Responding to an admirer who had written to ask after her health, Florence Nightingale once wrote, “I am an incurable invalid, entirely a prisoner of my bed (except during a periodical migration) and overwhelmed with business.” This book queries the complex set of assumptions underlying Nightingale's statement and many others like it. It investigates the capacity of the nineteenth-century invalid to embody productivity and at the same time be emblematic of fatigue and waste. Unique in its capacity to denote at once experience of sickness and response to it, invalidism in its nineteenth-century manifestations simultaneously shaped and was shaped by just such determinants of (or influences on) identity as those delineated in this book. The book considers the conditions under which confinement could be experienced as liberating, asking: if incurable but still at work, relegated to bed but still capable of travel, was the invalid something of an impostor? It examines the peculiar and distinctive features of nineteenth-century culture that made it not only possible but relatively common for people to identify themselves or others as invalids.
Keywords: Florence Nightingale, invalidism, identity, invalids, productivity, fatigue, waste, confinement, sickness