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

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, 244 p. ISBN: 978-0-19-873783-4
Thierry Goater
Bibliographical reference

Holly Furneaux, Military Men of Feeling: Emotion, Touch, and Masculinity in the Crimean War, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, 244 p. ISBN: 978-0-19-873783-4

Full text

1Military Men of Feeling is a stimulating book at the intersection of ‘war and peace studies, Victorian studies, and the history of emotion’ (vii). After her Queer Dickens: Erotics, Families, Masculinities (Oxford University Press, 2009) Holly Furneaux further explores the issue of masculinity. Military Men of Feeling examines ‘the relationships between manliness, militarism, and emotion’ (3), considering the popularity of the ‘good soldier’ in the mid-Victorian period and more precisely within the context of the Crimean War, ‘the first “total war”’, according to Orlando Figes (3).

2The book takes into account a great variety of material. While the first three chapters deal with texts by novelists of the period, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley or Charlotte Yonge, the last three sections focus on unstudied material ‘produced by those directly involved in the Crimean War, soldiers, their families, and nurses’ (3). The latter ‘documents’ consist of letters as well as artefacts (photographs, sketches, small objects sent in letters, etc.), which allow Furneaux to bring the great history to life through anonymous individuals’ small stories.

3Military Men of Feeling studies representations of soldiers’ experiences of touch and emotion. This is one of the most original aspects of the book. The author claims that affects play an essential role in human existence and world affairs. Relying on the work of Elaine Scarry, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick or Judith Butler in particular, she sheds light on the lives of militaries, their physical and moral sufferings, their empathy towards one another whether they were soldiers or officers, allies or enemies, their adoption of regiment children, their taking part in activities such as sewing or quilting. Another great merit of the book consists in showing how the representations of the Crimean War and of the military man of feeling in particular challenge ideas about gender roles, social classes, military hierarchy, heroism and the notion of war itself. All these questions gave rise to passionate debates in the mid-nineteenth century. For instance, masculinity, heroism and gentility are revisited in Two Years Ago, a novel in which Kingsley presents Major Campbell as the embodiment of ‘a typical mid-Victorian combination of strength and delicacy’ (81), or in ‘Seven Poor Travellers’, a story in which Dickens represents the relation full of gentleness and gentility between Theophile, a French soldier, and Bebelle, an orphan girl, or in the narratives or pictures of militaries providing nursing to one another or performing domestic tasks usually assigned to women.

4However, soldier nursing had its limits as is well highlighted in the last chapter of the book, which considers disjunction between the wealth of ameliorative narratives of physically gentle military men of all ranks and the decidedly unreparative reputation that has stuck to soldier orderlies as brutal and drunken’ (193). Furneaux shows how the military man of feeling helped conceal the inadequacies of the British army’s medical system, which were more and more strongly denounced. She also underlines the ambiguities in the representations of Queen Victoria or Florence Nightingale, which contributed to maintaining gender polarities and social demarcations.

5As a matter of fact, the figure of the man of feeling as a whole is fraught with ambivalence. On the one hand, it draws attention to the worst aspects of the war and gives rise to much uneasiness. The Crimean War is often described as the first media war and the press did not refrain from reporting on the failures of government and army administration and management. On the other hand, it partakes in ‘ameliorative’ representations of war, of its violence, of the sufferings experienced by soldiers as well as their families, hence the use the army and the government made of the military man of feeling for propaganda purposes. Furneaux is fully aware of such pitfalls. As she introduces her subject she makes a point of defining ‘a method of paranoid/reparative reading’ which she borrows from Sedgwick and which she keeps referring to throughout her book. That approach allows her to subtly examine a material that ‘simultaneously critiques and romanticizes war’ (25).

6Another quality of the book lies in its sense of historical continuity. In her introduction Furneaux evokes the tradition of the military man of feeling from the Antiquity to the 1800s, mentioning Homer’s Iliad, Virgil’s Aeneid as well as Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison, Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, Henry Mackenzie’s Man of Feeling of course but also James Hogg’s ‘The Adventures of Captain John Lochy’ or Walter Scott’s Waverley. Further down in the book she mentions Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘Drummer Hodge’ about the Boer wars or she draws parallels with the First and Second World Wars but also with contemporary conflicts like the ones in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, thereby showing that questions about the relation between feeling and action or the ethics of an emotional response to war, which were debated in the Victorian period, are still crucial issues today.

7This is a well-researched book that relies on numerous and various primary and secondary sources. It provides both general analyses and close readings. The examinations of the letters military men sent to their families, of the sketches or objects they often contained, like for instance Audley Lempriere’s letters to his family, are most stimulating. As for Thomas William Wood’s painting, Portrait of Private Thomas Walker, reproduced on the front page of the book and representing a wounded soldier quilting in his hospital bed, it gives Holly Furneaux the opportunity to make a brilliant analysis. Military Men of Feeling is an important contribution to Victorian studies, war and peace studies, gender studies as well as affect studies.

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Electronic reference

Thierry Goater, « Holly Furneaux, Military Men of Feeling: Emotion, Touch, and Masculinity in the Crimean War », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [Online], 85 Printemps | 2017, Online since 21 March 2017, connection on 24 February 2018. URL :

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Licence Creative Commons
Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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