The Birdman’s Wife – Melissa Ashley

The Birdman's Wife -

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 …



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