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Additional info for Victorian Medicine and Social Reform: Florence Nightingale among the Novelists
Sensation fiction exploded in popularity at about the same time that Nightingale was writing Notes on Nursing and publishing a third edition of Notes on Hospitals. 2 Nightingale certainly meant for her prescriptions for household management to assure readers of the English woman’s particular ability to ward off the potential for diseases to invade the home, but only if the English woman was well trained in methods of detached observation. Nightingale probably knew, however, that she was facing a new era in thinking about disease.
The recent cholera epidemic in London (1854–1856) will have made the relationship between environmental contaminants and body products a particularly troubling one for Nightingale to confront. John Snow’s studies of the London cholera outbreak produced his cholera map of St James’s, published in the second edition of his On the Mode of the Communication of Cholera (1855). By indicating where each case of cholera appeared and highlighting those locations’ proximity to the Broad Street Well, the map illustrated his hypothesis that cholera was being spread via fecal-oral transmission, as residents drank contaminated water supplies from the well.
In her prolific annotations to her friend Benjamin Jowett’s translations of Plato’s dialogues, for example, Nightingale comments extensively on a particular section of Jowett’s introduction to The Republic, in which Jowett describes Plato’s critique of the poets of his day. Her annotations repeatedly articulate her view that novelists in her day are the equivalent of the poets that Plato and Socrates attacked in their era for inspiring unhealthy emotion in their readers and audience members. For example, Nightingale clearly paused at the following passage in Jowett’s introduction to The Republic: “The poets, as [Plato] says in the Protagoras, are the Sophists of their day—new foes under an old face.