LETTERS FROM EGYPT: A Journey on the Nile, 1849-1850 by Florence Nightingale

LETTERS FROM EGYPT: A Journey on the Nile, 1849-1850

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KIRKUS REVIEW

These letters from Florence Nightingale to her family and friends give an extraordinary view of Egypt in 1849. Edited by her sister in 1854, prepared for publication now by Anthony Sattin, they are accompanied by a rich selection of reproductions that give a genuine period look to the volume and complement the narrative. Nightingale, at 29, had not yet determined her mission in life--a call to God 12 years before had been nonspecific--but her seriousness and intelligence, along with a deep spiritual orientation, are clearly evident in these observations made during a three-month trip along the Nile. At first, she finds Egypt ""a land of graves"" and suggests that Egyptians ""are as much oppressed as they can be and live."" Many landscapes lack color, and the culture, with its otherworldly emphasis, seems solemn and melancholy: ""nothing ever laughs or plays here."" Sighting an Ethiopian slave boat, Nightingale and her companions discover to their dismay that a man or woman costs less than a horse. Moreover, the temperature may vary. 90 degrees in a day, and time seems to have a different pace--in the holiest places, time seems measured by ""a century-hand."" But the trip has many visual satisfactions--whirlpool divers at the Cataracts, a palm forest with lilac dwarf iris, the Moorish architecture in Cairo--and some unforgettable experiences, especially a khamsin, or sandstorm, which the travelers barely survived. What makes this, Nightingale's only writing not about nursing, most involving are her informal contemplations on, say, this relationship of architecture and religion (""I never understood the Bible till I came to Egypt"") and her erudite comparisons--the temple at Karnak to St. Peter's, Egyptian metaphysics to Roman Catholic faith. Nightingale herself sympathizes more with Moses than with any other historical figure (""always striving to give the Hebrews a religion they could not understand"") and reveals throughout an enduring quest for spiritual fulfillment. Overall: a handsomely illustrated book with surprising pulling power.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1988
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicholson