Book Bingo 2019 is a collaboration challenge I am completing with my favourite bloggers, Theresa Smith Writes and The Book Muse. Each Saturday, on a fortnightly basis, beginning on Saturday 5th January 2019, Ashleigh, Theresa and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The Book Bingo 2019 card contains a total of 30 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year, with the aim to complete the whole card by the end of December. Two of the Book Bingo entries this year will be flexible, so that means it is completely down us as to when we post these entries, to ensure all 30 are ticked off by the end of the year. Do keep an eye out on our respective blog sites for our bonus round entries! To keep things interesting for ourselves and those following along with us, the choice of bingo square to be covered will be entirely down to us, there is no crossover – that is planned anyway! However, as Ashleigh, Theresa and I enjoy similar books, especially books by Australian women writers, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we end up with more than one book double up, as was the case in 2018! We invite you to join us in this fun book related challenge, by linking your bingo card entries in the comments section of this post, tagging us on social media, or by visiting The Book Muse and Theresa Smith Writes.
A woman overshadowed by history steps back into the light . . .
Artist Elizabeth Gould spent her life capturing the sublime beauty of birds the world had never seen before. But her legacy was eclipsed by the fame of her husband, John Gould. The Birdman’s Wife at last gives voice to a passionate and adventurous spirit who was so much more than the woman behind the man.
Elizabeth was a woman ahead of her time, juggling the demands of her artistic life with her roles as wife, lover, helpmate, and mother to an ever-growing brood of children. In a golden age of discovery, her artistry breathed wondrous life into hundreds of exotic new species, including Charles Darwin’s famous Galapagos finches.
In The Birdman’s Wife, the naïve young girl who falls in love with a demanding and ambitious genius comes into her own as a woman, an artist and a bold adventurer who defies convention by embarking on a trailblazing expedition to collect and illustrate Australia’s ‘curious’ birdlife.
In this indelible portrait, an extraordinary woman overshadowed by history steps back into the light where she belongs.
The life and times of Elizabeth Gould, wife of John Gould, the famed English ornithologist, is immortalised in The Birdman’s Wife. John Gould is known as the ‘father of bird study’ and his published monographs on birds helped him to be included in Charles Darwin’s Origins of the Species. The history books tell us that John Gould was a revolutionary figure in the field of bird study and that he was assisted by his wife, along with decorated artists, such as Edward Lear. Melissa Ashley’s The Birdman’s Wife suggests that Elizabeth Gould had a much larger role in her husband’s career. The Birdman’s Wife resurrects the life of the Goulds, with special attention directed to Elizabeth Gould, in this meticulously researched fictional biography.
Elizabeth Gould was a trailblazer in the art world. She catalogued many different varieties of birds during her career. Elizabeth’s eye for detail and her specialist knowledge of the bird species saw her illustrations beamed across the world. This little known historical figure was a pioneer, but she has been overshadowed by her famous husband. In this fictional biography, Melissa Ashley has breathed new life into Elizabeth Gould. The Birdman’s Wife works hard to develop a sense of respect for this adventurous woman, and all she was able to achieve in her thirty seven years. Through this impassioned tale, what becomes clear is the internal conflict Elizabeth faced as a dedicated wife, devoted mother, talented artist and lover of the natural world. When Elizabeth’s world is opened to new possibilities, Elizabeth is tormented by her love for her work and her responsibilities as a mother. The Birdman’s Wife is a story of love, family, drive, ambition, exploration, discovery and achievement.
The Birdman’s Wife is a 2016 Affirm Press publication. This book was a natural progression from author Melissa Ashley’s previous research in this field. Inspired, passionate, poignant, informative and compelling, The Birdman’s Wife is an essential text for bird lovers, illustrators and historical fiction fans. It also provided the perfect choice for the book bingo 2019 category, ‘fictional biography about a woman from history.’
Fictional biographies are one of my favourite genres. The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley is a beautiful re-imagining of the life of Elizabeth Gould. Melissa Ashley works hard to raise Elizabeth to the public sphere, through this highly readable novel. From the very beginning of the novel we are made aware of Elizabeth’s creative abilities, ambitions and interests. It is clear that Elizabeth is no ordinary woman, and she is obviously destined for great things. Elizabeth’s passion for art, and capturing the natural world with her observant lens is infectious. Although I am not personally an artist, it is impossible not to feel a sense of admiration and inspiration from learning about Elizabeth Gould.
Ashley perfectly encapsulates the gentle love affair that develops between Elizabeth and her husband, with a strong touch of authenticity. This is a love, marriage and partnership that weathered a great deal. The Goulds experienced loss, ambition, exploration and death over the course of their lives. Ashley’s account of the union between Elizabeth and John will be sure to make your heart both beat and break.
The Birdman’s Wife is a finely researched novel and it is obvious that Ashley has devoted plenty of time to upholding the integrity of this novel. I was taken aback by the sheer level of detail and information in this book, from the scientific facts, artwork, taxidermy, zoology references and the very specialist work of ornithology. Many of the factual elements of this text are illuminated by plenty of descriptive pages that work to fully immerse the reader in the world of this important historical figure. The eight page Author’s Note, Acknowledgements and Guide to the Endpapers Images should not be overlooked.
What I found most interesting and relatable was the torment Elizabeth experienced as a mother, when an opportunity arises to undertake a groundbreaking trip to Australia. It is a trip that Elizabeth wrestles with, but eventually she accepts, leaving England’s shores for the untouched lands of Australia. This tumultuous trip is marked by both discovery and internal pain. Elizabeth experiences a great deal of conflict between capturing animals for the purposes of science, and her inherent need to set them free. It is a predicament that torments Elizabeth and it will be sure to upset the reader too.
A final word on the physical appearance of the book. I really looked forward to start of each chapter, which was headed by a different bird type. Most were familiar to me, but the odd new species added to my working knowledge of the bird world. The Birdman’s Wife is presented in hardback form, with a stunning wren, one of favourite birds and a gold embossed title. The end papers are just so exquisite, adorned with the actual illustrations by Gould. The presence of Elizabeth’s stunning artwork in the text reminds us of the legacy left behind by this talented figure.
The Birdman’s Wife is a very personalised story, with Elizabeth Gould, a neglected figure from our past, at the centre of the narration. During the course of The Birdman’s Wife, we learn of Elizabeth’s deepest hopes, fears and her eventual parting from the world. This is truly a remarkable life, that is supported by the sensitive and delicate hands of Melissa Ashley.
**** 4.5 stars
The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley was published on 1st October 2016 by Affirm Press. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Birdman’s Wife, Melissa Ashley, visit here.
The Birdman’s Wife is book #127 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge