Saturday, May 24, 2014

Of Fossils and Friendships

Remarkable Creatures –by Tracy Chevalier

Fiction / Herstorical
320 pages 562KB
5 Stars

This is the fourth of Ms. Chevalier's books I have read, and so far, it is my favorite. I'm not sure why – perhaps I'm getting used to her style? Perhaps I could identify with her characters better? I don't know, but I could hardly put it down at night.

Again, Chevalier has taken real people from herstory, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, then wove their lives into a delightful tapestry of the English coast on the English Channel, fossils, friendship between unlikely people, and the bucking of convention. Perhaps that's why I like it the best, so far at least, that bucking of convention.

Elizabeth Philpot is a prickly spinster, living with her two spinster sisters, "banished" so to speak, to live on a limited income to the small town of Lyme Regis when their brother marries and sells the family home. The sisters are educated, and Elizabeth discovers once living in Lyme that she has a fondness for, and collects, fossils of fish.

Mary Anning is a teen of Lyme when the Philpots join the small community. She comes from a poor working class family and roams the beaches looking for "curies" – fossils and shells to sell the summer folk who come for the sea air and wish to take home a curiosity or two when they return to their winter habitats.

Mary is uneducated, but has an eye for fossils, and a deep love for them. She is a curious girl, struck by lightning when a baby. Ramrod straight Elizabeth finds her on the beach, and a bond is quickly formed between the two. Elizabeth convinces Mary she at least must learn to read and write at the Sunday School of her church, which Mary does.

The chapters are from the point of view of either the quite correct Elizabeth, or the far more casual, though literate, Mary. It quickly becomes apparent who is speaking, just by the voice. As all good stories must have conflict between friends, there is conflict here—and a most satisfactory resolution. This friendship, at least as depicted by Chevalier, is believable. How their friendship ends, I shall leave you to discover on your own.

I had not considered, until reading this book, the impact of finding and dating such fossils had on the Church and the people's belief/understanding of God and Creation in the early 1800s. It seems the religious had, then as now, often a hard time separating their beliefs from the facts of science.

For those of you who are not familiar with either of these women, they were "uneducated scientists" who did not receive real credit for their finds for quite some time. Mary is credited with important finds she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds, the first ichthyosaur, the first two plesiosaur skeletons found outside Germany, and many more.

Elizabeth was an amateur paleontologist and artist. Her well categorized fossils were used by such illustrious geologists as William Buckland and Louis Agassiz for their research. Mr. Agassiz gave both women credit in his book on fossil fish, and named one specie after Elizabeth and two after Mary.

The www is full of information about both women; however, the most approachable and most fun read is--Remarkable Creatures.

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