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Reviewed by:
  • Collected Works of Florence Nightingale. Volume 8. Florence Nightingale on Women, Medicine, Midwifery and Prostitution, and: Collected Works of Florence Nightingale. Volume 9. Florence Nightingale on Health in India
  • Judith Godden
Lynn McDonald , editor. Collected Works of Florence Nightingale. Volume 8. Florence Nightingale on Women, Medicine, Midwifery and Prostitution. Wilfrid Laurier University Press 2005. xvi, 1085. $150.00
Gérard Vallée , editor. Collected Works of Florence Nightingale. Volume 9. Florence Nightingale on Health in India. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. xv, 1024. $150.00

These two books are part of a planned sixteen-volume set of the writings of Florence Nightingale. They cannot fail to be welcome additions to the resources available to scholars of the Victorian age. I could be seen as biased, as I have been involved with other volumes for this series, but Nightingale was both a quintessential Victorian and a major reformer. Her writings illuminate many murky corners of Victorian life as well as the formidable level of activity of liberal reformers.

Volume 8 focuses on women with three main sections: midwifery, prostitution, and correspondence with other women. Volume 9 focuses on India with four main sections: Nightingale's extensive work for, and follow up of, the Royal Commission on India (1859–63); famines and irrigation; sanitation and epidemics; and nursing. The strength of volume 8 is the variety of material concerned with women's issues, while that of volume 9 is the additional evidence of Nightingale's growing obsession with India.

Each volume is over 1, 000 pages long, but even so the editor of the Indian volume notes that he was 'selective,' choosing only the more 'representative' of some 20, 000 pages by Florence Nightingale on India. Given its sheer volume, most readers will discover new and fascinating material. Nightingale's sharp, sometimes abrasive, wit and insight mean [End Page 301] that much is a delight to read. Many nurses, for example, will give a wry smile when reading Nightingale's comment that 'people even now [1897] are not accustomed to the idea that nursing is a distinct department . . . and not only a supplement to the doctors.' Then there are her occasional outbursts of frustration: 'All doctors to be locked up in lunatic asylums by act of Parliament. And all clergy and all men' – and that was just the beginning of that particular note!

A disappointment is that the volumes are not strongly grounded in existing scholarship. The highly negative review of the literature in volume 8 is in some ways understandable, given that so much superficial and misleading material has been published about Nightingale. However, it neglects much that has been very insightful. A more generous, and fairer, understanding of the contribution of this volume to the existing literature would add to its usefulness.

The literature review in volume 9 is more positive and presents the material primarily as adding evidence to support existing research, particularly Jharna Gourlay's Florence Nightingale and the Health of the Raj (2003). This volume attempts to answer two key questions: how much did Nightingale really understand about India, and what did she actually achieve? It is disconcerting to find part of the answer to the first question is the naïve response that Nightingale did understand India because her 'authorized biographer' (and incidentally, friend of the family and courtly Edwardian who published in 1913) wrote that she did. This reinforces my conviction that it should be compulsory for every researcher to learn Mandy Rice Davies's famous quip, 'Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?'

Any such large body of sources poses an immense problem of organization. Even in these two volumes, many essential insights into Nightingale's attitude towards, and work for, India will be found in the 'women' volume, and similarly many insights into her attitude and relationship with women are in the 'India' volume. There is no 'right' way but the choices made on the grouping of material in these two volumes present difficulties. Part of the fascination of Nightingale is how she juggled so many different commitments and how her priorities changed over the years. Separating her interests into different themes in different volumes obscures these issues.

This problem is...


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