She sells sea shells on the sea shore. Though you might not know it, ‘she’ is Mary Anning, a fossil hunter in Lyme Regis. Against the reputations of Lyell or Cuvier, Anning is fairly anonymous. But we get to meet Mary, as ‘she’ is a key figure in Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures.
Anning is a young working girl living in Lyme Regis. Miss Elizabeth Philpott is an academic middle-aged spinster. Both are united in a passion for the fossils that emerge from the Dorset cliffs. Friends and rivals, they sit on the edge of scientific discovery in the fields of geology and evolution.
I like Chevalier’s subject; women were often written out of historical records so she uses historical fiction as a way of writing them back in. There are so few female scientific figures I can name which raises lots of questions. Am I ignorant? Were women not allowed in the scientific sphere? Or have they been forgotten or unacknowledged?
Probably partly ‘yes’ to all three.
It could be considered feminism or science ‘light’ (the extra-curricular romance is certainly open to that criticism), but it’s important to have books on this at all. Engaging and absorbing, Chevlier brings to life a little niche of history lost in the cliff face.
Read: with an ice cream on a trip to the coast.