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Reading guide for Flight of the Wild Swan by Melissa Pritchard

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Flight of the Wild Swan

by Melissa Pritchard

Flight of the Wild Swan by Melissa Pritchard X
Flight of the Wild Swan by Melissa Pritchard
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    Mar 2024, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. Growing up, Nightingale was surrounded by the political and social aristocracy of her day. In what ways did she subvert her class upbringing, and in what way did the privileges of her unusual home education and prestigious social network make her accomplishments possible?
  2. Lord Sidney Herbert, Secretary at War during the Crimean War, was Nightingale's friend and advocate. Their friendship was charged, at times contentious, yet grounded in a shared belief in political reform. How does their relationship evolve throughout the novel, and how did it influence the politics and policies of a nation?
  3. Wartime journalists, particularly William Howard Russell, ignited "Florence-mania" by frequent reportage on Nightingale's activities. What did she think of the overwhelming media attention, and how did she handle it?
  4. After the Crimean War, once Nightingale was a national celebrity, her family supported her vocation. Her sister, particularly, kept Florence's famous "lamp" polished and burning. What were their reasons for obstructing her ambitions when she was younger? What caused them to reverse their opinion?
  5. Many of Nightingale's theories of medicine were prescient. For her, health care was, above all, an inalienable human right. How do you think she might approach today's global health care crisis, and how might she envision caregiving in the future?
  6. What do you believe it meant to Nightingale to be "called by God" as she firmly believed she was? Do you think she ever doubted or regretted her life's chosen path?
  7. Early portrayals of Nightingale emphasize the Victorian ideal of gentle, pious womanhood. Eventually, she becomes more accurately portrayed as a determined activist for reform. How would you describe her? Has this novel in any way altered your original perception of her?
  8. Much of Nightingale's enormous body of work has been reduced to a romanticized story of the compassionate "lady with the lamp." Why are we drawn to such a simplified story? Is the less sentimental truth of one woman working determinedly, even aggressively, to effect social change of less interest to us?
  9. Nightingale biographer Mark Bostridge has said of the controversies still surrounding her, "We are very uncomfortable still with an intellectually powerful woman whose primary aim has nothing to do with men or family. I think misogyny has a lot to do with it." Do you agree with Bostridge? As a society, are we still uncomfortable with women like Nightingale?
  10. History is not static; each generation reinterprets and revises old "facts" as it uncovers new ones. How might a novel come closer to the emotional truth of a historical figure than a biography? What are the risks inherent in historical fiction compared to a biography?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Bellevue Literary Press. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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Beyond the Book:
  The Crimean War and Disease

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