Sunday, November 1, 2009

Remaekable Creatures Indeed

I just finished Tracy Chevaliers new book Remarkable Creatures.

I have really enjoyed Tracy Chevaliers books in the past. I have read four of her other books, Girl with the Pearl Earring and The Lady and the Unicorn where for me the stand outs.

As a mad history buff I loved that life in the past was not sanitized in her books. The people are dirty by our standards, baths are not an every day right and the description of smell is a character in itself.

In both books the female characters make choices that made me want to stand up and cheer for them. They had such limited lives then and Tracy Chevaliers respects that and lets them make of their lives what they can.

I was all ready to like this new book and I did. I was inclined to like it very early on when Elizabeth Philpot one of our 'Remarkable Creatures' observers "Frances has been the only Philpot sister to marry, and she leads with her bosom - which I suppose explains that".

Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning are fossil hunters. But they are woman so they can not write papers for the scientific journals or even go to the Geographical Society when their specimens where been shown. It is 1804 England and respectable woman can not go to the shops by themselves without incurring sensor or a threat to their reputation.

So when I hear about these remarkable woman who lead such free lives I am moved. What they must have given up and endured to live an authentic life is beyond our modern Western comprehension.

Not only where they breaking the rules along gender lines, they where questioning the very ideas of life itself. Again in this day and age we can not know how dangerous the fossils they uncovered where to the established ideas of life. According to Western thinking of the day the earth was 6 thousand years old and the idea of extinction in the animal world called into question God and the Church.

People where so fearful of these creatures that where found in the earth that sometimes they where destroyed. They provoked real fear into everyday life for people. Charles Darwin and the others who changed our world then where vilified and treated as crackpots.

Elizabeth and Mary where real woman and this book is a respecful fictionalized re telling of their life and times. At the end of the book there is a reading list that will tell you more about them if you, as I am, are interested in knowing more. Or as we can now google them.

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