Military Men of Feeling: Emotion, Touch, and Masculinity in the Crimean War (2016) by Holly Furneaux

Oct 23, 2018 | Reviews

The jacket cover of Holly Furneaux’s book features a painting from 1856 by Thomas William Wood in which a young Private convalesces in a hospital bed during the Crimean War. The soldier passes the time with needle and thread, carefully stitching together triangles of fabric cut from military uniforms into an ornately designed quilt. There is no suggestion of bellicose masculine heroism in the image and little visible sign of the soldier’s injuries. Rather, the image depicts a moment of tranquillity, tactility, and quiet recuperation as the soldier excels at a task traditionally designated as feminine, domestic work. This image is representative not only of the central focus of Furneaux’s research, which examines the mid-Victorian cultural ideal of the “gentle soldier”, but also the style of the book itself. Military Men of Feeling features a patchwork of voices, narratives, texts, tropes, images and archives which are carefully assembled here to form a diverse and vivid picture of the Crimean soldier.

Furneaux writes that the “military man of feeling” embodies an important complication in a “received history of … military brutality.” More likely to be represented cooking meals, caring for wounded brothers-in-arms, or caring for the children of the family with whom he was billeted than chasing personal glory on the battlefield, Furneaux’s “gentle soldier” embodies a kind of mid-Victorian chivalry which privileges “battlefield care rather than the heroics of violence.” This book constitutes an important reassessment of mid-century gender ideals, with Furneaux charting a middle course between two narratives of Victorian manliness which have dominated masculinity studies since the emergence of the discipline as an offshoot of feminist scholarship in the 1990s. On the one hand, Furneaux challenges the “generally accepted trajectory towards a more explicitly aggressive masculinity” over the course of the nineteenth century, offering an alternative to increasingly jingoistic imperialist culture as a means of understanding military manliness. On the other hand, Furneaux’s military man of feeling is a development of the mid-Victorian ‘domestic male’ identified by John Tosh in A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England (2007). But where Tosh’s domestic male is created, conditioned, and understood via separate spheres ideology, Furneaux’s work collapses conventional understandings of the military as a strictly anti-domestic space. Rather, through its impressive collection of literary, journalistic and material evidence, the book makes an important case for a more complex understanding of military manliness in which warfare legitimizes compassionate male behaviour and valorises the role of the male carer without feminizing him.

Furneaux notes in her introduction that “war is many contradictory things”, and the military man of feeling emerges as a similarly complex figure. He becomes, Furneaux demonstrates, a locus for broader cultural questions about “the connections between manliness, violence, emotional eloquence, tactile care, and domesticity,” all of which are revisited over the course of the six main chapters of the volume. Furneaux does not shy away from the complexities and contradictions which underpin the cultural work of the gentle soldier, whose sacrifice for his country could be harnessed as part of wider calls for political representation, or whose care for battlefield children could be mobilized as part of a vilification of Britain’s enemies as child killers. My only slight qualm about the introductory section is that, when faced with such a rich matrix of ideas and approaches to this masculine archetype, the reader does begin to feel the omission of chapter summaries which would allow for a more secure understanding of the route to be taken through the colourful patchwork of material.

Chapters one and two are the most overtly rooted in traditional literary criticism and trace a cultural shift away from eighteenth-century traditions of militaristic masculinity embodied by “aristocratic officers following a code of glamour.” Representations of the gentle soldier become, for authors like Dickens, Kingsley and Thackeray, a way of addressing questions about national militarism, killing and wounding, class hierarchies, liberal sentiment, and Christian values.  Chapters three and four examine the familial frameworks through which masculinity is played out between soldiers, their dependants, and their loved ones back home.  The fourth chapter in particular, entitled ‘Family Feeling in the Crimea’, stands out for its opening anecdote about the death of Captain Audley Lampriere. Standing less than five feet tall and weighing just 7 stones 6 pounds during his military service, Lampriere was gravely wounded at Sebastopol and was carried from the battlefield by Colonel Thomas Graham Egerton. Egerton’s words – “they shall never take my child” – serve as a jumping off point for Furneaux to consider the personal and cultural power of soldierly sentiment between men who, like Egerton and Lampriere, had no blood connection. The Lampriere family notebook, compiled by the Captain’s sister to commemorate her brother’s experiences and death in the Crimea recurs throughout the second part of the book as an incredibly tactile object and a true archival gem.

Chapters five and six return with pleasing symmetry to the ideas captured in the jacket image of the convalescing soldier, examining male care-giving and the tactile experience of care and recuperation. Furneaux is particularly interested in the figure of the soldier orderly, a figure who has often been overshadowed by the monolithic mythology of Florence Nightingale and the image of the female Crimea nurse.

The true joy of this book is its cross-disciplinary energy. The end product of two prestigious AHRC research grants for Furneaux, Military Men of Feeling is an impressive showcase of archival labours, integrating discussion of material objects alongside more conventional literary analysis. Furneaux is particularly interested in the “stuff of war”, from letters and diaries, to bullets, blankets, and pressed flowers kept as mementoes of battle, repurposed as domestic objects, or sent home from Crimean battlefields as part of an important exchange of domestic objects and affections between soldiers and their families. Stylistically too it is remarkably unstuffy, with Furneaux not afraid to discuss her own emotional responses to the archives she is working with, or to draw parallels between Crimean voices and those of modern-day soldiers, veterans, war photographers, and civilian casualties of twenty-first century conflicts. As well as being an important resource for students and researchers of masculinity and the history of emotions, the book offers a timely intervention into war studies and questions of trauma, recovery and “the work of mourning” during the First World War centenary period.

The book ends with an Afterword in which Furneaux reflects on working with primary school students in schools near Audley Lampriere’s home to produce creative outputs inspired by the Crimea archives. Whilst the section continues the theme of personal, tactile responses to “the stuff of war” it also represents a marked shift in tone. I suspect the closing section addresses what is becoming an increasingly prominent impact agenda in modern scholarship. Furneaux deserves credit for her forthrightness in making her impact case study so explicit, whilst also making it feel like a continuation of the overarching themes and approaches of the volume as a whole. Ultimately, Military Men of Feeling, with its interdisciplinary focus and impact credentials, feels like a great example of how to present world class research in the age of the REF.