‘WE ARE DUCKS and have hatched a wild swan,' Florence Nightingale's sister Parthenope marvelled to Elizabeth Gaskell. Certainly the Nightingales were not a nest of singing birds. Gillian Gill tells a story of conflict, bitter resentments, ingratitude, misunderstandings; but also of mutual concern and admiration. Florence Nightingale was one of the most extraordinary women of her own - or any - century, and one of the most difficult and uncompromising:- it was no fun to be her parents, or her long-suffering sister. 'Life is no holiday game', Florence wrote presciently in her mid twenties, 'nor is it a clever book, nor is it a school of instruction, nor a valley of tears - but it is a hard fight, a struggle, a wrestling with the Principle of Evil, hand to hand, foot to foot, & every inch of the way must be disputed.'
Nightingales disentangles a complicated network of close-knit family connections, showing how Florence's background gave her the character, written on her subject, and Florence's education, Enancial backing and introductions to achieve what she did, while her family fought her every step of the way towards her goal. Gill is not attempting