Small, Hugh 1943-
SMALL, Hugh 1943-
PERSONAL: Born 1943.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
SIDELIGHTS: Florence Nightingale is the stuff of legend, the angelic figure nursing British soldiers and writing letters to their families during the Crimean War in the 1850s. Hugh Small's revisionist book, Florence Nightingale: Avenging Angel, probes the reasons for her retreat into invalidism after her return to England. He concludes that she was stricken with remorse over her failure to prevent as many as 14,000 deaths in the camp she ran in Scutari (now Uskudar, across the Bosporus from Istanbul, Turkey). Small uses several sources not tapped by other biographers, particularly letters that had not been included in the original Nightingale papers.
With little experience, Nightingale volunteered for service in the Crimea at the age of thirty-four. She was appointed to run a field hospital at Scutari only because she had influential friends. A particular supporter was the wife of Secretary of War Sidney Herbert, who set out to help Nightingale prove that it was acceptable for women to nurse men. On the job, Nightingale was a tireless worker but was thought to be bossy and abrasive. At the hospital, she directed a number of other women in the nursing of over 2,500 soldiers, in filthy, overcrowded conditions. Blocked drains lay under the hospital, and Nightingale did nothing to have them cleaned up; meanwhile, deaths at Scutari exceeded those in other hospitals, and during the winter of 1854-55 around 5,000 men died.
The image of the "Lady with the Lamp," Small says, is belied by the unnecessary suffering and deaths, which occurred under Nightingale's watch. Statistics reveal that three out of eight of her patients did not survive their stays in the hospital. Small indicates that Nightingale was also implicated in the political wrangling between Queen Victoria and Prime Minister Palmerston over control of the army. Yet Nightingale was lionized upon her return to England and claimed to have proved that women were fit caretakers of men.
To her credit, when Nightingale studied figures compiled by a Royal Commission of Inquiry, she set out to reveal the truth. She concluded that a significant drop in deaths at Scutari occurred after her watch when a government doctor had decided to clean the hospital's toilets and sewers, precautions she had not taken. But a government coverup silenced her concerns. Remorseful, she had a brief breakdown, then took to her bed for most of the remainder of her life. She wrote that her life had been "a tissue of mistakes." Small concludes that repressed guilt caused Nightingale to hide herself; yet even from her sickbed, she wrote letters and articles encouraging environmental cleanups and succeeded in directing pioneering public health campaigns.
Critics found Small's book a valuable addition to scholarship on Nightingale, if somewhat harsh in tone. Jane Ridley in the Spectator noted that the book "is really more polemic than biography," but found the story "gripping." Margaret Van Dangens reported in the New York Times Book Review that "at times [Small] sacrifices clarity for rhetoric . . . Nightingale is driven, tormented, messianic and interesting." A Publishers Weekly critic found Small's book an "abrasive exploration" of Nightingale's life, marked by a "dryly academic . . . presentation" but called the story "interesting for its insights into public health issues."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 1, 1999, William Beatty, review of Florence Nightingale: Avenging Angel, p. 496.
English Historical Review, September, 2000, Mark Bostridge, review of Florence Nightingale, p. 1008.
Historian, spring, 2001, Mary Ann Bradford Burnam, review of Florence Nightingale, p. 695.
Isis, June, 2001, Julie Fairman, review of Florence Nightingale, p. 412.
Journal of Women's History, summer, 2000, Lorraine Netrick Abraham, review of Florence Nightingale, p. 232.
New York Times Book Review, January 16, 2000, Margaret Van Dagens, review of Florence Nightingale.
NWSA Journal, summer, 2001, Anne O. Dzamba, review of Florence Nightingale, p. 178.
Publishers Weekly, November 1, 1999, review of Florence Nightingale, p. 64.
Spectator, October 24, 1998, Jane Ridley, "Thou Wast Not Born for Death, Immortal Bird," p. 47.
Victorian Studies, summer, 2001, Joann C. Wilterquist, review of Florence Nightingale, p. 690.*