I have, within a few days, completely read a book which I would never have believed might grip my imagination in the least. It deals with two spinsters in the early nineteenth century. Mary Anning is ‘working class’. Elizabeth Philpot is genteel, but not well-to-do. They come to a friendship born of a shared fascination with fossils.
The story is based closely on two historical characters of those names. Mary Anning was to rock (pun intended) the scientific world with her discoveries of fossilized bones of prehistoric creatures in Lyme Regis. Elizabeth does not have quite the same ‘eye’, but gives valuable support and companionship.
She and Elizabeth had to contend with all the strait-laced* conventions of the era, the class distinctions, the belief that women should not meddle in matters of the mind, and the religious convictions, such as one held even today by many of the particularly thick-headed that the world is no more than six thousand years old.
There is a delightful exchange between the local rector and Elizabeth where in order to put her in her place he has the ‘Creation’ part of Genesis read to her. So, she reasons, it says that the rocks came first, and then the creatures? He agrees. Then, she asks, how did some creatures come to be embedded in rock? In some fury, his only reply is that it is to ‘test our faith’.
The alternating first-person narration is convincing, and I do not share the view of some reviewers that the slight glossing over of the romances of the two main characters detracts.
In summary, I consider it to be a highly entertaining and informative read.
*As a matter of interest, although used less often than ‘straight-laced’ this is the correct form according to lexicographers.
© Colonialist January 2014 (WordPress)