Monday, 2 June 2008

Flit on, cheering angel*


I recorded and subsequently watched the BBC programme about the Lady with the Lamp last night. My earliest introduction to this heroine was through a Ladybird book from 1959.

ladybird flo2

As far as I was concerned, when I read it as a child, she was good Christian woman who went to a dreadful place and worked hard as a nurse to save those who were suffering in an appalling war. And as my family were, by and large, pro-Christian, pro-women, pro-nurses, and very anti-war, she ticked all the right boxes for me. But never having been good with blood and nasty smells, I didn't feel a personal sense of calling to hospital work.

When Hugh Small's scholarly, and meticulously researched, book [Avenging Angel] came out 10 years ago, I learned lots more. avenging angel She was a gifted mathematician [tick another box] but after the War was deeply concerned that so many died OFF the battlefield not ON it. On her return to England in 1857, she persuaded the Queen that a Government Commission was needed. Florence's statistical research convinced her that actually, her own Hospital at Scutari was a major contributory factor in many of the deaths due to poor hygiene and misunderstanding of basic sanitation.

The Government suppressed the reports [afraid of the public mood if the "Angel of Scutari" was shown to be flawed in any way] but Florence was overcome with remorse, and spent the next 50 years of her life trying to atone for what she saw as her personal failure to care for these men. She developed protocols and principles for hospital organisation, any of which are still in use today.

She was finally awarded the Order Of Merit [the first woman ever to receive it] in 1907 - FIFTY years after the War!!

Last night's programme was billed as 'ground-breaking' and 'finally revealing the truth' - but in fact did not say anything that Hugh Small had not revealed ten years before. Bizarrely, his work was not given any mention at all in the credits. According to the reports, the producer hadn't read Small's work in depth, but had gleaned a lot from the internet' - since when did the Internet become a "primary source" for historians? Truth according to Wikipedia? I think not!! I am a little disappointed with Norman Stone - and the BBC for not following its own code regarding credits.

Two other comments about last night's production - when Florence shuts herself away for a week, eating nothing, and finally allows her father to see her [excellently played by Michael Pennington] - why why why was she clearly wearing [smudged] mascara??

roy hudd It was also interesting to see the way that the 'public' view of Flo was portrayed by use of the music Hall. Roy Hudd -a very sprightly 72 year old, as well as an expert on the Music Hall - took the part of a 'Barker' and sang many of the contemporary songs.

I still maintain my original position, adopted in my youth - she WAS a good woman, seeking to serve God. She made mistakes - who doesn't? - but was honest enough to admit to them, and did all she could to put them right. And she was undoubtedly incredibly brave. [* the title is a popular Victorian anagram]

"The Nightingale Pledge"
I solemnly pledge myself before God and presence of this assembly;
To pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully.
I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous
and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug.
I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession
and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping, and family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling.
With loyalty will I endeavour to aid the physician in his work,
and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care."

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