Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A New Light

Florence Nightingale, the reluctant celebrity. (Via Hermes.)
When Nightingale returned from the Crimea in 1856, she was aghast to find she had become a celebrity, through newspaper accounts, sentimental engravings and the romantic Lady of the Lamp nickname, coined by the American poet Longfellow.

Her shock at the unwanted attention, which made her one of the first global media sensations, is one of the explanations put forward by biographers for a lifelong invalidity, which saw her largely confined to bed for the next half-century, until her death in 1910.
The estate is still partly occupied by her in-laws through a family trust, which has lent the letters, photographs and personal papers.

"Other places give the impression of this very stern public figure, devoted to duty and good works," said Philip Warner, the property's manager. "Here we have Florence Nightingale off duty, writing little notes to members of the household, including one very touching one sympathising with one of the servants who had lost her husband.

Although Nightingale's hundreds of books, essays and pamphlets, and thousands of letters, were mainly written from the bedroom of her London home, she spent long periods at Claydon, where she had her own bedroom and handsomely furnished sitting room. She organised an annual tea party at the house for the women from her school of nursing. One of the photographs shows them gathered on the lawn, while she appears, dressed in white — unlike most of her surviving gowns and known photographs which show her in severe black — in the window.


Anonymous said...

Interesting, Elena. I actually don't know much about Florence Nightingale's life. Now I'm thinking I want to read more!

R J said...

Good to have Florence Nightingale's personality and achievements stressed here - especially in view of the lingering hold on the popular and intellectual imagination which Lytton Stachey's bitchy mendacity in Eminent Victorians retains.

May said...

I suppose the "greatest are the most modest." (I don't know if that's a quote from someone famous, but it is a quote from a friend of mine, at any rate:-)