Ostensibly a love story about lower-class Mary Anning and upper class Henry De la Beche, this tale is based on the true story of Mary who may have been the most significant paleontologist of her day. To support herself and her family, she searched along the cliffs of Dover for fossils, or curiosities as they were called, to sell. While doing so, she made significant finds of dolphin-like creatures. However, most of her finds were taken over by the male scientific establishment and, as a woman, she was not even allowed to join the Geological Society of London, let alone publish any papers.
This story explores many of the fascinating issues of the early 1800s – the interaction between science and religion as scientific discoveries challenged biblical creation; the attitude towards women generally, and particularly in the scientific community; and, the division between upper and lower classes. I thoroughly enjoyed this introduction to Mary Anning and to early paleontology in Britain. Having had my curiosity piqued by this remarkable book, I am checking out Tracy Chevalier’s historical fiction about Mary Anning, Remarkable Creatures, as well as a non-fiction account of her life by Shelley Emling, The Fossil Hunter.
This is the second book by Winnipeg author Joan Thomas. Her first book, Reading by Lightning, won both the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ prize for Best First Book and the amazon.ca first Novel Award.
This is much more than a love story between two people; it is the story of a woman’s curiosity and her passion for scientific discovery.