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Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss… (original 2004; edition 2005)

by Gillian Gill

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Member:MaureenLong
Title:Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale
Authors:Gillian Gill
Info:Random House Trade Paperbacks (2005), Paperback, 592 pages
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Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale by Gillian Gill (2004)

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A terrific biography of Florence Nightingale and her family, from a feminist perspective. It’s the kind of detailed biography I love, with little side trips into politics of the day, family history, and military detail.
At the age of 17 FN had a religious experience that convinced her she was to have a life of service to God. From that point, she sought to be trained as a nurse or in the administration of an institution like a hospital.
As one would expect, her upper middle class family tried to keep her at home and close within the family circle. Much of this book is about Florence’s power struggles with her parents and with other members of her large extended family. For a young woman of her class to become a nurse Just Quite Simply Wasn't Done. But by the time she had taken charge of a home for retired governesses, and then was asked by the government to lead a party of nurses to the army hospital in Turkey, her parents and sister were proud of her, and continued to support her in extraordinary ways for the rest of her life. Her father supported her financially so that she could live independently, unusual for the time even among well to do people. Unmarried daughters were expected to live with their parents.
Because her family was wealthy and socially popular, when she went to the Crimea she had the ears of many powerful men. Eventually it was her skill at organization, more so than her nursing skill (which was considerable) that enabled her to make changes in the way the wounded in the Crimea were treated, and in how the Army dealt with its casualties.
She spend two years in the Army hospital, then for the next fifty two years was virtually a recluse, rarely leaving her home. But during that time she was busy writing, advising, influencing. That is her true legacy.
She had many close women friends but made women enemies, too; she could be clumsy at leading women. Gill makes the interesting observation that most women in this era had little experience of working in collaboration and tended to identify themselves as individuals rather than colleagues. “Discipline, collegiality, and team spirit were not qualities society asked of its women.”
The author is British and gets in some good snarky remarks. “History, as opposed to imaginative literature, is based on evidence, and no one has produced any evidence that Florence Nightingale ever engaged in sexual relations with women. This I assume to be the standard working definition of a lesbian.” About Richard Monckton Milnes, said to have been the man who Florence loved but sacrificed to her vocation (Gill refutes this): “In Turkey, Milnes was invited to a pasha’s dinner party at which the guests were entertained by Greek dancing boys dressed as women. In a letter to his mother, Richard noted that the dance became increasingly ‘lascivious and violent.’ [Biographer] Pope-Hennessy summarizes: ‘The dance ended with the Turkish guests getting thoroughly involved with the Greek dancing boys. Milnes who had had too much to eat said he dropped off to sleep.’ As a fellow biographer, I can only admire the delicacy of the expression ‘thoroughly involved’ and the positioning of the word ‘said.’”
She’s written biographies of Mary Baker Eddy and Agatha Christie and just did a book about Victoria and Albert. I’ll be looking for these. ( )
  piemouth | May 16, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345451880, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:10 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A portrait of Florence Nightingale and her family describes life growing up in a prosperous Victorian English family, her determination to follow her own path in life, and the personal cost for her and her family.

(summary from another edition)

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