Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, has a new book, Remarkable Creatures, about 19th-century fossil hunters in Lyme Regis who read…guess who.
Elizabeth accepts her fate, albeit with a heavy heart – “I’m not the sort of lady a man chooses to marry, for I am too plain and too serious” – while her ever-hopeful sister Margaret holds on to the romantic dream. The person responsible for this giddy delusion, Elizabeth suggests (as does Chevalier), is Jane Austen, a contemporary whose fiction of love and marriage is charged with leading women like Margaret astray. The stories of these two spinsters, says Chevalier, need to be told, to redress the rose-tinted vision of 19th-century amours created by Austen, who herself lived a spinster’s life, yet wrote stories that espoused the opposite ideals. “We are so steeped in Jane Austen. This story is, in a way, about her not only physically but in spirit. She never married and died when she was 41. I was looking for women who don’t end up married.
“It was a sad thing but there was a freedom in their spinsterhood. I’m suggesting that for some women at the time, if they didn’t marry, there was another life of intellectual pursuit, as well as their female friends, their sisters – Austen was very close to her sister, Cassandra. This is a novel that addresses questions of independence and being alone. In a way, Austen sidesteps these issues,” claims Chevalier.
Does she need to talk to the Bitch in a Bonnet dude?