Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

For myself, it took only the early discovery of a golden ammonite, glittering on the beach between Lyme and Charmouth, for me to succumb to seductive thrill of finding unexpected treasure. I began frequenting the beaches more and more, though at the time few women took an interest in fossils. It was seen as an unladylike pursuit, dirty and mysterious. I didn’t mind. There was no one I wanted to impress with my femininity.

Remarkable Creatures is a fictionalized story of fossil hunter Mary Anning who grew up along the shores of Lyme Regis collecting ‘curies’ to supplement her family’s income. Tourists were interested in the obscure creatures locked in stone, and many held vast collections. Mary, considered the best at finding these fossils, also knew a lot about them. 19th century England was of course not a place where women dabbled in the scientific arena, in fact it was highly discouraged. Even so, Mary hunted fossils mainly to bring in money. Mary’s biggest find is a large reptilian creature that everyone calls a crocodile and excitement descends on the small town. Many collectors come to see if Mary can spot a crocodile for their collections. She does find another and spends many painstaking hours cleaning, preserving, and mounting it for display.

This is also the story of an unlikely friendship between this young girl and Elizabeth Philpot, a spinster who lives with her sisters and collects fossilized fish specimens. She encourages Mary and also defends her interest in the the fossils. She fights to have Mary recognized and given credit for her discoveries. Mary’s findings raised many questions about religion and the existence of the creatures trapped in stone. Mary Anning’s fossils are still on display in museums in England and France.


4 responses to “Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

  • Lulu

    I haven’t read any Tracey Chevalier before, but this does sound interesting. Thanks for bringing it back to my attention!

  • Nymeth

    I think I’m going to love this book. The time period and the subject matter could hardly appeal to me more!

  • LeaningSun

    Lulu-thanks for commenting. This was a good story, I”m glad Chevalier decided to bring it to our attenion!

    Hi Hymeth,
    I think you will like this book too. Elizabeth Philpot has a real feminist undertone, love this especially in this time period. Plus it’s women doing science which is very cool.

  • aventuresheteroclites

    I loved the character of Elizabeth Philpot & I agree with your comment, she is quite a “feminist”.
    I found the scene in which she witnesses the Geological Society’s conference (near the end of the novel) from the landing, in the cold, because the Society does not accept women, very intelligent & representative of women’s life at that time. They were not really encouraged to develop their intelligence (to say the least), but some men (like Buckland, in the novel) trusted their knowledge and progressively recognized them as equals.

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