Borden, Mary


American writer and nurse who wrote about her nursing experiences in World Wars I and II. Mary Borden, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, was born in Chicago. She began her nursing career in France working for the French Red Cross in 1914. At her own expense, Borden equipped and ran a mobile surgical hospital along the French-Swiss border. For her medical effort, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government. In March 1918, she married Edward Spears, the head of the British Military Mission in France.

After the war, she turned to writing. She published a novel, Flamingo, in 1928. She then wrote about her experiences in the war in her 1929 book, The Forbidden Zone. The tone of Forbidden Zone is pessimistic, and the accounts in her collection are to be taken as interpretations of events rather than factual reports. Bor-den’s writing employed modernist styles, including free movement between fiction, poetry, and prose. Her narrator downplays her own achievements and abilities.

In Borden’s writing, "No Man’s Land" is inhabited by a select few women. Accounts written by nurses like Borden refuted the idea that only soldiers could write an authoritative account of the war. Scholars praised Borden’s writing as brilliant and as a form of important historical documentation. Borden’s work is typical of the chaotic influence of the war’s new technology and of the experimental art employed by women out of a desire to be innovative. In "Conspiracy," one of the essays in Forbidden Zone, Borden argues that the war changed the balance between male and female, with women suddenly holding power at the expense of men. Nurses were partly guilty for causing pain and breaking men’s bodies, a symbol of the fragmentation evident in modernist literature. Women were stripped of their own identity and forced to take on one that was more akin to that of an animal. Men were literally emasculated, and she often uses the metaphor of X-rays peering into their bodies.

In 1940, Borden returned to nursing creating a mobile hospital in France. Her 1946 Journey down a Blind Alley, considered to be her autobiography, described her work without supplies in a casino that had been converted into a hospital and her work at the frontline. She explored the political difficulties that came with her status as the wife of a British official and revealed her growing frustration with the French, whom she accused of collaborating with the Germans. She also attacked the personal ambition, marketing, and hypocrisy of the medical profession. Finally, U.S. volunteers received her scorn. She derided them as merely in the war out of curiosity and "sensation seeking."

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