The Birdman’s Wife – Melissa Ashley
This is a beautiful book – it has some of Elizabeth Gould’s painting reproduced on the cover and flyleaf.
This is the story of Elizabeth Gould wife of the more famous John Gould. Here is the blurb …
Inspired by a letter found tucked inside her famous husband’s papers, The Birdman’s Wife imagines the fascinating inner life of Elizabeth Gould, who was so much more than just the woman behind the man.
Elizabeth was a woman ahead of her time, juggling the demands of her artistic life with her roles as wife, lover and helpmate to a passionate and demanding genius, and as a devoted mother who gave birth to eight children. In a society obsessed with natural history and the discovery of new species, the birdman’s wife was at its glittering epicentre. Her artistry breathed life into hundreds of exotic finds, from her husband’s celebrated collections to Charles Darwin’s famous Galapagos finches.
Fired by Darwin’s discoveries, in 1838 Elizabeth defied convention by joining John on a trailblazing expedition to the untamed wilderness of Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales to collect and illustrate Australia’s ‘curious’ birdlife.
From a naïve and uncertain young girl to a bold adventurer determined to find her own voice and place in the world, The Birdman’s Wife paints an indelible portrait of an extraordinary woman overlooked by history, until now.
I knew nothing about the Goulds John or Elizabeth. So to learn about them and the whole culture of discovering and classifying species was fascinating. In the modern photographic era you forget or dismiss how hard it must have been to describe definitively a new species. The Goulds, and many of their contemporaries I assume, painted pictures (Elizabeth’s work) and provided stuffed specimens. I must admit there was a lot of killing and stuffing in this book.
Elizabeth was an intrepid (and hard-working) adventurer who embarked on an expedition to Australia leaving all but one of her children behind. She valued her work and arranged her household so that she could work – quite modern in her approach.
I am not a fan of first person narrated historical fiction there is something about the way it flows or doesn’t flow that I don’t like. There were moments in this novel where the research sat heavily on the story – I felt I was being lectured. However, I am glad I have read it and I now feel I know more about Elizabeth Gould and collecting and classifying animals.
Another review …
To Be Queen – Christy English
My historical book group read this novel. I have to say I was surprised when I saw the cover!
Here’s the blurb …
After her father’s sudden death, fifteen-year-old Eleanor is quickly crowned Duchess of Aquitaine and betrothed to King Louis VII. When her new husband cannot pronounce her given name, Alienor becomes Eleanor, Queen of France.
Although Louis is enamored of his bride, the newly crowned king is easily manipulated by the church and a God that Eleanor doesn’t believe in. Now, if she can find the strength to fight for what she wants, Eleanor may finally find the passion she has longed for, and the means to fulfill her legacy as Queen.
There is no doubt that this was a bodice ripper, but I found Eleanor fascinating and I want to read more of her and her time. Therefore, this novel is a good starting of point and I think the history was reasonably accurate. My plan is to move onto some of the novels written by Elizabeth Chadwick (like The Summer Queen), or finish Alison Weir’s biography. Ralph V Turner has a biography as well.
I went to a talk on ‘The Mitfords’ by Susannah Fullerton (President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia) and she recommended this book.
Based on unpublished letters and diaries, “The Viceroy’s Daughters” is a riveting portrait of three spirited and wilful women who were born at the height of British upper-class wealth and privilege.
The oldest, Irene, never married but pursued her passion for foxes, alcohol, and married men. The middle, Cimmie, was a Labour Party activist turned Fascist. And Baba, the youngest and most beautiful, possessed an appetite for adultery that was as dangerous as it was outrageous.
As the sisters dance, dine, and romance their way through England’s most hallowed halls, we get an intimate look at a country clinging to its history in the midst of war and rapid change. We obtain fresh perspectives on such personalities as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Oswald Mosley, Nancy Astor and the Cliveden Set, and Lord Halifax. And we discover a world of women, impeccably bred and unabashedly wilful, whose passion and spirit were endlessly fascinating.
This book was great – well researched and full of interesting social detail. These women lead fascinating (and salacious) lives. They seemed to know everyone in the public eye, e.g. Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson, Winston Churchill, Oswald Mosley (one of them married him, another one slept with him and the third one had an affair with him!), Nancy Astor and Lord Halifax (the foreign secretary during Word War Two). It was a time of excess in all things, which, of course, makes for fascinating reading. I found the bits about the Duke of Windsor (formerly King Edward V111) compelling – he was so self-centred and self-serving. It’s not just about people behaving badly though – these women supported many charities (Baba was awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her work with the Save The Children Fund).
Other reviews …