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Florence Nightingale’s Suggestions for Thought

Collected Works of Florence Nightingale, Volume 11

Edited by Lynn McDonald
Subjects Philosophy, Social Science, Women’s Studies
Series Collected Works of Florence Nightingale Hide Details
Hardcover : 9780889204652, 816 pages, December 2008
Ebook (PDF) : 9781554582525, 816 pages, December 2008


Florence Nightingale’s Suggestions for Thought has intrigued readers from feminist-philosopher J.S. Mill (who used it in his The Subjection of Women) to the latest generation of women’s activists. Although selections from this long work have been published, Lynn McDonald is the first editor to work through the numerous surviving drafts of Nightingale’s writing and present it as a complete volume. Suggestions for Thought contains two early attempted novels, draft sermons, and a lengthy fictional dialogue featuring St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, the American evangelical Jacob Abbott, and British agnostic Harriet Martineau (with cameo appearances by Protestant reformer John Calvin and the poet Shelley) all against an unnamed “M.S.”
The most famous section of Suggestions for Thought is the essay Cassandra, famous as a rant against the family for stifling womens aspirations. Here the printed text is shown with the original novel draft alongside. McDonald’s introductions to each section provide historical context and Nightingales later views of the work.
Currently, Volumes 1 to 11 are available in e-book version by subscription or from university and college libraries through the following vendors: Canadian Electronic Library, Ebrary, MyiLibrary, and Netlibrary.


Justly famous as the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale's fame has endured from the 1950s until today. The two books under review here provide ample evidence as to why this should be so. As both author and editor Lynn McDonald has spent much of her professional career probing virtually every aspect of Nightingale's ninety years of life. And what an amazingly productive life it was, which Nightingale's sixteen-volume Collected Works—edited principally by McDonald—makes clear. But if the received public image of Nightingale continues to be that of the “Lady of the Lamp,” then both her own Suggestions for Thought and McDonald's short biography—published to mark the centenary of Nightingale's death—show her to have been a hard-headed, clear-thinking reformer, in addition to a heroic nurse.... The Nightingale project ranks with both the Gladstone diaries and the Disraeli letters as a major undertaking in the field of Victorian-era scholarship, and therefore is of surpassing value to historians of the period, as well as to general readers.

- C. Brad Faught, Tyndale University College, Toronto, Anglican and Episcopal History, Vol. 81 (1), March 2012, 2012 April

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.... This is Volume 11...[which] includes some previously published material...Suggestions for Thought. The editorial introduction outlines the genesis and early printing of the text.... [Nightingale] 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 complext text to follow. There are ‘Related Texts’ in an appendix, with cross-references. 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.

- Gillian Fenwick, University of Toronto Quarterly, Volume 80, number 2, Spring 2011, 2011 August

[I]t is clear that this is an academic project of the highest importance and integrity. It will have an impact on the work of scholars far beyond the immediate field of health history. Nightingale's interests were wide-ranging and her correspondence included some of the leading thinkers of her day....The editing of these volumes is exemplary. Every reference has been followed up, including the identification of minor dramatis personae. Important personalities are accorded short biographies. On every page there are biblical allusions, which are faithfully identified. Each thematic section has an introductory essay and these are amplified by a full outline of Nightingale's life and thought in volume 1. This project makes a major contribution to scholarship which will be of permanent value.

- Helen Mathers, University of Sheffield, Ecclesiastical History

The Collected Works will allow us to see for the first time the full complexity of this extraordinary and multifacted woman. It will be a tool of enormous value not only to Nightgale scholars and biographers, but also to historians of a wide variety of aspects of Victorian society: war, the army, public health nursing, religion, India, women's issues and so on.

- Mark Bostridge, Times Literary Supplement, January 10, 2003, 2003 October

The details and explications of her views...are presented in carefully annotated and insightful editorial discussions....[These volumes] provide a more complete understanding of this complex woman, extending our appreciation of her much beyond the `The Lady with the Lamp' legend.... The product of rigorous scholarship, of meticulous historical research--and a labour of love.

- Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, Volume 21/1, 2004, 2005 October