Florence Nightingale, otherwise known as The Lady with the Lamp, was a nurse during the Crimean War, and is called the founder of modern nursing based on her work afterwards. I was ambivalent when I came over this biography by chance on Librivox. I wanted to read something non-fiction for non-fiction November, and searching Librivox’s archive found this audio-book. I grew up with the glorifying Florence Nightingale, the woman that changed the world. I later learned that she wasn’t as good a nurse as the story has said. Though I did remember that she invented the pie-chart. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when starting this biography published only three years after her death, an almost 500-pages monster which is only volume 1 (the other book is just as big).
Men and women are devided, in relation to their papers, into hoarders and scatterers. Miss Nightingale was a hoarder, (Preface)
Cook did a wonderful job using Nightingale’s letters as his source for information. Going back to when she started to write at age 10 we get to know a young girl, growing up quite privilege as a member of the upper-middle class. Yet we see someone who is impatient. Who feels she has a higher calling and want to do something. We meet a very intellectual girl who is caught and brought down by the fact that she happens to be a woman. Cook refers to Nightingale as being “in a cage”. Now this might be risky in any other biography, putting words into people’s mouth, but here he points to her letters. Even though he is very clearly interpreting her, as anyone will do, by letting her letters, her words, be front and centre we can judge for ourselves how correct his interpretation is.
I think some have every reason for not marrying, and that for these it is much better to educate the children who are already in the world and can’t be got out of it, than to bring more into it. (Florence Nightingale, chapter VII)
I also feel I know the story of Nightingale better. I get why she got the reputation she did as The Lady with the Lamp, despite all the mistakes she made. In that sense, she reminded me a lot of Princess Diana, and the mythos and cult that surrounded her. It’s not the good you do, but that people feel that you genuinely care about them. I also got a view of all the good she genuinely did (I mean besides making people feel good about themselves). I learned more about why she is considered the mother of modern nursing. There were nurses before her, she gets her training from them. What Nightingale did was research and organisation, she was a scientist and reformer. That’s what you need to be the mother of modern nursing, which is a profession based on scientific research.
The book talks about how her work influenced the people around her. Politicians and doctors, but also her sister who was suddenly stuck as a leader of the Nightingale fond and overshadowed by her younger sister. It was so interesting to read about these two sisters who loved one another, but didn’t understand one another.
Volume 1 covers from her childhood up until 1861. Part of the book follows chronological aspects of her life, like childhood and Crimean war. Other chapters are generally talking about a certain topic like her faith or illness. I think this mix goes very well together, since he is careful not to spoil anything for himself. If I could have one complaint is that I think he was a bit too kind to her regarding the Crimean war. What happened there really was a disaster, and apparently, there was an inquest afterwards something I didn’t know. I understand his counter arguments, but I think he explains away too much. This might have been why he doesn’t go into so much detail of what happened over there as I would have liked. I’m not saying he doesn’t talk about it, I just would have liked to have a bit more about the conditions and the research she did during the Crimean. Since that’s where the fame and myth of Nightingale, but also the mother of modern nursing, got her start. The book was good at exposing the myth, but honoring the woman.
Volume 2, here I come.