The two women discussed in this section, Lady Florentia Sale and Frances “Fanny” Duberly, experienced the harsh realities of war first-hand. Both were actively involved in British military conflicts during the nineteenth century.
While Fanny Duberly inserted herself into the fray of battle during the Crimean War (1853-1856), Lady Sale fought alongside her husband and son-in-law and was held in captivity during the disastrous First Afghan War (1838-1843). Also unlike Lady Sale, Duberly entered the war not as a captive aristocrat but instead as the middle-class wife of a mid-ranking British officer.
Both women documented their wartime experiences in diaries that were later published in Britain. Lady Sale’s A Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan, 1841-42 (1843) was hugely popular in the wake of her captivity and rescue, while Duberly’s Journal Kept During the Russian War: From the Departure of the Army from England in April 1854, to the Fall of Sebastopol (1855) was not nearly as well-received by audiences back home in England.
During the nineteenth century, Lady Sale was heralded as a heroine of the First Afghan War. Although, Fanny Duberly never actually claims any correlation between her diary and Lady Sale’s diary, which was published 12 years earlier, the similarities between the two documents often are striking. Duberly’s diary contains enough moments, which read much like Sale’s own experience, that contemporary audiences rejected her work as overly derivative and lacking authenticity. By the advent of the twentieth century, Duberly’s reputation had been so tarnished by rumor and falsehoods about her time spent in the Crimea that she was portrayed by Jill Bennett in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) as a scheming harlot, who has an affair with her husband’s superior officer in order to manipulate and influence the powerful Lieutenant General. Fanny Duberly may have been many things, but it is extremely unlikely she ever acted the way she is portrayed in film.