Lisa Schwarzbaum
September 03, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Nightingales

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Gillian Gill
publisher
Ballantine
genre
Nonfiction, Biography

We gave it an A

The plural form of Nightingale is key to the innovation of this marvelous and engrossing study. By twining the story of Florence (the famous 19th-century health-care reformer) with that of her daunting parents, neurasthenic older sister, and extended network of formidably spiky relatives, Gillian Gill in Nightingales does more than offer a fresh biography of the lady called the Bird by the soldiers she nursed in the Crimea; she also creates a dynamic snapshot of (privileged) Victorian society. The author’s digressions are as valuable as the through line of her premise: that in resisting the blandishments of a ”good” marriage match, Nightingale instinctively saved herself from a kind of incarceration of the soul. And that the price was so great that FN took to her room in her late 30s, soul intact, for 50 years.

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