Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge

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The paperback of Mark Bostridge's seminal biography, slated to mark Florence Nightingale's 200th birthday, was published in the midst of a medical emergency that in a few days saw Nightingale hospitals set up and the Prime Minister spent three nights in intensive care at St. Thomas & # 39 ;, the original home of the Nightingale Nursing School.

The hardcover dates from 2008, when the ailing Margaret Thatcher herself became a legend: another woman in a man's world who got things done despite bureaucracy. In a cartoon reproduced in this book, the Iron Lady is shown as the lady with the lamp.

Drawing on vast amounts of unpublished material, including previously unseen family newspapers, Bostridge sheds new light on the most famous woman in the world of her day, aside from Queen Victoria and "one of the most iconic figures in modern British history". Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) is still a source of controversy today. Bostridge suggests, “She has been honored and admired, criticized and ridiculed. Most of the time it was misrepresented and misunderstood. “Its aim is to separate the woman and her legend.

The Crimean War, to a certain extent British Vietnam, was the first to be covered in detail by war correspondents as well as local artists and photographers. The horrors of the wards in Scutari and the new plumbing that Nightingale introduced quickly became famous.

Less known was the fact that their approach to nursing was way ahead of its time. For example, she understood the importance of preventive medicine; and her holistic methods, which included massage and psychological support, were tied to her spirituality: she believed that a soldier had a soul to save. A natural administrator and statistician, she invented her own methods of graphing statistics, like her color-coded "Coxcomb", to get her urgent message across to a political elite in London that was tired of wading through lengthy reports and tables of evidence .

Mark Bostridge, the author of Florence Nightingale, re-appeared to mark the bicentenary of her birthNightingale's later life was that of an invalid: she suffered from depression and suffered several serious illnesses, including chronic brucellosis. But this invalid life was marked by incessant, if physically limited, activity and as fascinating as the Scutari years. Her publications numbered more than 200, and not all of them related to nursing and the army. Recent research has shown that she commented on her own authorized version of the Bible in English, French, German, Italian, Greek, and occasionally Hebrew: Her father had tutored her privately so that she could hold her own with the leadership of Scholars of the Day.

The dual tracks of liberal Christianity and hospital administration were to shape their lives. After the Crimean War, she corresponded for years with the theologian Benjamin Jowett of Balliol College in Oxford and discussed how the Bible should be shortened for children. The result was the School and Children's Bible (1873) published by William Rogers, which is still in print today.

Florence was very much on the side of the liberals. Although nominally Anglican, their orientation was really rather non-conformist. Sick of the Church of England's party disputes, she took heterodox views on many aspects of the doctrine, including refusing to go into hellfire.

Her correspondence with Jowett was so extensive, and became so intimate and emotional, that he wanted to marry her at some point, and perhaps even suggested it to her. Noel Annan described the friendship growing when Jowett commented on three large volumes she had written: Suggestions for Thought. "He was impressed with her vitality, originality and her acidic comments on the religious and social life of the day," wrote Annan. “She corresponded with him and he wrote endless replies.

"Then instinct told him that if he kept responding to her inquiries and some of her orders – as Clough and Sidney Herbert actually had" (The Dons, Harper Perennial), he would wear himself out. Margot Tennant later asked Jowett if he was in love and what Nightingale was like: "Very violent, my dear, very violent."

I think what she took away from Jowett intellectually was the respect for Plato as the forerunner of Christianity in his ideas of the real and the ideal: we live in a cave of materiality and long for the perfect life of the spirit and the divine. Nightingale, who knew all about bed pans, was also an idealist in the sense of someone who shared Gladstone's understanding that "life is a great and noble calling, not a mean and gross thing". Humanity, created to be somewhere between animals and angels, must strive for what is beautiful and true and perfect. For Nightingale, as for all Christians, this ideal is Christ himself.

While the Nightingale is celebrated tonight and a bicentenary window by Sophie Hacker is inaugurated at Romsey Abbey in her homeland of Hampshire, we should remember the intellectual side of her long and distinguished life, as Bostridge does. In 1906 she became the first female member of the Order of Merit: an honor reserved only for the truly outstanding personalities of our national life. Every year there is a service at Westminster Abbey attended by hundreds of nurses. When asked a few years ago to speak to her, I said: "The nightingale of Florence that I adore was not only the lady with the lamp, but also the lady with the book."

Dr. Michael Wheeler is visiting professor at the University of Southampton and a former lay canon at Winchester Cathedral. His book The Athenaeum: “More Than Just Another London Club” is due to appear in Yale in September.

Florence Nightingale: The Woman and Her Legend of Mark Bostridge is published by Penguin for £ 12.99 (Church Times Bookshop £ 11.69). 978-0-241-98922-7.


  1. Nightingale's relationship with Christianity changes throughout her life, but a recurring theme is her desire to serve God "without calling". Does she achieve that you think?
  2. Nightingale writes to a friend that personal relationships are "an obstacle to true justice." How would you react to them?
  3. Bostridge describes Nightingale's "Briefwelt" as one of the "black and white values ​​with a few medium gray tones". Did such black and white thinking help or hinder her?
  4. To what extent is such a biography the “real” story of Nightingale's life? Can you tell this story?
  5. How do you think Nightingale's unitary background influenced your approach to religion and belief?
  6. In her youth, Nightingale deplored the family's potential "as an instrument of oppression and imprisonment". Is this still the case with women today?
  7. Elizabeth Gaskell is worried when she discovers that Nightingale “doesn't care about individuals. . . but for the whole race as creatures of God ”. Is this feature problematic or helpful to Nightingale?
  8. How does Nightingale reconcile her ardent beliefs with her equally passionate rationalism?
  9. The myth of the nightingale is far from reality. Does the myth itself remain important?
  10. Why was Nightingale suspicious of religious care institutions? Was she right?

We'll be printing additional information about our next book on our next reading group page on September 4th. Black dogsby Ian McEwan. It is released by Vintage for £ 8.99 (£ 8.10). 978-0-09-927708-8).


In Black Dogs (1992), Jeremy wrote a treatise on the marriage of his in-laws, Bernard and June Tremaine. He interviews both of them separately, trying to understand the reasons the couple spend most of their lives apart, and exploring the private changes that resulted in a young couple becoming individuals with opposing views who couldn't get along. He examines (obvious) tensions between religion and science as well as between emotion and rationality. The private history of marriage plays against the wider context of European history from the immediate aftermath of World War II to the fall of the Berlin Wall.


Ian McEwan is one of the most famous British writers. Born in Hampshire in 1948, he spent much of his childhood abroad before returning to studying English at the University of Sussex and creative writing at the University of East Anglia. His first collection of short stories received the Somerset Maugham Award and since then the Whitbread Award (The Child in Time, 1987), the Booker Prize (Amsterdam, 1998) and the WH Smith Literary Award (Atonement, 2001). among other awards. Often obscure and occasionally controversial, its topic focuses on complex or abusive relationships and issues of sexual and moral politics. His first two novels The Cement Garden (1978) and The Comfort of Strangers (1981) were both adapted as films, the latter with a script by Harold Pinter.


October: Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger

November: Funeral rites of Hannah Kent

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