Thoughts and ideas to inspire, uplift and affirm the childless and childfree, by circumstance and by choice
I was talking to a friend recently about the surprising number of famous female travellers and explorers who turn out to have been non-mothers and she said to me, “Did you know that Florence Nightingale sailed down the Nile with Gustave Flaubert?” I confessed that I have tended to think of her mainly as the nurse with the lantern (and the epitome of the endless ‘giving’ discussed in the previous post). But I have since been reading a book about Nightingale’s journey, A Winter on the Nile, by Anthony Sattin.
This passage is about her return home from her travels when she was thirty years old.
“At 3 p.m. on 21 August 1850, with her mind both more ordered and more determined than ever, she walked up the lane she knew so well … Parthenope [her sister] and her parents were sitting in the drawing room … They were not expecting Florence. She walked in unannounced with an owl in her pocket. She had bought and tamed the bird in Athens and given it the name of the city’s protecting deity [Athena].”
So often it’s the tiniest details of these women’s adventures that bring a smile to my face. I’ve struggled a little to relate to a woman who lived a life of such on-going, non-stop service to others. But she feels much more of a kindred spirit now that I know about the Nile and the owl!
If you’d like to read more about the rich history of non-mothers, you might like this post about the ways non-mothers tend to be misrepresented in biographical accounts or this post about women who break with convention.
But in the meantime, how about you? Am I alone in thinking there is something pretty delightful about returning home from Egypt via Greece with an owl in your pocket?
[The gorgeous image above appears with permission from Sweet William]