Last night, the group met to discuss The Discovery of Jeanne Baret by Glynis Ridley. Here’s some of what people had to say:
- Deb started us off by saying, “This is a great book to read if you’re feeling sorry for yourself today.” I think the rest of the group unanimously agreed with her sentiment. We then talked about how it’s better to be a woman now (in many respects) than in 1765, but we also discussed how, in many situations, some of the same things that were true then are true now (women being seen as second-class to men, women staying in abusive relationships, etc.). It seemed to many readers that this book had some contemporary themes running through it.
- Some readers felt the book was a bit of a slow start, but that the author did a tremendous amount of research for this book. We talked about how there was some speculation on the part of the author, but that she usually supported any speculation with well-researched and explained documentation. For example, when the author discusses Jeanne’s abandonment of her first child, the author gives quite a bit of information about the society of that time, foundling hospitals, etc.
- One person mentioned that she kept a globe handy when reading the book, and another found it was helpful to look up things on her iPad while reading. The author gives so much information in this book, that it’s easy to see how this could really help (and this is something I think many of us will do in the future, with some of our other selections).
- The group as a whole completely disliked Commerson, and we spent some time talking about him, and what we saw as his intelligent, but narcissistic, personality. Readers found it unbelievable that he not only treated Jeanne the way that he did, but also that he really had no plan in place for her accompanying him on this voyage. The plan of “I had no idea she was a woman,” if she were to be found out really seemed ludicrous.
- We did talk about Jeanne, and how her life was completely changed by this voyage. As nightmarish as it was, we did note that if she had not met Commerson, she would have had a shorter life, and it might not have been as rich as it turned out to be.
Overall, the group enjoyed this book, even though some people found parts difficult to read (especially the part where Jeanne is assaulted). None of us had been familiar with her, so we appreciated what we learned in this book. We did note that we read and discussed this book right after we discussed Pilgrim at Tinker Creek — two books where women were observing nature, but at different times, and in completely different ways.
Would you like to add your thoughts on this book, or our discussion? Please do — comments are welcome!