In London, twenty-five year-old spinster Elizabeth Philpot-- along with her sisters Margaret and Louise and Bessie, a servant—is making arrangements to move away from the city due to the marriage of her brother John, whose wife may not want to share her new quarters with her sisters-in-laws. Upon a visit to Lyme Regis, the Philpot sisters decide to settle there.
Mary and Elizabeth meet months before the death of Richard Anning, who is a carpenter, when Elizabeth pays a visit to the Annings to order the making of cabinets to exhibit her growing collection of fish fossils. What begins as a shared passion for fossil hunting derives in a friendship that lasts for most of both women’s lives. During those years, Mary Anning becomes famous due to her discovery of entire fossils of two extinct species baptized as ichthyosaur and plesiosaur.
I really liked Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. First and foremost it is a work of fiction, but it is so well developed that isn’t difficult for the reader to imagine the details that make up daily life for most characters in this book. It is deeply engrossing, utterly fascinating, a literary page turner (and I thought those didn’t exist!) Tracy Chevalier recounts what it takes to feed and maintain a friendship based on shared interests such as that of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, but she also explores the ease with which a friendship can be destroyed when jealousy and fame intrude.
Remarkable Creatures is also a study on a time past when women had no rights, had to be accompanied by a man when they ran errands in a big city like London, and the conventionalisms of society about an unmarried young woman being seen accompanied by a man without chaperones present. Remarkable Creatures also explores the barriers that women who made scientific contributions faced in those times, since their name was rarely associated with the discovery they made.