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Nursing Politics and the Body in First World War Life-Writing

Bonnerjee, Samraghni (2018) Nursing Politics and the Body in First World War Life-Writing. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Abstract

This thesis examines the diaries and retrospective memoirs of trained and volunteer Anglophone nurses of the First World War. In the chapters that follow, I read their published and unpublished (from archival sources) writings to analyses their political affiliations for volunteering in war-work, and offer an affective reading of representations of bodies in their writings. The thesis is rooted in the genre of Life-Writing and it draws on a cultural and emotional history of war, as well as a Medical Humanities approach. The thesis begins by arguing that Florence Nightingale was the author of the genre of the war nurse’s life-writing. It reads her personal writings during her training at Kaiserswerth and during the Crimean War to trace the legacy and influence of her cultural image among the nurses of the First World War. The second chapter then analyses the motivations of nurses to volunteer for the First World War and reveals the various ‘kinds’ of the war nurse: the patriotic, the romantic, the pacifist, and the feminist. It reads memoirs published during and after the War to demonstrate that the reasons nurses volunteered to serve in the War were myriad and complicated and should be looked at from positions of “inferiority complex” and opportunity to finally participate in public life and actively contribute to the war effort from which they had been barred because of their gender. Both metaphorically and physically, the nurses dwelt in no man’s land: barred from fighting, and distinct from the Home Front, their work bridged the gap between these two fronts. The hospitals where they worked were transformed into “second battlefields”, and in the third chapter, I examine the effect this other fighting has on their own bodies. The chapter reads how they represent their own bodies in ink as they counter the shock of actual bodily contact with wounded, vulnerable, naked male bodies and how they embed touch and knowledge within the subtext of desire. It then analyses the long-lasting effects of this work on their bodies and minds, by reading instances of physical breakdown, sicknesses, and war neuroses in the writings of the nurses. Moving on from their own bodies, the thesis then considers the representations of the wounded bodies of the soldiers in the writings of the nurses. The fourth chapter draws on the grotesque and Foucauldian gaze as a means of reading the representations of mutilated bodies, faces, and hideous wounds of the soldiers, ultimately offering an affective reading of the helplessness faced by the nurses witnessing physical pain experienced by the soldiers. It considers the question of how the nurses looked at mutilated, disfigured, dead bodies, and represented the full range of emotions and experiences arising out of that viewing. The final chapter of the thesis examines the encounter of the nurses with the body of the wounded colonised soldier. It close-reads the removal of nurses from British hospitals treating Indian soldiers, through the intersections of gender, race, and class, laying bare fears of miscegenation, eugenics, and degeneracy. It then reads writings by British and Australian nurses in France, Mesopotamia and India, to lay bare an infantilising attitude in their treatment of their non-white patients, and racial discrimination in their administration of medical care.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > School of English (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Ms Samraghni Bonnerjee
Date Deposited: 26 Nov 2018 16:23
Last Modified: 26 Nov 2018 16:23
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/21945

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