Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Remarkable Creatures; Debt as Necessity
This is a remarkable novel by the author of The Girl with the Pearl Earring. It is about the lives of Mary Anningand Elzabath Philpot, self-educated fossil experts and hunters. Below are some interesting excerpts: On the loss of Mary's father-- "I was sad to lose him, but I had no time to dwell on it, for he left us with such debts and not a shilling in our pockets, mea nd Joe and Mam, and her carrying a baby born a month after we buried Pa." Experiencing grief was a luxury not all working class people had in the circa 1820s. The lullaby Mary sings to her doomed baby brother is "Don't Let me Die an Old Maid." Both women found what Pym would call full lives; their passion for fossils sustained them and gave them a career. Like so many of Austen's characters, Chevalier's Philpot is displaced on the death of her parents; her older brother and his wife inherit the family home and she and her sisters must live in Lyme on their 150 pounds per year. Only Margaret hopes to marry, but her hopes are dashed. A similar novel, a romance, based on a fossil hunter who is a woman and who lives during this time is Ravished, by Amanda Quick. This book captures the spirit and the follies of collectors/hunters/dealers, and touches on the facination of the curio cabinet, which was still thriving during Austen's time, and which was often furnished with fossils and relics from Darwin's exhibitions and other such trips. Single women do indeed take charge of various situations, and it is their knowledge which spurs them on. I found the book fascinating, but I am a collector/hunter-gatherer by nature. Many women in my book group, most retired teachers, found it "plodding."