Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable Creatures

by Tracy Chevalier

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780452296725
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/26/2010
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 136,764
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

"I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I’m still here.

"As a kid I’d often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing ‘real’ stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I’d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered ‘big’ enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend’s name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he’s become a highly respected agent in the UK and I’ve gone along for the ride."

Hometown:

London, England

Date of Birth:

October 19, 1962

Place of Birth:

Washington, D.C.

Education:

B.A. in English, Oberlin College, 1984; M.A. in creative writing, University of East Anglia, 1994

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

A voyage of discoveries, a meeting of two remarkable women, and extraordinary time and place enrich bestselling author Tracy Chevalier's enthralling new novel

From the moment she's struck by lightening as a baby, it is clear that Mary Anning is marked for greatness. On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, she learns that she has "the eye"-and finds what no one else can see. When Mary uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious fathers on edge, the townspeople to vicious gossip, and the scientific world alight. In an arena dominated by men, however, Mary is barred from the academic community; as a young woman with unusual interests she is suspected of sinful behavior. Nature is a threat, throwing bitter, cold storms and landslips at her. And when she falls in love, it is with an impossible man.

Luckily, Mary finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a recent exile from London, who also loves scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy. Ultimately, in the struggle to be recognized in the wider world, Mary and Elizabeth discover that friendship is their greatest ally.

Remarkable Creatures is a stunning novel of how one woman's gift transcends class and social prejudice to lead to some of the most important discoveries of the nineteenth century. Above all, is it a revealing portrait of the intricate and resilient nature of female friendship.


ABOUT TRACY CHEVALIER

"I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I’m still here.

"As a kid I’d often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing ‘real’ stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I’d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered ‘big’ enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend’s name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he’s become a highly respected agent in the UK and I’ve gone along for the ride."


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • The first sentence of the novel is, “Lightning has struck me all my life.” What did you expect after reading that? What does Mary mean?
  • What attracts Mary to fossil hunting? How is it different from Elizabeth’s motivation?
  • How would you characterize the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth—mother/daughter, sisters, or something else?
  • On page 39 Elizabeth says, “After little more than a year in Lyme I’d come to appreciate the freedom a spinster with no male relatives about could have there.” Why is that? What did “freedom” mean for a woman of the time? Who had more freedom—Elizabeth or Mary?
  • What role does religion play in Elizabeth’s life? In Mary’s?
  • How does the notion of “God’s intention” affect their fossil-hunting?
  • Why do you think that in the novel, the women are fossil hunters, while the men are fossil collectors? What point is Chevalier trying to make?
  • At different points in the novel, both Mary and Elizabeth have reason to think that they, themselves, might become fossils. What did each woman mean by that?
  • How does Colonel Birch come between the two women? What are his motives? In the end, do you consider him a decent man?
  • After Birch’s auction, on page 203, Elizabeth cries, “Not for Mary, but for myself.” Why?
  • Which woman needs the other more? Why?
  • Why does Elizabeth go to London? What does she hope to achieve?
  • Regarding her time on the Unity, Elizabeth says, “I did not expect it, but I had never been so happy.” (page 250) Why does she feel that way?
  • After Mary agrees to sell a specimen to Cuvier, Mam accuses her of becoming a collector, no longer a hunter. What does she mean by that? Is she right?
  • Upon Elizabeth’s return from London, Mary says she “was like a fossil that’s been cleaned and set so everyone can see what it is.” (page 298) What happened to change her?
  • What was your response to the ending?
  • Have you read any of Tracy Chevalier’s other novels? What similarities and differences do you see?
  • Interviews

    A Message from the Author
    One rainy day during school vacation, I took my son to a small dinosaur museum in southern England. He was in the dinosaur stage of his obsessions, and needed entertaining. I was not looking for an idea for a novel there. But that is what I came out with.

    In one corner of the museum there was a small display about a woman named Mary Anning. In 1811 she and her brother found a complete specimen of an ichthyosaur, an ancient marine reptile which no one knew had even existed. (They thought it was a crocodile.) The discovery of such a creature challenged commonly held beliefs about the creation of the world. At that time there was no concept of extinction -- it would have been considered blasphemous to suggest that God might have created animals that He then allowed to die out as if they were mistakes.

    Mary had no idea of the controversy her "crocodile" would set off. She was simply finding and selling fossils to make a living. That was what drew me to her story: she was a working-class woman holding her own among middle-class male scientists. There was something special about her -- underlined by the fact that she survived being struck by lightning as a baby. Indeed, some suggested that made her more intelligent.

    I had a lot of fun researching Remarkable Creatures, in particular in getting to know Lyme Regis, a small town on the south coast where Mary lived. An isolated fishing village which became a tourist destination by the early 19th century, Lyme Regis still attracts eccentric, independent sorts. Most readers know it as the setting of John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman. Visitors like to walk to the end of the town's curved jetty, called the Cobb, and do their best Meryl Streep impersonation from the movie, tossing their hair and looking mournfully out to sea as the waves crash around them.

    There's another side to Lyme Regis, though, which is equally dramatic: its beaches and cliffs stuffed with 200 million-year-old fossils. I spent a lot of time on those beaches, following in Mary's footsteps and keeping one eye on the tide and falling rocks as I searched for ammonites, belemnites and the odd dinosaur bone. I even managed to find the shoulder bone and vertebra of a plesiosaur, one of the other creatures Mary discovered. Those moments of discovery were like bolts of lightning for me, and I felt for a second that I was experiencing my character's life. --Tracy Chevalier

    Customer Reviews

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    Remarkable Creatures 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 187 reviews.
    ChelseaW More than 1 year ago
    Mary Anning has been a unique girl ever since she survived being struck by lightning as a baby. She has a special knack for finding rare fossils of unknown creatures on the beaches near her home. Elizabeth Philpot is a young spinster when she meets Mary, instantly taking an interest in fossils herself. From this moment, we watch the friendship grow between these two different women as they navigate family, love, society, and the male dominated world of Fossils. Chevalier has a uncommon ability to make people from a very specific time and place come alive once more. I had to pause a few times to remind myself that these characters lived long ago, as they felt so real and tangible to me. She has a writing style full of prose so beautiful and soft, it will make the vision at the edges of your sight blur until the only thing in focus is the page in front of you. Unusual side effect: reading this book made me want to go scour the beaches for my own fossil finds!
    AvidReaderREE More than 1 year ago
    My mother and I have read all of Tracy Chevalier's books and the last few we have been rather disappointed, but this one makes up for it! It's quite gripping and compelling, on par with Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Lady and the Unicorn. Absolutely wonderful! Such a good book to just sit down and read the whole thing!
    alaskanvalkyrie More than 1 year ago
    Tracy Chevalier does an outstanding job of showing you raw, realistic history while compelling you to turn the page. An unlikely friendship in an age where women do not have equality, this is a superb example of the rise of great women. I love every book of Ms. Chevalier's because they are all different in genre and are never repititious. Can't wait for the next book!
    GabrielRE More than 1 year ago
    Tracy Chevalier once again managed a little miracle by bringing back to life Mary Anning and Ms. Elizabeth Philpot who have long been dust themselves back on the beaches of Lyme's coastal cliffs. She once again made people from a very specific time and place come alive once more. I felt I was right there, walking along the beach of Lyme Regis with them in search of fossils, ammonites and crocs! Her writing style of prose so beautiful and soft, just flows gently and slowly sips in you until all you can think of, even when you put the book down, is fossil hunting on the beaches of Lyme. Remarkable Creatures is indeed about these two remarkable ladies, who little did they know at the time, contributed with their simple lives, their curiosity, perseverance, endurance and inner strength to how the scientific world begun "considering" the idea of extinction, regardless of how shocking this idea was in the early 19th century...
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    It is a shame to see such a beautifully written novel fall short to entertain. There was no plot, no height to the story, and no entertainment factor. It was extremely boring. I did finish it, however, by the time I reached the end I wish I wouldn't have. I was upset that I devoted so much time to read it. There were several times the story would reach the point of wondering what's going to happen next and than nothing did. For instance, when bones of a woman were discovered on the the shore, there was no great mystery behind it. It is basically a story about the relationship of two woman who have fossil hunting in common. It is one long boring story about their lives intertwined. It was well written, but that is all I can say good about it.
    BeenToBaliToo More than 1 year ago
    I am a huge Chevalier fan, and this book is her best yet. She has such a talent for picking topics that would seem mundane, yet she makes them fascinating and intricate with feminist themes.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Why is the ebook more $$ than the paper copy?
    Northwest_Judy More than 1 year ago
    If you are a Jane Austen fan, this book would make a great companion piece. Where those books are lovely in their wit and tidy endings, Chevalier shines in portraying a different type of woman living in that same time, whose stories do not always go the way we wish for them. I was thrown off by the lightning element at the start of the book, thinking that this story would veer off into magical realism (it didn't). This isn't the type of book that will keep you up at night for 'just one more chapter' but if you are a fan of historical fiction you'll be happy with the details on location, time, gender, and class.
    harstan More than 1 year ago
    Born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, England, her father gave his daughter quite an education to search for the "curies" of life that can be found by the beach so they can sell their catch to wealthy tourists. This was Mary Anning's training at paleontology fossil hunting. She became one of the best and hr research led to her belief that the age of the earth was much older than that of the Old Testament as proof of an age with gigantic creatures before humanity (and Darwin) existed. Elizabeth Philpot and her family come to coastal England for their brother's marriage. She meets Mary and enjoys the fossil hunter's tales. They become friends and partners searching for the bones of pre mankind. When Mary discovers fully intact dinosaur remains, Elizabeth speaks for both of them in front of the science community that detests females in their business and several try to rip off the find as theirs. However their BFF is tested when Colonel Thomas Birch arrives in Lyme Regis to ask Mary to help him on his fossil hunt. Based on real people who made incredible contributions to paleontology before Darwin, Remarkable Creatures is an entertaining historical fiction that showcases the strength of conviction a woman had to have to do anything outside the accepted limited roles. We come more than just a long way, try light years, from the Regency-Victorian eras. Fans will enjoy Tracy Chevalier's spotlight on two women who made a difference as their work is still on display in Oxford. Harriet Klausner
    bibliolover More than 1 year ago
    Tracy Chevalier is one of my favorite authors and she completely lives up to expectations with this novel. I had no knowledge of this story before reading it and I was hooked from the first page. Strong female characters who actually existed and left a legacy behind. Fabulous.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Chevalier develops her characters thoroughly, reflecting the class distinctions of the times with two women's enduring friendship and devotion despite such barriers.
    karen978 More than 1 year ago
    Loved it. Chevalier's characters are ALWAYS interesting and alive. I couldn't put it down.
    miss_read on LibraryThing 3 days ago
    I think Chevalier plays a bit too fast and loose with the truth. Poor poor Colonel Birch. Artistic license taken a tad too far, in my opinion.
    Eyejaybee on LibraryThing 3 days ago
    One of the most beautiful books i have read for a long time. Basically this is a fictionalised history of Mary Anning who was the leading discoverer of dinosaur fossils in nineteenth century Lyme Regis, at a time when such discoveries were just beginning to challenge the creationist view of the world. The book takes the form of alternate reminiscences from Anning herself and Elizabeth Philpot, a middle class lady who retreated to Lyme Regis and gradually became Anning's leading champion.As usual, Ms Chevalier has obviously done an immense amount of research, and is able to discourse on her subject with great authority, though never losing her reader's attention.Exquisitely done.
    marilivtollefson More than 1 year ago
    The remarkable creatures in Tracy Chevalier’s sixth novel, Remarkable Creatures, are both fossils and the women who hunt them. Mary Anning, based on the real fossilist from Lyme Regis, England, and her fictional friend Elizabeth Philpot, a transplant to Lyme from London, discover bones of “monsters” at first thought to be crocodiles. As they discover specimens never before encountered, they also discover their individual strengths and the strength of their friendship. Mary Anning is hit by lightning as a child and is thereby set apart for the rest of her life. As soon as she meets her, Elizabeth notices that Mary “leads with her eyes,” a trait Elizabeth envies. After her father dies, Mary contributes necessary money to her household selling “curies” she digs out along the coast. Her skill wins her the attention of fossilist Colonel Birch but fails to win his heart. Fossils begin to take a different priority in her life. Meanwhile, Elizabeth lives with two other spinster sisters, one who leads with her hands and the other with her eyes, with whom she gets on best. It takes a pioneering trip to London, by ship, alone, on Mary’s behalf, for Elizabeth to discover how she leads. The remarkable creatures in Remarkable Creatures defy expectations. No one expects much of poor Mary Anning after her accident, despite her discoveries; someone else gets always the acclaim. Elizabeth does not expect notoriety from her own finds. She knows her limited place in the world, kept afloat by her solicitor brother. The fossils themselves are either ignored or feared as clues to a past that upsets the current Biblical understanding of the creation. But as Mary and Elizabeth learn that fossils are “works of art reminding us of what the world was once like (229), they open to the possibility that they, too, are capable of evolution, of bringing about change. Alternating Mary’s and Elizabeth’s voices, the novel’s point of view is expansive. This novel is hopeful, both deep and light-hearted. Concerned with the beginnings of the study of the origins of life, it invites an inquiry into beloved beliefs and assumptions. It draws delightful portraits of women resisting conventional roles, as well as the men who support their abilities and independence. Not bound by the past, this historical fiction enlivens our present.
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    I suppose the book was written the only way possible. It turns out to be suitable for young readers as well as their elders. Personally, I would have enjoyed a side story delving into the philosophical struggles of early paleontology reconciling biblical history with natural history.
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