beater of
   time? (13) 

The phrase "vital action" is important here, asit intimates not only a system or pattern produced by God, but also aliving, vital fluid that connects these systems to the rest of theorganic world. The soldiers need not know one another; through theirvery embodiedness, they share a common heartbeat, a heartbeat thatDobell attempted to communicate through poetry. Through physiologicalsimilarities, Dobell attempted to elicit sympathy for those far away,both geographically and socio-economically.

Yet despite the attempts of poets like Dobell, the body quicklybroke down as a site for connection during this war: a war fought faraway geographically as well as emotionally.

Transcending War

Most readers of the London Times would have conceived ofsoldiers as
   ... miserable. It was expected that army recruits would be drawn
   from the lowest social classes in the British Isles, and that they
   could be held in line only by the toughest discipline. The soldier
   was regarded and treated alternately as a criminal to be punished
   with flogging and as a child whose every action should be watched
   and guarded. (14) 

According to Nightingale herself in Studies in Nursing,"It should never be forgotten that the soldier is a very peculiarindividual, old and stern as is his trade ... the soldier is what,amidst all his faults, he has been made by the habit and spirit ofdiscipline ... relax discipline, and in proportion as you do so, thereremains of the soldier a being with as much or more of the brute thanthe man." (15) Along similar lines, Nightingale felt threatenedby anything animalistic, any "uncivilized" behavior.Although Nightingale complains about soldiers and nurses drinking, MaryPoovey has convincingly argued that "drinking" here couldbe a euphemism for many unwanted sexual behaviorisms:"Remember," Nightingale writes, "there is such athing as quiet drinking, as well as noisy drinking ... It is best thatthe nurse's door should command the view of those who come in ourout of the lavatory, and in and out of the water-closet. This wholesection ... is both ugly and important." (16) The nurse becomesan agent of discipline, policing soldiers as they use the water-closetor the lavatory, looking out for any signs of animalistic behaviors.According to Sally Mitchell, this was not unique to Nightingale;""Discipline was harsh. Flogging was the punishment [forsoldiers] even for minor offenses until 1881." (17) Clearly, thisemphasis on discipline and morality implies a moral lack, or even aninfantilization, that allows for the transcendence of doctors andnurses.

While the Times and other media venues gave accounts ofindividual soldiers' experiences, the majority of poetry readerspreferred not to focus on the soldiers or even their bodily suffering.Florence Nightingale was (and has since been) portrayed by the media(and by herself) as an angelic individual selflessly catering to commonsoldiers. Yet this portrayal is a rhetorical avenue intended to elevatethe medical professional by constructing patients as lower. Thus it isthe doctor/nurse who transcends over the patient, assuming amythological status to gain reverence from the reader. Most poemsdealing with surgeons or nurses during the Crimean War focus mostly onthe caretaker, using patients simply as props to evince thatcaretaker's divine nature. (18) Thus the patients fade from thepicture, leaving readers with a heroic figure to emulate ormythologize.

Over and over again, Crimean War poems emphasize thedivine--the otherwordly or even iconic--elements of doctors, surgeons,and nurses to help the reader detach from the senseless lower-classsuffering of war. As Thomas Rommel, the only literary critic to havestudied Crimean war poems as a genre, argues, "death andsuffering are almost universally portrayed from a distance." (19)Isa Craig-Knox (1831-1903) wrote a poem about the Sisters of Mercy, theCatholic French sisters who, especially before the entrance ofNightingale and her crew, helped attend to wounded soldiers. Of notehere is the focus on the Sisters as not only closer to the divine, butalso of a higher social class:
   The Abbess near the altar knelt, and led the praying
   High-born she was, and beautiful, a lady of the land:
   "Sisters, now let us pray," she said, "for all
   prayers who need,
   For each soul that shall pass away, for each heart
   that shall bleed,
   Whether it be of friend or foe, of true or hostile

While this section of "The Sisters of Mercy"seems to emphasize a universal sympathy--"whether it be friend orfoe, of true or hostile creed"--class also becomes importanthere. Craig-Knox finds it important to tell her readers that the Abbessis "high-born," "a lady of the land." As anindividual of high class and sensibility, she can reach a detachmentfrom human suffering because she can transcend the material limits ofthe body.

Craig-Knox's poem alternates between sympathy for thesoldiers' bodily pain and a desire to detach from that painthrough a "higher" connection:
   And now they search the valley through, among the
   heaps of slain,
   Guided by cries of agony, and groans of mortal pain,
   To where, amid his comrades dead, the wounded
   soldier lay,
   Who marvell'd in life's parting trance what angel
   forms were they,
   Shedding a light upon his face like mercy's holy ray.

Again, some of her imagery parallels the spasmodicpoets' tactics: we see the "heaps of slain," and wehear "cries of agony" and "groans of mortalpain." Unlike the detached, anesthesized patient, these soldiersphysiologically evince their pain, forcing the Sisters and, throughthem, the readers, to feel sympathy for them. Yet the divine imageryalso pervades this poem; the sisters are "angel forms,"and the light of their lamps shines like "mercy's holyray."

In her 1855 War Lyrics, Arabella Shore reiterates much of thisimagery in her poem, "The Good Physician," written for aphysician who died while serving soldiers on the battlefield:
   Thou God's true soldier! take thy place with those
   Fall'n children of renown!
   No swordsman fighting off" a crowd of foes,
   Toiled for a braver crown
   Than thou, meek Duty's knight, who on thine arms lay'st

The very first line apostrophizes the physician, paradoxicallycalling him "God's true soldier" and asking him tojoin other "fall'n children of renown." PerhapsShore here refers to saints, or to other healers who have likewisesacrificed for their patients. Perhaps she refers here to Christ, oftencalled the "Good Physician." (20) In line with the Christimagery, we are also given the image of the "bravercrown," again juxtaposed with the image of the doctor as asoldier: "meek Duty's knight." The crown recallsthe crown of thorns worn by a suffering Jesus, and the soldier imagerylinks the doctor to the medieval chivalric tradition. Both lift thedoctor into the realm of mythology, allowing for the reader to detachfrom suffering.

One of the images often associated with healers is that ofresurrection, or rebirth, and we see this in the following stanza:
   All day from Death's dumb heaps dost thou untomb
   Life that but breathes in sighs,
   Amongst departing souls, through night's long gloom,
   Move thy true ministries,
   Where none sleep save the dead, and wide wake danger's eyes.

The physician (like Jesus with Lazarus) "untombs"life from "death's dumb heaps"; here,Shore's alliteration serves to emphasize the heaviness of death,followed by the higher, more hopeful sound of the word"untomb." Yet the physical realities of war are notforgotten; "untomb" rhymes here with"gloom," and life still only "breathes insighs." Although the physician here is capable of creatingdetachment, Shore still works to balance that with sympathy for thedying soldiers.

However, this sympathy for dying soldiers erodes as we approachthe large set of poems written in tribute to Nightingale, the"lady with the lamp." Here, the divine elements ofNightingale's character trump any physiological connection withsoldiers, representing almost complete detachment from the war itself.The notion of the lamp itself has Biblical connotations; Proverbs 6:23uses this metaphor to provide another representation of discipline andinstruction: "For the commandment is a lamp; and the law islight; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life" (KingJames version). This notion of discipline and"instruction" reverberates over and over again in bothtextual and graphic representations of Nightingale. Harriet Martineau,writing a very premature obituary in 1856, writes that "we thinkof her dressing wounds, bringing wine and food, carrying the lampthrough miles of sick soldiers in the middle of the night, noting everyface, and answering the appeal of every eye as she passed. We think ofher ... stocking her coffee-house with luxuries and innocent pleasures,to draw the soldiers away from poisonous drinks and mischief." 21While Martineau's rhetoric has her "noting everyface" and "answering every appeal," we quicklytransition to the notion of Nightingale as an instructor ordisciplinarian, providing "innocent" pleasures and"draw[ing] the soldiers away from poisonous drinks andmischief." With her lamp of instruction, she elevates thesoldiers above their brute status and achieves (in the eyes of thereader) a sort of divine presence. Here, for instance, is one of themany archetypal images of Nightingale:

Aside from the uniform and the lamp brightly shining in the(spiritual) darkness, we see a few beds, some stocked withroughly-sketched patients. However, the patients are not important here:what catches the viewer's attention is Nightingale herself.

Many works of art focus on Florence Nightingale, and color isoften the avenue by which they highlight her "divinity."In "Florence Nightingale Receiving the Wounded atScutari," Jerry Barrett uses the light thrown on Nightingaleherself to invest her with and a sense of other-worldliness:

Here, light shines on Florence Nightingale's face,illuminating her amidst a group of dark, undemarcated soldiers. Thislight connects her with the bright blue sea and sky, both symbols ofrebirth and salvation; the blue color also importantly ties FlorenceNightingale to the image of the Virgin Mary, whose signature color wasblue.

Poetry about Florence Nightingale almost uniformly emphasizesher divinity and her other-worldly aspects; not surprisingly, theseconform with Victorian gender ideals like virginity and purity. In SirEdward Arnold's 1854 "Florence Nightingale," thepoet attempts to justify his clumsy rhyming by elevating Nightingaleherself above such concerns:
   If on this verse of mine
   Those eyes shall ever shine,
   Whereto sore-wounded men have looked for life,
   Think not that for a rhyme,
   Nor yet to fit the time,
   I name thy name,--true Victress in this strife!
   But let it serve to say
   That, when we kneel to pray,
   Prayers rise for thee thine ear shall never know;
   And that thy gallant deed,
   For God, and for our need,
   Is in all hearts, as deep as love can go. 

Nightingale's eyes, like her famed lamp, would"shine" on Arnold's verse, and England's("we") actions are equally religious: the masses"kneel to pray" and "prayers rise" aboveearth, to the otherworldly realm where Nightingale exists. Incidentally,Arnold chooses a Petrarchan sonnet for his rhymes, convenientlyconflating Nightingale with Petrarch's also other-worldly Laura.In this case, the other world is a Christian heaven, and this discoursecontinues in the rest of the poem:
   Oh great heart! raised like city on a hill;
   Oh watcher! worn and pale,
   Good Florence Nightingale,
   Thanks, loving thanks, for thy large work and will!
   England is glad of thee--
   Christ, for thy charity,
   Take thee to joy when hand and heart are still! 

While Arnold does give us a few physiologicaldetails--"worn and pale"--these only correspond to thedelicate invalidism expected of Victorian women. He also mentionsChrist's reward for Nightingale's "charity."Most interesting in this stanza is the allusion to her heart"raised like a city on a hill." Apart from the spatialmetaphor, again placing Nightingale above ordinary humans, thisreferences Jesus in Matthew 5:14, when he tells his listeners,"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hillcannot be hidden." Again, images of light and elevation raiseNightingale above the body, allowing for Arnold's readers to look(literally) up to her and detach from wartime suffering.

Martin Tupper Farquhar's sonnet "To FlorenceNightingale" also resounds with hagiographical and Mariologicalimagery.
   If ever saint obey'd the great command,
   Leave all and follow Me; if ever heart
   Acted in love the high and holy part
   Of good Samaritan from land to land,--
   That praise is thine, O Lady! and thou art
   Truly the crown of Christian womanhood,
   With tender eye and ministering hand
   Going about like Jesus doing good
   Among the sick and dying: what a scene
   Of wounds and writhing pain and hideous throes
   For thee to dwell in,--O thou martyr-Queen,
   Calm dove of peace amid war's vulture woes,
   Soothing their fury by thy looks serene,
   And lulling agony to deep repose! 

Again, the sonnet is Petrarchan, with the realities of the waronly coming in at the last sestet. Farquhar immediately aligns her witha "saint," a "high" and "holy""Good Samaritan." Ironically, Nightingale's aviddesire to leave her repressive family and obtain an occupation (seeCassandra) is here read as obeisance to Jesus's "greatcommand." With more poetical finesse than Arnold, Farquhar hereenjambs the line "Going about like Jesus doing Good" withthe beginning of the sestet, "among the sick and dying."This only intensifies the discord between Nightingale's saintlypersona and the gruesome realities of war. Farquhar does leave hismetaphysical musings and mentions "wounds and writhing pain andhideous throes"; the alliteration as well as long vowel soundshere create an almost onotomatopoeic effect, placing us back into therealm of the spasmodics. Yet this only lasts for a second, asNightingale's influence wins out over such bodily things. A"calm dove ofpeace," she "soothes" theirfury and "lulls" agony away. In addition to the Biblicalallusion about the "dove," the Nightingale figure"soothes" and "lulls" soldiers like a motherwould her child. By allowing the reader to focus on Nightingale almostexclusively, and to place her in a metaphysical space with angels,saints, and Christ, Farquhar enables his readers to detach from thewrithing soldiers and to co-exist with Nightingale in an otherworldlyspace.

Sydney Dobell and Alexander Smith, in their 1855 Sonnets on theWar, employ similar strategies to portray Florence Nightingale asdivine, above human suffering. (22) Smith's title, "MissNightingale," emphasizes the fact that she never married,preferring a profession over the Victorian "Angel of theHouse" role. This discourse of purity and virginity can, ofcourse, also tie Nightingale back to a virginal Christ ... or to hismother:
   How must the soldier's tearful heart expand
   Who from a long and obscure dream of pain,--
   His foeman's frown imprinted in his brain,--
   Wakes to thy healing face and dewy hand!
   When this great noise hath rolled from off the land,
   When all those fallen Englishmen of ours
   Have bloomed and faded in Crimean flowers,
   Thy perfect charity unsoiled shall stand.
   Some pitying student of a nobler age,
   Lingering o'er this year's half-forgotten page,
   Shall see its beauty smiling over there;
   Surprised to tears his beating heart he stills,
   Like one who finds among Athenian hills
   A Temple like a lily white and fair. 

A variation on a Petrarchan sonnet, this poem does, inspasmodic fashion, incorporate physiological imagery: thesoldier's tearful heart "expanding" contrasts withthe reader's "beating heart" which"stills" when reading of Nightingale's exploits. Insome ways, this tactic connects Smith's temporally and spatiallyremoved reader to the suffering soldier.

Nonetheless, the adoration for Nightingale is clearly morecentral in this poem. Interestingly, the "fallenEnglishmen" "bloomed and faded in Crimean flowers"have become mere organic matter, soil, but Nightingale's"perfect charity unsoiled shall stand." Although somematernal imagery comes in here--her "healing face" and"dewy hand" provide succor--the chief image of this sonnetis one of purity, as accentuated by the last line. Among the ruins ofAthens, Nightingale is a Temple (a devotional site) "like a lilywhite and fair." Not coincidentally, the lily in Christianmythology stands for chastity and virtue and is most often associatedwith the Virgin Mary. Also not coincidentally, Victorians during thistime engaged in a debate about whether the Virgin Mary could be viewedas an iconic Victorian woman: "virginal,""sinless," and a "model mother." 23 Here,Nightingale takes on all of these qualities, replacing her own lack of afamily with a pure, sinless mothering of anonymous soldiers. (24) And itis she, not the soldiers, who remain sinless and, more importantly,sympathized-with.

Today, almost two centuries after the events of the CrimeanWar, we still want to sympathize with the bodily experiences ofsoldiers, reading books like Tim O'Brien's The Things theyCarried or watching movies like The Hurt Locker in an attempt tosympathize with wars that were--and are--still "at adistance." We watch news footage of injured troops, oftenaccompanied by haunting music, and wonder how they might feel. And, yet,often, the distance is just too great, and the soldier's bodysimply cannot be a site for sympathy. Pain--especially otherpeople's pain--is terribly difficult to put into words or even onscreen. Thus we, like countless Crimean War poets, look outside of thesuffering soldiers to mythical figures: caretakers, leaders, purpleheart recipients, and other heroes imbued with divine qualities. In ourliterature, movies, and news footage, we look for the heroic, themore-than-human, to detach from the suffering inherent in the spectacleof war.

Works Cited

Allen, Richard C. David Hartley on Human Nature. Albany, NY:SUNY Press, 1999. Arnold, Edwin. Poems National and Non-oriental,1888.

Barrett, Jerry. Florence Nightingale Receiving the Wounded atScutari. Oil on canvas, 16 in. x 24 in., circa 1856. Primary Collection.National Portrait Gallery, London.

Baylen, Joseph, and Alan Conway, eds. Soldier-Surgeon: TheCrimean War Letters of Dr. Douglas A. Reid, 1855-56. Knoxville:University of Tennessee Press, 1968.

Bostridge, Mark. Florence Nightingale: The Making of an Icon.New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Dobell, Sydney. The Poetical Works of Sydney Dobell. Edited byJohn Nichol. London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1875.

--. Thoughts on Art, Philosophy, and Religion: Selected fromthe Unpublished Papers of Sydney Dobell. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.,1876.

"Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal."Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal 68 (1847): 256.

Favret, Mary. War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making ofModern Wartime. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Fergusson, William. Notes and Recollections of a ProfessionalLife, by the Late William Fergusson, Esq. M.D. Inspector General ofMilitary Hospitals. Edited by James Fergusson. London: Brown, Green, andLongmans, 1846.

Florence Nightingale, February 24, 1855. Martin Collection.National Portrait Gallery, London. Gordon, Donald. The Moment of Power:Britain's Imperial Epoch. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1970.Print.

Herringer, Carol. Victorians and the Virgin Mary: Religion andGender in England, 1830-1885. Manchester, England: Manchester UniversityPress, 2008.

"Leader," The London Times Oct. 1854: n. pag.Print.

Markovits, Stephanie. The Crimean War in the BritishImagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Mitchell, Sally. Daily Life in Victorian England. Westport,Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2009.

Poovey, Mary. Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work ofGender in Mid-Victorian England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1988.

Rommel, Thomas. "Florence Nightingale and the Role ofthe Individual Soldier." In War and the Cultural Construction ofIdentities in Britain, edited by Barbara Korte, 109-123. New York:Rodopi, 2002.

Westwater, Martha. The Spasmodic Career of Sydney Dobell.London: University Press of America, 1992.

Tupper, Martin Farquhar. "Florence Nightingale,"from Three Hundred Sonnets. 1860. ChadwykHealey Literature Online, TheCollege of Charleston. Accessed July 24, 2010.

* In 1857, Dobell delivered a lecture on the "Nature ofPoetry" in Queen Street Hall, a building that belonged to thewell-respected Royal College of Physicians. Clearly, Dobell chose thislocation, and this audience, out of a desire to emphasize what hebelieved was the physiological, sympathetic nature of poetry itself. Inthis lecture, Dobell referred to acoustical experiments (clearly knownto his audience) by Ernst Chladni (1756-1827) upon a horizontal plate ofglass strewn with sand. When Chladni applied a violin bow to the plate,it not only produced a "peculiar sound" but also"exhibited a corresponding arrangement of the sand"(Dobell, Thoughts on Art, Philosophy, and Religion: Selected from theUnpublished Papers of Sydney Dobell. 24). This "arrangement ofthe sand," Dobell claimed, connected sound and sight in auniversal pattern, much like poetry itself.

* For more about Dobell's religious background, see EmmaMason, "Rhythmic Numinousness: Sydney Dobell and 'TheChurch'", in Victorian Poetry 42:4.


(1.) "Leader," The London Times, October1854.

(2.) Favret argues that modern warfare--war "at adistance"--produces either abstractions, "an increasingdistance from the human body"; or a numbness, a "defeat ofhuman responsiveness" (Favret 10). Yet Favret also outlines athird option, a "poetic or aesthetic response, a response thatstrives to give form to feeling" (Favret 10). She alignsabstractions with a lack of temporality, a move toward the historicalpast as well as the future, and she aligns her aesthetic response withthe discourse of affect. I find these terms productive, especially whenmapped onto the medical poetry of the Crimean War: that is, poetrywritten about doctors, surgeons, and, increasingly, nurses.

(3.) I examine these in my forthcoming manuscript regardingeighteenth- and nineteenth-century medical poems and their negotiationsbetween sympathy and detachment.

(4.) Stephanie Markovits, The Crimean War in the BritishImagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 7-8.

(5.) Joseph Baylen and Alan Conway, eds., Soldier-Surgeon: TheCrimean War Letters of Dr. Douglas A. Reid, 1855-56 (Knoxville:University of Tennessee Press, 1968), 11.

(6.) Ibid., 13-14.

(7.) William Fergusson, Notes and Recollections of aProfessional Life, by the Late William Fergusson, Esq. M.D. InspectorGeneral of Military Hospitals., ed. James Fergusson (London: Brown,Green, and Longmans, 1846), 57-58.

(8.) Markovits, The Crimean Warin the British Imagination,8.

(9.) Martha Westwater, The Spasmodic Career of Sydney Dobell(London: University Press of America, 1992), 103.

(10.) Sydney Dobell, The Poetical Works of Sydney Dobell, ed,John Nichol. (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1875), 106.

(11.) Richard C Allen, David Hartley on Human Nature (Albany,NY: SUNY Press, 1999), 102.

(12.) Emma Mason, "Rhythmic Numinousness: Sydney Dobelland 'The Church,'" Victorian Poetry 42:4 (2004),539.

(13.) Sydney Dobell, Thoughts on Art, Philosophy, and Religion:Selected from the Unpublished Papers of Sydney Dobell (London: Smith,Elder, and Co., 1876), 25.

(14.) Donald Gordon, The Moment of Power: Britain'sImperial Epoch (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1970), 75.

(15.) Mary Poovey, Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work ofGender in Mid-Victorian England (Chicago: The University of ChicagoPress, 1988), 181.

(16.) Qtd. In Poovey 181.

(17.) Mitchell, Daily Life in Victorian England (Westport, CT:Greenwood Press, 2009), 279.

(18.) For the purposes of this paper, I have intentionally leftout spasmodic poems, poems that attempted to connect to wounded soldiersby proposing an intrinsic bodily, rhythmic connection among all humanbeings. For more information about the spasmodics, please see VictorianPoetry's special issue (42:4) on the topic.

(19.) Thomas Rommel, "Florence Nightingale and the Roleof the Individual Soldier," in War and the Cultural Constructionof Identities in Britain, ed. Barbara Korte (New York: Rodopi, 2002),110.

(20.) "Christ is the Good Physician. There is no diseaseHe cannot heal; no sin He cannot remove; no trouble He cannot help. Heis the Balm of Gilead, the Great Physician who has never yet failed toheal all the spiritual maladies of every soul that has come unto Him infaith and prayer," James H. Augey, accessed via

(21.) Poovey, Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work ofGender in Mid-Victorian England, 164.

(22.) While one edition of these sonnets lists Dobell as theprimary author, a pamphlet edition (the only one which contains thispoem) is by Alexander Smith and "the author of Balder." Itmay be possible that this poem, "Florence Nightingale" waswritten by Smith and only placed in this edition (London: David Bogue,Fleet Street). I will thus refer to Smith as the author here.

(23.) Carol Herringer, Victorians and the Virgin Mary: religionand gender in England, 1830-1885 (Manchester, England: ManchesterUniversity Press, 2008), 20.

(24.) In Victorians and the Virgin Mary, Carol Herringerconvincingly argues that Anglo-Catholics transposed Victorian qualitiesonto the relatively obscure Biblical figure. Because the Catholic Virginwas so prominent and thwarted the Victorian public/private spheredistinction, the ideals of motherhood were increasingly emphasized. JohnHenry Newman famously argued that the idea "of St. Mary havingchildren after our Lord is horrible.the idea was monstrous"Ibid., 47. Herringer goes on to comment that "the Catholic beliefthat Mary was ever-virgin was congruent in some ways with their temporalculture's high valuation of female virginity" (49). In hisrecent biography, Mark Bostridge also notes that, especially sinceNightingale flouted traditional gender roles by purposely not marryingand by leaving her over-protective family, it was important torecuperate her image as one confirming "woman's acceptanceof a religious-based role, ministering to the sick and wounded inimitation of Christ." Mark Bostridge, Florence Nightingale: TheMaking of an Icon (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008),275.

KATHLEEN BERES ROGERS is an assistant professor of Englishliterature at the College of Charleston, where she works primarily onRomantic era literature and medicine, as well as on narratives ofillness. She is currently writing a monograph about obsession in theRomantic era and plans to include a chapter related to the sublimity ofwar (at a distance).
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Author:Rogers, Kathleen Beres
Publication:War, Literature & The Arts
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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