Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Remarkable Creatures ....by Tracy Chevalier

I guess you can call this one of those semi-fiction books with a historical blast! The characters in the novel were real people. Mary Anning, Elizabeth Philpot... I checked them out. These days I have this habit of googling the stuff I read from books. No particular reasons except that they felt so real in the novels. Stories are reflections of the real world... and they provide insights to life as well.

Anyway, this book I like cos it's one of the few books I've read which brings a boring subject like paleontology to life. Gathering fossils is a painstakingly boring job. Mary Anning must have been a remarkable lady. The 19th century was still an age of prejudice for women. Coming from a working class, she self studied and collected many remarkable pre-historic creatures and ammonites. She collected fossils to sell... they needed the money.

I find it quite fascinating, these journeys of discoveries that both the characters (Mary and Elizabeth) made. The fossils may be quite glamourous to view but the search for them is long and ardous. It is not everyone's cup of tea, that's for sure. Only the truly remarkable ones make find after find. And women were inconsequential at that time, looked upon as something to be owned. Anyway, Anning discovered the first complete ichthyosaurus fossil... an amazing accomplishment given the lack of her education and being a common folk and all that.

The other character, Elizabeth Philpot is a spinster who moved from London to Lyme Regis in Dorset with her 2 other spinster sisters after their solicitor brother got married. She comes from a privileged class and therefore had a stipend to live on. She collected fossils as a hobby. But her status as a spinster was frowned upon by the society. Today, singlehood is a valid life choice.

Anyway, the 2 met and became fast friends apparently. Both are highly intelligent ladies but again because they were ladies they never did attain that sort of recognition which would have been accorded them had they been men.

I enjoyed this book immensely cos it's something totally different from the other books that I've read since I started my reading frenzy. It's heartening cos Mary and Elizabeth in their own ways transcended the shackles of the social prejudices and class. Had they been born in the later part of the 20th century, they'd have so much more opportunities to soar.

Also it's hard to imagine how ignorant men were just over a century ago; that people dared not question the idea of extinction.. as though God must have made a mistake in his creation and that particular creation was discarded. Or it was considered blasphemous to question anything that has been laid down by the clergy.... so to have two women who actually were intelligent enough to embrace an alternative view at a time when even the men found it difficult to do so is actually quite refreshing to read.

Another thing I like is the opportunity to be brought back into the straight laced British society of that era. To read and for a moment be brought back into a world of centuries past, through the narration of the story teller. For once a subdued kind of enjoyment which is also quite pleasurable, this being book number 23 for this year.

4 comments:

PreciousPearl said...

omg i can't believe you think palaeontology is boring! we've been on fossil hunting holidays and it is the most riveting activity - just like hunting for treasure :)

AJ7 said...

i don't think paleontology is boring.. but many people do. You need lotsa patience. So how was your fossil hunting holidays? Found anything of interest?

PreciousPearl said...

ya lorrr - Robin Hoods' Bay in Yorkshire as well as Lyme Regis in Dorset
u wanna come visit & try it out?

AJ7 said...

Go hunting for ammonites or Robin Hood??? If I ever have the time someday, I might just do that! 8)