A Winter on the Nile: Florence Nightingale, Gustave Flaubert and the Temptations of Egypt

Stephen Halliday meets two influential Victorians aboard a boat

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Reviewed by: Stephen Halliday
Author: Anthony Sattin
Publisher: Windmill
Price (RRP): £8.99

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In November 1849 a boat left Alexandria for a journey along the Nile carrying two unknown and frustrated people.

One was Florence Nightingale who was being thwarted in her desire to become a nurse by her parents’ opposition to her entering a profession which was barely respectable. The second passenger was Gustave Flaubert, who had abandoned his half-hearted attempts to become a lawyer and had no direction or purpose in his life.

Flaubert and Nightingale did not meet on the boat, Florence spending her time visiting temples while Flaubert preferred brothels, where he contracted syphilis.

Each of them returned with a renewed sense of purpose. Flaubert began to write Madame Bovary within months and Florence, in the Crimea and later, transformed the status of nursing.

One of the most intriguing passages in the book explains how the author stumbled across this extraordinary story in one of those happy coincidences that occasionally happen. Out of his good fortune, Sattin has produced a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in either of these two celebrated figures.
 
Dr Stephen Halliday is a historian at the University of Cambridge
 

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