The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale

Book - 2004
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Florence Nightingale was for a time the most famous woman in Britain--if not the world. We know her today primarily as a saintly character, perhaps as a heroic reformer of Britain's health-care system. The reality is more involved and far more fascinating. In an utterly beguiling narrative that reads like the best Victorian fiction, acclaimed author Gillian Gill tells the story of this richly complex woman and her extraordinary family. Born to an adoring wealthy, cultivated father and a mother whose conventional facade concealed a surprisingly unfettered intelligence, Florence was connected by kinship or friendship to the cream of Victorian England's intellectual aristocracy. Though moving in a world of ease and privilege, the Nightingales came from solidly middle-class stock with deep traditions of hard work, natural curiosity, and moral clarity. So it should have come as no surprise to William Edward and Fanny Nightingale when their younger daughter, Florence, showed an early passion for helping others combined with a precocious bent for power. Far more problematic was Florence's inexplicable refusal to marry the well-connected Richard Monckton Milnes. As Gill so brilliantly shows, this matrimonial refusal was at once an act of religious dedication and a cry for her freedom--as a woman and as a leader. Florence's later insistence on traveling to the Crimea at the height of war to tend to wounded soldiers was all but incendiary--especially for her older sister, Parthenope, whose frustration at being in the shade of her more charismatic sibling often led to illness. Florence succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. But at the height of her celebrity, at the age of thirty-seven, she retired to her bedroom and remained there for most of the rest of her life, allowing visitors only by appointment. Combining biography, politics, social history, and consummate storytelling, Nightingales is a dazzling portrait of an amazing woman, her difficult but loving family, and the high Victorian era they so perfectly epitomized. Beautifully written, witty, and irresistible, Nightingales is truly a tour de force. From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher: New York : Ballantine Books, c2004
ISBN: 9780345451873
Branch Call Number: ANF 610.73092 GIL
Characteristics: xxiii, 535 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), map ; 25 cm


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Dec 05, 2015

Gill's scholarship is matched by a lovely novelistic style, making for a great read about a person much more fascinating than her myth. Gill traces Nightingale's ancestry for several generations, helping us understand her. She was also very much a product of her times--she couldn't, and didn't, go to the Crimea until her father gave permission. She was in her thirties! A brilliant woman, she was educated as a man would have been, got along with men better than with women, chose not to marry, and was ambitious from early childhood. It's not surprising that she was a "difficult" person as well as a war heroine and the most influential woman of her generation. Nightingale wrote 1000s of pages, only a few of which were published in her lifetime. Letters to family, Queen Victoria, soldiers' families, and friends; government reports; pamphlets; and other documents attempting to influence Army and health care reform remain hidden in archives and private collections all over the world. Gill says that within 5-10 years (i.e. 2009-2014), much of this material will be available to scholars online. Is it?

The book's too long to be manageable in large type. Maybe a good candidate for an e-book, as long as its end-notes are preserved. Many of them are long and important to the text.

Sep 07, 2015

Need larger print! e-book or LP?

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