Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret by Glynis Ridley ****

Baret ... a woman who dressed as man; a female botanist in a male-dominated field; a working-class woman who traveled father [sic] than most aristocrats. How could the eighteenth-century mind classify someone who refused to be bound by her gender or her class?
The Discovery of Jeanne Baret by Glynis Ridley chronicles to life of the extraordinary first woman to circumnavigate the world. Baret lived the life of an explorer and a scientist on an expedition similar to Darwin's , but over 50 years before the voyage of the Beagle. This is a story that foreshadows today's questions of career and family. In addition to the eighteenth-century expected hardships of manual labor, starvation and disease, Baret also suffers gender-specific challenges of sexual harassment and twice has to up a child that is not compatible with the life she has chosen. In the end she retired with a "government stipend for man of science."

While the story is a fascinating look at the eighteenth-century science of the French Enlightenment, the book suffers from the author's uncertainty as to the nature of the text. At times the book is straight history with in-text references, while in other places, historical blanks are filed with fabrications of feeling and motivations. Most disconcerting is a third case where inferred events are loaded down with conjecture and interpretation. In this third category is a gang rape, not in the historical record, but that Ridley discusses at length.

A great story with a flaw presentation.

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