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Aukin, L. (2003). Florence Nightingale and the Myth of the Virgin Mother. Free Associations, 10(1):44-83.

(2003). Free Associations, 10(1):44-83

Florence Nightingale and the Myth of the Virgin Mother

Liane Aukin

Nurses have long been the butt of jokes and the objects of sexual fantasies; the targets of neediness and of denigration as well as of idealization. The Nurse stands at one end of the spectrum as dominatrix, at the other as angel. Nursing is a profession which has come under much scrutiny lately and in the debates about it, which reveal both our denigration of the profession and our dependence on it, one can see the traces of old ambivalence about the function of nursing and the notions of femininity embodied in the figure of ‘nurse’. Many of the ambivalences are evident in our attitudes towards nursing and many of the ambiguities inscribed in the modern image of ‘nurse’ were enacted and deeply embodied in the life and psyche of the professions' founding figure. To examine in retrospect the life and psyche of a historical figure inevitably involves speculation. This essay is an attempt to examine the events and conscious and unconscious forces that contributed to one woman's great project. In particular, I will try to show how a failure to achieve the depressive position prevents the capacity to mourn committing the subject to a lifetime of manic reparation.

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