War in the West

Doing it Better Than Mother

Liane Aukin looks at the private life of Florence Nightingale, and at how her strained relationship with her mother shaped her destiny.

'For every one of my 18,000 children I have expended more motherly feeling and action in a week than my mother has expended on me in 37 years.'

The Nurse has long been the butt of jokes and the object of sexual fantasies; the target of denigration as well as of idealisation. At one end of the spectrum she is Dominatrix, at the other - Angel. Current attitudes to nursing reveal the traces of old ambivalences about the function of nursing and the notions of femininity embodied in the figure of 'nurse'. Many of the ambiguities inscribed in the modern image of 'nurse' were enacted and deeply embodied in the life and psyche of the profession's founding figure, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910).

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