Author: Fiona Mountain
Category: Historical Fiction
"What was the point of living if it was not to learn? There were things I wanted to know, that I couldn't live without knowing, couldn't die not knowing, or not at least without trying to find out."
Eleanor grew up on the marshlands in Somerset, and was made heiress of Tickenham Court at her Puritan father's death. Eleanor was educated by her father in a manner that was unconvential for the time, teaching his daughter about the developing sciences as much as religion, and with little focus on "female tasks". This upbringing encouraged Eleanor's fascination with the natural world, and with butterflies in particular.
After her marriage to her first husband, Edmund Ashfield, and with plans in the works to drain the marshes for prime grazing land doomed to fail, Eleanor's interest in butterflies wanes as she settles into domestic life and becomes a mother. However, at Edmund's sudden death she establishes a friendship with London apothecary James Petiver, whose interest and knowledge of butterflies re-sparks Eleanor's obsession.
Her second marriage to Richard Glanville proves disasterous, and so Eleanor distracts herself in the collection and recording of butterfly specimens. Through this process the connection between the condition of natural habitats and butterflies was made. It was also these collections that made her famous, some of which can now be seen in the British Natural History Museum, and which lead to the naming of the Glanville fritillary in recognition of her efforts.
However, Eleanor's family did not share this appreciation. They used her interest in butterflies to found claims that she was not of sound mind in order to turn over her will and claim her estate.
Whilst Eleanor's exact fate has not been established, Fiona Mountain provides one of the most inspriring and clever endings to Eleanor's story that truly reflects her passion and determination to be free, like the butterflies she dedicated her life to admiring. This is not just a novel about a woman with an interest in butterflies: It is a story about the amazing and inspiring life of a woman who refused to be dictated to and restricted by convention, and whose tireless work in the study of butterflies has provided us with the understanding necessary to ensure their survival.
A beautiful story, impeccably written, and highly recommended.