This winter, the Gettysburg Compiler will be releasing weekly posts as part of a Mercy Monday feature that will cover issues of medical history, gender and race relations, historical memory, and other themes depicted in the new PBS series Mercy Street.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Lisa Wolfinger, the executive producer and co-creator of Mercy Street. She kindly agreed to be interviewed by the Gettysburg Compiler about her work on the series. Wolfinger also participated in a recent conversation on local public radio station WITF’s Smart Talk program alongside the CWI’s Jill Titus and Ian Isherwood. You can hear their discussion online at WITF’s website.
Lavery: What got you interested in working on a historical drama like Mercy Street?
Wolfinger: I majored in European History at Sussex University in England and have always been passionate about history. Fact is often more dramatic than anything we could invent. Early in my filmmaking career I was given the opportunity by History Channel to produce documentary specials about early American history and had little to no visual material to work with. So I had to find a new way to tell these stories within the confines of a documentary format and fell back on what I knew and that was drama. (I was very involved in theater in college.) Continue reading “Lisa Wolfinger, Executive Producer of PBS’s Mercy Street, Talks History and Memory”
In the first episode of the new PBS series Mercy Street, nurse Anne Hastings is seen applying a plaster cast to a wounded soldier’s bare legs before a captivated audience of surgeons and hospital workers. This action seems trivial today, even unquestionable, but as the show progressed and more scenes portrayed this seemingly insignificant concept of touch, of intimacy between a female nurse and her male patients, its true magnitude became apparent.
Sex was not a popular topic of discussion in Civil War Era America; Victorian society shunned intimacy between men and women and regarded intercourse solely as a means of reproducing and building families, a convention that led to the establishment of separate spheres. Women were expected to remain pure and chaste, while men were responsible for fighting off their intrinsic sexual instincts (both of these standards are sexist, of course, but that’s a story for another blog post), and interactions between the genders were meant to be courteous and, frankly, prudish. The publication of The Scarlet Letter in 1850 did not help this case as women became more apprehensive and fearful of the reactions they might receive; no woman wanted to be the subject of public scorn. Continue reading “Sexual Healing: Nurses, Gender, and Victorian Era Intimacy”
Warning: This show is probably not enjoyable for those with hemophobia. Also, if you like to view the war as a clear-cut conflict between two distinct ideologies, this show is not for you either.
I don’t know if it’s just me being cynical about public disinterest in history, but I was shocked to read that the premiere episode of PBS’ Mercy Street, titled “The New Nurse,” got 3.3 million viewers. Are there really that many people interested in Civil War Era history? There is a great chance that many people unintentionally left PBS on after Downton Abbey, but it wouldn’t shock me if they find themselves intentionally keeping it on again next week. The show was compelling and includes everything a drama should—intensity, romance, and controversy. Most importantly, though, I believe this show has the potential to significantly increase public interest in the Civil War and reveal to the public the true nature of the war.
The show is about a Civil War hospital operating in a mansion in Union-occupied Alexandria, Virginia. The producers certainly did not make this show to answer common questions about the Civil War, but rather to make people start thinking. No character’s belief in the show was left uncontested and many myths were broken. The topic of the show itself is daring, for it is not about the military history of the war, but rather the medical history mixed with civilian life. Continue reading “PBS’s Mercy Street Shows No Mercy to Traditionalists”