From the moment she's struck by lightening as a baby, it is clear that Mary Anning is marked for greatness.Read more...
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From the moment she's struck by lightening as a baby, it is clear that Mary Anning is marked for greatness. On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, she learns that she has "the eye" -- and finds what no one else can see. When Mary uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious fathers on edge, the townspeople to vicious gossip, and the scientific world alight. In an arena dominated by men, however, Mary is barred from the academic community; as a young woman with unusual interests she is suspected of sinful behavior. Nature is a threat, throwing bitter, cold storms and landslips at her. And when she falls in love, it is with an impossible man.
Luckily, Mary finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a recent exile from London, who also loves scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy. Ultimately, in the struggle to be recognized in the wider world, Mary and Elizabeth discover that friendship is their greatest ally.
"Remarkable Creatures" is a stunning novel of how one woman's gift transcends class and social prejudice to lead to some of the most important discoveries of the nineteenth century. Above all, is it a revealing portrait of the intricate and resilient nature of female friendship.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 42.
- Review Date: 2009-09-28
- Reviewer: Staff
Chevalier's newest is a flat historical whose familiar themes of gender inequality, class warfare and social power often overwhelm the story. Tart-tongued spinster Elizabeth Philpot meets young Mary Anning after moving from London to the coastal town of Lyme Regis. The two quickly form an unlikely friendship based on their mutual interest in finding fossils, which provides the central narrative as working-class Mary emerges from childhood to become a famous fossil hunter, with her friend and protector Elizabeth to defend her against the men who try to take credit for Mary's finds. Their friendship, however, is tested when Colonel Birch comes to Lyme to ask for Mary's help in hunting fossils and the two spinsters compete for his attention. While Chevalier's exploration of the plight of Victorian-era women is admirable, Elizabeth's fixation on her status as an unmarried woman living in a gossipy small town becomes monotonous, and Chevalier slows the story by dryly explaining the relative importance of different fossils. Chevalier's attempt to imagine the lives of these real historical figures makes them seem less remarkable than they are. (Jan.)
Rediscovering the past
Girl with a Pearl Earring made Tracy Chevalier a household name in the historical fiction world. And now, with the dazzling Remarkable Creatures, Chevalier gives us another intriguing celebration of women and friendship. Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster, has just moved to Lyme Regis, a town on the southern coast of England, with her sisters. She falls in love with scouring the beaches for fossils, and meets a young girl and fellow fossil-hunter, Mary Anning. As Mary grows up and the two follow their shared passion, they find themselves making discoveries that cause a stir in the scientific community and hold implications for science and religion that they could never have foreseen. The novel weaves together many fascinating elements, not the least of which are the fossils themselves. Chevalier captures their beauty and mystery perfectly and allows readers to feel her subjects’ obsession with them. As Mary and Elizabeth diligently and excitedly uncover these messages from another era, the reader sees how little was initially known about fossils and how they affected the way we view the world. Of course, the fossils are not the only stars of the novel—Mary and Elizabeth, based on real historical figures, will fascinate readers as well. At age 11, the real-life Mary Anning discovered the first ichthyosaurus skeleton ever found. Despite little education and even smaller means, she somehow managed to engage middle-class men of science in her pursuit of fossils and helped pave the way for Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Less is known about the real Elizabeth Philpot, only that she was an avid collector of fossil fish—one species is even named after her—and, given their differences in age and class, a somewhat unlikely friend of Mary’s. But Chevalier brings her to life. Both women will enthrall readers with their aspirations, fears and obstacles and, above all, their admirable determination. The story unfolds gracefully and will keep you eagerly turning pages until the novel’s close. There’s humor, romance and a down-to-earth kind of suspense. But most of all, there are the believable and well-crafted personal triumphs and tragedies of two women who defied convention and changed their corner of the world. Indeed, Mary and Elizabeth are remarkable creatures. Jessica Inman writes and edits in Tulsa, Oklahoma.