by Tracy Chevalier
Friday, January 14, 2011
Tracy Chevalier is one of those authors that people ask me if I’ve read, who pop up on recommendation lists, who generally seem very popular despite seeming a bit literary, who sounds like someone I should like, and therefore, contrarily, I’ve never read. I picked this up in the library and fully expected to put it down by page 20 and send it back unread.
Of course I didn’t do that, I loved it.
Set in Lyme Regis in the early nineteenth century this is the story of the friendship between Mary Anning, a young fossil hunter from the working classes, and Elizabeth Philpot, a slightly older fossil hunter from the upper classes. I knew that Mary Anning was a real historical figure as I knew of her from visits to Lyme, I was surprised to find that Miss Elizabeth was also drawn from life - the fossil museum in Lyme Regis is the Philpot Museum apparently, I didn’t remember that.
It’s a great story about the relationships between the classes at the time of Austen. Mary and Elizabeth really shouldn’t be friends; neither of them should take gentlemen fossil hunters out onto the beach with them. There is also much revealed about the relationship of Elizabeth as a slightly down at heel spinster to the higher echelons of society. And also about women in scientific circles at the time: Mary Anning is now considered to be one of the most influential British women in the history of science but few of her contemporaries saw that.
I liked the book for the subject matter but it was a far smoother read than I was expecting and I’ll have to try another of Chevalier’s books and see if I enjoy it as much.