Thursday, October 07, 2010

Lady of the Butterflies by Fiona Mountain

Title: Lady of the Butterflies
Author: Fiona Mountain
Publisher: Preface Publishing, 2009
Trade Paperback, 516 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: B-
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.

First Line: They say I am mad and perhaps it's true.

Eleanor Glanville's father fought with Cromwell in the English Civil War. Although she had a stern Puritan upbringing, her father also educated her in the sciences-- a very rare occurrence in the seventeenth century. The estate upon which she grew up was mostly marshland in Somerset, and Eleanor always craved to be outdoors. This craving ultimately led to her love of and obsession with butterflies.

Through two marriages and four children, she became one of the world's foremost lepidopterists (authorities on butterflies). Do we know her name? No. Do we know that she's responsible for naming several species of butterflies? No. Why? Because her second husband and her children were people of their time who said she was mad and called her a witch. Mad people are not remembered. Witches are forgotten.

That is, until Fiona Mountain spent three years researching Eleanor Glanville in order to tell her remarkable story. No known portrait of Eleanor exists, but I feel as if I know her after listening to her telling me her story.

At 516 pages, I feel that the story could have been told in many less. For me, the weakest part of the story was Eleanor's childbearing years where she spent almost every waking minute trying to please husband and children or, when a widow, trying not to lust after the man she really loved.

The book did come to life when Eleanor was a child discovering the wildlife in the marshes and learning how important it was to protect the land as it was for the butterflies she loved. I also loved the sections when she met and corresponded with James Petiver, a fellow lepidopterist. Their passion for butterflies fueled their thirst for knowledge and discovery. One scene in particular will stay with me for a long time: a maid walking into a room to discover Eleanor and one of her children with dozens of butterflies floating in the sun-filled space.

Anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a scientific angle about an amazing woman whose life's story was almost lost should enjoy Lady of the Butterflies.


  1. Her own family called her a witch? She must have been an amazingly strong, intelligent woman. The book sounds good, even if it's a little too long.

  2. Kathy-- Like in many cases of someone accused of being a witch, she had something that others wanted. The more things change....

  3. This sounds like a really interesting read -- I waver though, when there's the chance that could have been told with a lesser number of pages...that's always a bummer when that happens!

  4. CAABC-- Yes, it is. If you're more into romance than I am, the book probably won't drag for you at all.

  5. Love the honest review. This one sounds good. It's good to know about the length issue.

  6. Holly-- Thanks. I don't mind a chunkster unless I keep finding myself stopping to wonder why nothing's happening!


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