Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

First of all, this is probably my last post until after Christmas, so whether you celebrate it or not I hope you all have a great weekend! Now, back to my thoughts on Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable Creatures is set in the town of Lyme Regis on the south coast of England during the early part of the nineteenth century. It’s the story of two very different women who are brought together by a shared love of collecting fossils. Mary Anning is a young working-class girl who has lived in the town all her life and hunts for fossils for her family to sell to tourists. Elizabeth Philpot, twenty years older than Mary and from a middle-class background, moves to Lyme Regis with her two unmarried sisters. Her interest in fossils begins when she discovers an unusual stone on the windswept beach. Eager to have someone to share her new passion with, Elizabeth finds an unexpected friend in Mary.

Before I started this book I had no interest in fossils; I still don’t, unfortunately. I found the whole fossil aspect of the book pretty boring, but that’s not the fault of the author. I could still enjoy the story even though the subject bored me, and it did raise some interesting questions regarding the theory of evolution (the book was set several decades before Charles Darwin published his On the Origin of Species).

I do admire Tracy Chevalier for creating a story based around such an unusual topic and real-life characters who aren’t very well known. Mary Anning (pictured here with her dog, Tray) and Elizabeth Philpot are both real historical figures who contributed to the science of palaeontology, and as I knew nothing about either of them it was good to have the opportunity to learn about their lives. It was only after finishing the book and looking up the real-life Mary and Elizabeth that I realised how many details Chevalier had included that were based on fact.

I could sympathise with two women trying to gain recognition in a male-dominated field and the difficulties they faced in getting people to take notice of their work and give them the credit they deserved. They were unable to join the Geological Society of London, for example, because it was open only to men.

“That is all she will get, I thought: a scrap of thanks crowded out by far more talk of glory for beast and man. Her name will never be recorded in scientific journals or books, but will be forgotten. So be it. A woman’s life is always a compromise.”

Although I can’t say I loved Remarkable Creatures, it was enjoyable enough and a gentle, easy read. I do think it’s great though that this book has helped to bring two very important but little-known women back into the public eye.