‘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,