A Critical Analysis of Florence Nightingale:
|The Lady with the Lamp|
The essay is divided in five parts each of which deals with different aspects of her life from different perspectives. The first passage focuses more upon Florence Nightingale’s inward life, her character and mind. This passage also depicts the earlier stages of her life when she was preparing herself to choose the profession of a nurse. Born of a well-to-do family, Florence Nightingale was brought up with all the advantages of aristocratic life. While her sisters and cousins were busy in dinner-parties, dances and finding suitable partner for marriage, her craving was quite different. Strachey writes, “She would think of nothing but how to satisfy that singular craving of hers to be doing something” (p.121). Her lovers had been to her “an added burden and a mockery” (P.123). She was able brush aside all the allurements and temptations of life with disdain and loathing. Thus she suppressed, according to Strachey, “the most powerful and the profoundest of all the instincts of humanity” (p.123). But the suppression of this powerful instinct transformed her into a megalomaniac, autocratic, dominating lady with a strong and persisting desire of “doing something.” This also gave her energy to face and overcome numerous difficulties in her profession as nursing was regarded as “a peculiarly disreputable” (p.121) profession at that time.
The second passage describes Florence’s activities in the Army hospital at Scutari. Upon arriving at Scutari she found the hospital in a deplorable condition without the basic facilities needed for the patients (p.120). She used her own resources and connections to provide them with the basic facilities. Her sympathy and affection touched the hearts of the patients and infused new hopes into those who had lost their hopes in life. Sometimes her efforts rescued those who had been considered as beyond curable by the doctor. Soon she became an idol mong the patients. Strachey writes: “A passionate idolatry among the men: they kissed her shadow as it passed”(p.137). But there was other side of this delicate angelic lady which was known to the surgeons and other staff working under her instruction in the Scutari Hospital. Strachey writes: “Beneath her cool and calm demeanour lurked fierce and passionate fires…the high deliberation in the scope of the capacious brow, the sign of power in the dominating curve of the thin nose, and the traces of a harsh and dangerous temper – something peevish,something mocking, and yet something precise – the small and delicate mouth” (p.137). This is with her fierce dominating nature she brought order out of chaos with strict method and stern discipline. After all days’ restraints and reserve, she poured out all her pent up energies in writing letters and which she filled with recommendations, suggestion and criticism at night. She also used her suppressed energies to find the faults of her officials and criticise them with fierce sarcasm and ridicule. Strachey writes: “…her pen, in the virulence of its volubility, would rush on to the discussion of individuals, to the denunciation of an incompetent surgeon or the ridicule of self-sufficient nurse. Her sarcasm searched the ranks of the officials with the deadly and unsparing precision of a machine gun” (p.139). Strachey also mentioned that she respected none. Even her vituperation descended upon her most well-wisher friend Sidney Herbert with whom she was once engaged in temporary quarrel. After gaining much popularity Miss Nightingale returned to England.
In the fourth passage, Strachey sardonically portrays her adventure in the philosophic and spiritual realm after her flawless victory in the physical world of action. Strachey writes:
The final passage depicts the last years of her life. In this period, she, according to Strachey, was gradually being transformed from the “thin, angular woman, with her haughty eye and her aerid mouth” (p.177) to a rounded fat lady smiling all day long. Strachey writes, “The brain which had been steeled at Scutari was indeed, literally, growing soft” (p.177).