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Reviewed by:
  • Florence Nightingale's Suggestions for Thought
  • Gillian Fenwick (bio)
Lynn McDonald , editor. Florence Nightingale's Suggestions for Thought. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. 2008. 816. $150.00

Thirteen of the planned sixteen volumes of the Collected Works of Florence Nightingale have now been published. This is volume 11. Lynn McDonald's work as series editor is a landmark in Canadian literary scholarship, both here in the printed form and in the planned electronic publication and database that will follow.

Florence Nightingale is widely recognized as the nursing heroine of the Crimean War and a founder of the modern nursing profession. While her work as a social reformer was known in the Victorian era, her scholarly output, and not least her written work, remained obscure and in many instances unpublished before this Collected Works project. Her range is enormous: as well as social and economic conditions, she was concerned with environmental issues, applied statistics, philosophy, theology, spirituality, and women's issues.

This lengthy volume includes some previously published material, but even the unpublished pieces attracted contemporary Victorian attention, not least that of John Stuart Mill, to whom Nightingale sent an 1860 privately printed copy. He was impressed and urged its wider publication. Lytton Strachey was less complimentary in his 1918 essay in Eminent Victorians, describing her view of God in Suggestions for Thought as that of 'a glorified sanitary engineer,' and Nightingale's inability 'to distinguish between the Deity and the Drains.' Even her 1950 biographer, Cecil Woodham-Smith, concludes that the volume was 'a failure.' McDonald's introduction makes clear the limitations of these negative views, although their skepticism is easy to understand, given the range of material in the book, the various genres, and the sometimes odd format. There are two novels, drafts of sermons, debate on the plight of the daughters of wealthy men, and fictional dialogues with participants including St Ignatius of Loyola, the American evangelical Jacob Abbott, and the agnostic Harriet Martineau, and with cameo appearances by John Calvin and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

The editorial introduction outlines the genesis and early printing of the text, begun in the early 1850s, interrupted by Nightingale's nursing and administrative work during the Crimean War 1854-56, and taken up again in 1858. She had firm ideas on the format of the text, demanding that parts of it be printed in narrow columns, leaving the adjacent space for reader annotations and comments. It is not printed in columns in the current volume, and the contemporary annotations are shown here as footnotes, but it remains a complex text to follow. There are 'Related Texts' in an appendix, with cross-references. [End Page 361] It cannot have been an easy editorial task, and indeed McDonald notes the difficulty of following Nightingale's back and forth debate, for example on 'Man's Will and God's Law,' literally inscribed on the manuscript, with public health expert Dr John Sutherland. That it is done with such painstaking care in this volume is to the credit of the current editor and publisher. Elsewhere there are columns. The text of 'Cassandra,' first drafted as a novel and later rewritten as an essay, is presented in side-by-side columns showing the original, fiction manuscript and the 1860 printed, essay version, an interesting editorial exercise if not an easy read.

The three-volume manuscript of Suggestions for Thought is in the British Library. The privately printed edition was also in three volumes. McDonald discusses the reason Nightingale did not go ahead with wider publication. She dismisses the secondary sources that suggest that contemporary commentators discouraged her. Far more likely, it seems, is that she withheld it for personal reasons, not to hurt or embarrass her parents, for example, by her harsh comments on family life and the conventional restrictions placed on upper-class women who wanted to do something useful with their lives. Again, it would have been awkward for her to have dismissed or rewritten Sutherland's criticisms of her text. But, as McDonald notes, Nightingale also in time changed her mind on crucial aspects of her text, such as human liberty and determinism. She privately admitted she had sometimes been wrong. She had...


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pp. 361-362
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