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Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott

Hospital Sketches (1863)

by Louisa May Alcott

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3701729,266 (3.86)101
  1. 00
    Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (Bjace)
    Bjace: War nursing, different war. Alcott was a briefly a nurse, Brittain's life was consumed by the War and its tragedy. Alcott infuses tragedy with heart-warming pluck; Brittain allows you to experience the full weight of devastation.
  2. 00
    A Country Doctor's Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov (Stbalbach)

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“Hospital Sketches” essentially reads as a tragic comedy. Here we have Louisa May Alcott’s semi-autobiographical account of her times as a nurse and the events leading up to her securing her position at the hospital.

I’d been in two minds whether to read this text for some time, thinking it would be too morbid and depressing, but before finishing the first page I knew I’d misjudged the book by its title. Of course there are upsetting scenes where soldiers are so severely wounded that they have a short period of agony before death releases them, yet despite this, the senses of hope and bravery prevent the mood from becoming depressing, while the upbeat narration eliminates any feelings of morbidity.

The author – or technically speaking, the “narrator”, who’s really Ms Alcott in disguise – sums up my above feelings in this quote:

“Certainly, nothing was set down in malice, and to the serious-minded party who objected to a tone of levity in some portions of the Sketches, I can only say that it is a part of my religion to look well after the cheerfulnesses of life, and let the dismals shift for themselves.”

The light tone is most apparent in the scenes before the want-to-be nurse starts work at the hospital. The nonsense she has to endure to get from A to B and back again is a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing. I don’t know how much of this really happened to Ms Alcott, though I suspect most if not all are true recollections. Either way, the frustration she goes through is retold in a humorous way, causing me to laugh aloud more than once.

A particular funny part is when the nurse-to-be is about to sleep whilst sailing and she’s concerned about the vessel going down during the night. What finally alleviates her troubled mind is the sight of an overweight lady, because bearing in mind that “fat girls float best”, she (the future nurse) would make a beeline for the lady and hold onto her if the boat went down.

An insightful and amusing read. ( )
  PhilSyphe | Dec 23, 2014 |
Now I'm on a bit of an Alcott jaunt, I delved into this one. I'd always heard about it but never seen a copy. I read it off my old pal, Project Gutenberg, and it was a bit suprising; a jaunty fictionalized account of Alcott's experiences as a nurse during the Civil War. She writes as a New England spinster (Tribulation Periwinkle, I kid you not) and it is quite light-spirited and even feisty at times. Suprising but very interesting and easy to read.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
You really get a sense of Alcott’s voice here, and of her time. She’s got a little Florence Nightengale going, and a little of the class clown. She describes Washington DC in the Civil War era, and she’s a compassionate and aware observer. ( )
  astrologerjenny | Apr 24, 2013 |
This book made me laugh. I know that's not what you're expecting to hear, and it wasn't what I was expecting to do, but nevertheless, even though I felt I was doing something wrong, or reading it the wrong way, I did laugh. Louisa May Alcott is extremely witty in this book, in the way she describes settings, people, and interactions. It had sad parts, but it wasn't the tear jerker I thought it would be. For me this was an easy read, which I wasn't expecting either, but I really liked it. I read it as a follow up to the Glory Cloak, and I woud recommend to anyone who liked that book. I would also recommend it to anyone who thinks Louisa May Alcott is dry and hard to read - this was a kicker. ( )
  E.J | Apr 3, 2013 |
Louisa May Alcott wrote many fictionalized books and stories about her life and family, the most famous of which is [Little Women]. An abolitionist and feminist, the adventurous Alcott eagerly joined other young women in offering to be a nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War. In late 1862, Alcott was sent to the Union Hospital in Georgetown, D.C. for a three month assignment. True to her nature, she wrote long, witty letters home to her family, in which she describes her duties as an untrained nurse, the soldiers she meets, and the nature of the treatment available to the wounded. Unfortunately, Alcott caught typhoid fever and became very ill. Despite her protests, she was taken home after only six weeks of service. Her letters were collected and published later that year, then republished with additions in 1869.

Since the letters were written to family and never intended to be published, Alcott received some initial criticism for her sometimes comic tone. She responded beautifully with this remark in 1869:

To those who have objected to a "tone of levity" in some portions of the sketches, I desire to say that the wish to make the best of every thing, and send home cheerful reports even from the saddest of scenes, an army hospital, probably produced the impression of levity upon those who have never know the sharp contrasts of the tragic and the comic in such a life.

This ability to see these "sharp contrasts of the tragic and the comic" during times of duress elevates the letters from simple documentation to a nuanced view of the precariousness of life and the spirit of defiance required to repeatedly face death. The letters also reflect a caring yet direct young woman, who despite her enlightened education, was a product of her times. ( )
  labfs39 | Dec 7, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0918222788, Paperback)

This is Alcott's account of her experiences as a nurse during the Civil War in a Washington D.C. hospital. The sketches are taken "from letters hastily written in the few leisure moments of a very busy life," and so maintain the immediacy and force of their author.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:35 -0400)

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An army nurse's true account of her experience during the Civil War.

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