Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
Remarkable Creatures is a historical fiction piece by Tracy Chevalier, best known for her wildly acclaimed Girl with a Pearl Earring. Remarkable Creatures is the story of two female anthropologists in the early 1800s England. Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot were two of the nation’s most valuable resources and finders of fossil specimens that changed the face of scientific and religious study. Because of their social standing and because they were female, they were hardly given the recognition for their work until after their deaths.
Mary Anning came from a struggling, lower class family in continual debt until she one day finds a “monster” embedded in the cliffs of her hometown. Elizabeth Philpot is a “spinster” living with her two other sisters after her brother’s marriage. Although Elizabeth comes from a family of high social standing, she and Mary Anning form a fast and strong friendship in a beach town of Lyme Regis. Eventually, Elizabeth becomes the voice for Mary Anning in a world of elite men, who by instinctual default, deny women the right to participate in any scientific study or research. This novel is a story of their friendship.
I listened to this work on audio cd, thus confirming my beliefs that I can only listen to audio books when the narrator has an accent. I really enjoyed Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Remarkable Creatures was just as well written and researched if not better. Chevalier has a wonderful way of bringing her characters to life and proving the reader with a pure sense of the time. I loved the way she described the characters as leading with their hands, or eyes, or chins. These are subtle but telling ways of a characters personality and idiosyncrasies.
I did a fair amount of research on Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, as my interest in the two women was further encouraged by this story of their struggle for just basic recognition for their magnificent finds. Neither woman was allowed to partake in any of the scientific discussion or analysis of their fossil finds. Usually their name wasn’t even associated with the piece on display. The book was comedic, serious, compassionate and had a very smooth flow. I like the alternating chapters between Elizabeth’s and Mary’s stories. I loved that the chapters did not overlap, or tell the same story through two perspectives. Instead, where one ended, the other picked up, continuing the story.
This is a great read for fans of history, inspiring women and remarkable creatures of eras long past.Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier Read by Charlotte Perry and Susan Lyons Penguin, 2010 ISBN 9780143145301 8 discs, 10 hours