Remarkable creatures by Tracy Chevalier

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HarperCollins, 2009. ISBN 9780007311170.
(Ages 15-Adult) Recommended. Chevalier has written a riveting story about the discovery of fossils in the English seaside town of Lyme Regis. Based on the lives of two real women, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, it tells of the struggle for women to be recognised in a scientific world dominated by men. Mary Anning, struck by lightning as a child, uncovers fossils of strange and wonderful creatures in the cliffs. Her discoveries challenge the accepted ideas of the time about creation and evolution. However she is given little scholarly or financial recognition for her work as male scientists force her into a subservient role of mere gatherer of the fossils not recognising her intelligence and ability. Spinster Elizabeth Philpot, who has been her mentor and taught her to read, is also an avid collector of fish fossils and begins to champion her.
Chevalier has the wonderful ability to bring alive a time in history and to examine the lives of the women struggling to make a place for themselves. I found it fascinating to read about Mary Anning's work with fossils, the way she set up a museum, her collaboration and infatuation with Colonel Birch and the role of women in the 19th century. Elizabeth Philpott, poor but of a higher social class, is a remarkable woman also fighting against the class structure and prejudice about women of the time.
This is a stunning historical read, an in-depth examination of the nature of friendship between women; the strictures of social class and how one woman manages to rise above them to make important scientific discoveries.
Pat Pledger