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The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globeby Glynis Ridley
Synopses & Reviews
The year was 1765. Eminent botanist Philibert Commerson had just been appointed to a grand new expedition: the first French circumnavigation of the world. As the ships' official naturalist, Commersonwould seek out resources--medicines, spices, timber, food--that could give the French an edge in the ever-accelerating race for empire.
Jeanne Baret, Commerson'syoung mistress and collaborator, was desperate not to be left behind. She disguised herself as a teenage boy and signed on as his assistant. The journey made the twenty-six-year-old, known to her shipmates asJean rather than Jeanne, the first woman to ever sail around the globe. Yet so little is known about this extraordinary woman, whose accomplishments were considered to besubversive, even impossible for someone of her sex and class.
When the ships made landfalland the secret lovers disembarked to explore, Baret carried heavy wooden field presses and bulky optical instruments over beaches and hills, impressing observers on the ships' decks with her obvious strength andstamina. Less obvious were the strips of linen wound tight around her upper body and the months she had spent perfecting her masculine disguise in the streets and marketplaces ofParis.
Expedition commander Louis-Antoine de Bougainville recorded in his journal thatcurious Tahitian natives exposed Baret as a woman, eighteen months into the voyage. But the true story, it turns out, is more complicated.
In The Discovery of Jeanne Baret, Glynis Ridley unravels the conflicting accounts recorded by Baret's crewmates to piece together the real story: how Baret's identity was in fact widely suspected within just a couple of weeksof embarking, and the painful consequences of those suspicions; the newly discovered notebook, written in Baret's own hand, that proves her scientific acumen; and the thousands of specimens she collected, mostfamously the showy vine bougainvillea.
Ridley also richly explores Baret's awkward, sometimes dangerous interactions with the men on the ship, including Baret's lover, theobsessive and sometimes prickly naturalist; a fashion-plate prince who, with his elaborate wigs and velvet garments, was often mistaken for a woman himself; the sour ship's surgeon, who despised Baret andCommerson; even a Tahitian islander who joined the expedition and asked Baret to show him how to behave like a Frenchman.
But the central character of this true story is Jeanne Baret herself, aworking-class woman whose scientific contributions were quietly dismissed and written out of history--until now. Anchored in impeccable original research and bursting with unforgettable characters and exoticsettings, The Discovery of Jeanne Baret offers this forgotten heroine a chance to bloom at long last.
From the Hardcover edition.
Documents the pioneering round-the-world journey of the woman adventurer, tracing how she disguised herself as a boy to accompany her lover, botanist Philibert Commerson, on his 18th-century voyage before her true gender was exposed. By the award-winning author of Clara's Grand Tour.
About the Author
Glynis Ridley is the author of Clara's Grand Tour: Travels with a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth-Century Europe, which won the Institute of Historical Research (University of London) Prize. A British citizen, she is now a professor of English at the University of Louisville.
Table of Contents
"a list of medicinal plants" : the botanist and the herb woman — "To Jeanne Baret, also known as Jeanne de Bonnefoy" : a changed identity in Paris — "A masquerade of devils" : crossing the line — "Placing me under arrest" : the Bougainvillea and the South Atlantic — "His beast of burden" : on the shores of the Strait of Magellan — "Venus showed herself" : Tahiti exposed — "The location of hell" : Baret on New Ireland — "The true promised land" : making a home on Mauritius and botanizing on Madagascar — "A monument more durable than a pyramid" : journey's end
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