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2022

Helen Rappaport

Helen Rappaport

In Search of Mary Seacole is a superb and revealing biography that explores her remarkable achievements and unique status as an icon of the 19th century, but also corrects some of the myths that have grown around her life and career.

Having been raised in Jamaica and worked in Panama, Mary Seacole came to England in the 1850s and volunteered to help out during the Crimean War. When her services were turned down, she financed her own expedition to Balaclava, where she earned her reputation as a nurse and for her compassion. Popularly known as ‘Mother Seacole’, she was the most famous Black celebrity of her generation – an extraordinary achievement in Victorian Britain. She regularly mixed with illustrious royal and military patrons and they, along with grateful war veterans, helped her recover financially when she faced bankruptcy. However, after her death in 1881, she was largely forgotten for many years.

More recently, her profile has been revived and her reputation lionised, with a statue of her standing outside St Thomas's Hospital in London and her portrait - rediscovered by the author - is now on display in the National Portrait Gallery. In Search of Mary Seacole is the fruit of almost twenty years of research by Helen Rappaport into her story. The book reveals the truth about Seacole's personal life and her 'rivalry' with Florence Nightingale, along with much more besides. Often the reality proves to be even more remarkable and dramatic than the legend.

Dr Helen Rappaport is a Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling author and historian specialising in the period 1837-1918 in late Imperial and revolutionary Russia and Victorian Britain.

She has written 14 books covering her broad range of historical knowledge, and is a regular contributor to history and documentary programmes for TV, radio and online media such as Netflix. As a historical consultant she most recently worked on the first two series of the ITV drama Victoria.

As a linguist with a degree in Russian Special Studies, she has also worked for many years as a literal translator in the theatre, specialising in the plays of Anton Chekhov.

In 2016 Helen was awarded an Honorary D.Litt by her old alma mater, Leeds University, for her services to history.

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