Welcome to The Voyage of the Pleiades
Across the World in Skirts
by Amy Turner
The Voyage of the Pleiades opens with an introduction to Linnea Wren, a botanist working at the Chelsea Physic Garden. Linnea has successfully completed several botanical surveys around the world and has gained notoriety as a brilliant naturalist. How realistic is this story about a woman being a renowned naturalist, leading her own expedition in the late 19th century?
The history of natural discovery is dotted with the rare mention of female explorers, such as Maria Sibylla Merian who traveled to Suriname in the late 1600s and was the first woman to independently lead an expedition to South America. Not only was Merian a forerunner to many of the male naturalists that became famous for traveling to South America, she arrived there more than 100 years before Alexander von Humboldt, but her illustrations from Suriname and South America were used by Linnaeus and others, to describe new species and insect life cycles. There were women such as Jeanne Baret, a botanist who disguised herself as a man to travel around the world with her lover, or Ida Laura Pfeiffer who waited until widowhood before undertaking major expeditions throughout Africa and Southeast Asia. Artists like Marianne North who funded their travels by selling their art and creating images for male naturalists to include in their publications. These are just a few examples of the women naturalists that lived during these centuries, women that made major discoveries and journeys but were not recognized as significant during their time. One thing most of them had in common is that they came from wealthy families, they had the advantages of class, color and status that allowed them to pursue what at that time was categorized as a hobby (if you were a woman). The naturalists in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were part of the systemic colonial greed that was sweeping the world. Botanists were expected to travel to faraway places and return with specimens that would fill newly established botanical gardens, and medical discoveries that would line the pockets of rich Europeans. However, it was also during this period that our understanding of nature took a massive leap. How does one reconcile the exploitation with the profound discoveries that became the building blocks of modern natural sciences? Personally, I struggle to reconcile the brutality of colonialism with scientific advancement. I cannot right the wrongs of naturalists in past centuries, but what I felt I could do was create a novel that allowed me to reimagine the experience of natural history exploration through the eyes of a woman, through the eyes of a non-white man, and through our 21st century lens of being aware of the impact Europeans had on the world.
Enjoyed this newsletter? Interested in learning more about pioneering women naturalists? Here are some links worth following.
Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World
by Londa Schiebinger
The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe.
by Glynis Ridley
The Art of Medicine
by Londa Schiebinger
The Colorful Life of Marianne North
A Pioneering Woman of Science Re-Emerges after 300 years
The Voyage of the Pleiades is going through final revisions and making the rounds with test readers. We are hoping for a publication date early in 2021.
In the next newsletter, an excerpt from the novel,The Cormorant's arrival in South America, and how bat guano built a shipping industry in coastal Chile.
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Copyright © 2021 Amy Marie Turner, All rights reserved.
Photo by David W. Shaw of the Pleiades from Chiloé Island, Chile
"How does one reconcile the exploitation with the profound discoveries that became the building blocks of modern natural sciences?" Fabulous inquiry!