Friday, July 16, 2010

New Release: Lady of the Butterflies

One of my favorite subjects for a novel is a little-known historical character.  We all know about Darwin and Dickens and Lincoln, but science and politics and literature are built on much more than just the backs of a few geniuses.  In Lady of the Butterflies, Fiona Mountain brings to life Eleanor Glanville, a woman whose innate interest in natural history led to many of the joys of her life but also the sorrows.

Eleanor was mostly raised by her father, a staunch Puritan, to be modest and chaste but also to appreciate learning and to love nature.  Unfortunately, after her father's early death, Eleanor is left without guidance and, while indulging her passions, finds herself in many unfortunate situations.  Still, through her curiosity and love for butterflies, she finds the peace and fulfillment she seeks.

There were many things to like about this novel.  The seventeenth-century fens and wetlands are almost their own character -- so much so that I found myself frequently drawing parallels to today's conservationist and restorationist ideas.  And I always appreciate the study of early women scientists and the hurdles that they faced in pursuing their interests in a male-only profession.  And yet, parts of this book rubbed me the wrong way.  Without giving anything away, I can only say that I have a problem when fictional scientists (especially females) are portrayed as cold-hearted and incapable of truly caring about their families (if they are even given one by the author!) because of their scientific pursuits.  There is a plot element that diverges from Eleanor Glanville's actual history (yes, I looked it up) that ruined her character for me entirely.  In fact, I felt that there might have been too many liberties taken with this actual historical character just to make an intriguing story.  I'm not sure why authors can't just write stories with characters that are based on an historical figure instead of changing actual facts to fit a plot line.  An afterword with a brief description of the actual person the story was based on would be much more satisfying to me than finding out at the end of a book (or part way through) that the author took excessive liberties with real people's lives.

I didn't mean that to turn into a rant but this has been something I've been thinking about for days after finishing this novel.  But don't let my issues deter you from picking this one up.  I really did enjoy the story.  It is strong on romance and the history is very accessible which made it a good summer read.  It also led me to a bit of historical research which is never a bad thing!

Tucking my inner scientist away again,

Support our site and buy Lady of the Butterflies on Amazon or find it at your local library.  We received a galley for review from the publisher.


  1. I agree - if an author is going to take that many liberties with a real historical figure, why don't they just write a purely fictional story?

  2. It's an injustice to distort someone's life so much.
    Still this sounds well written in any case.

    As a total by the by the word verification at the a bottom is "pastur"
    I suppose Pasteur is a suitable check on a comment for a scientist's blog.

  3. I also dislike it when an author takes crazy liberties when writing historical fiction. On the other hand, when an author writes a truly superb story about a historical figure and includes an afterword that says basically ALL THIS IS TRUE, my heart becomes filled with surprise and love. And I guess I wouldn't have such a strong positive reaction if there weren't books out there doing it less well.

  4. This sounded so promising until I came to the part where the facts of the character's life diverged from what really happened. I suppose authors do that all the time, but...I might still take a look and see if my library has it as I love historical fiction. Maybe if you know the story has been fictionalized going in it's not so bad?

  5. Tracy - Exactly. I think authors need to consider books "based on" history.

    Al - It's harder to complain when it's well written. ;)

    Jenny - I agree. A true historical novel that just fills in dialogue and such is really awesome.

    Danielle - I think a foreward that warns that it doesn't exactly follow history would be perfect. I hate looking things up later only to find that people have been deleted, timings are different and such.