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The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of…

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the… (2010)

by Glynis Ridley

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One of those little gems you stumble upon occassionally without any prior warning, but turn out to be so enriching. A really gripping tale of a young woman in 18th century France, intelligent and desperate for learning, but prevented by her sex and lowly station in life from ever fulfilling her potential. So she seizes her chance when the wealthy dilettante whose mistress she has become is offered a position upon a major scientific expedition to the South Seas. She disguises herself as a boy and boards the ship as her lover's assistant and embarks on a voyage a woman in that time could only dream about. She pays a high price for her temerity. predictably perhaps, her imposture is discovered, and she is raped by a group of sailors, which results in her becoming pregnant. But she survives the voyage and makes her way home, and lives to a ripe old age. A really amazing, and well-written story about someone that very few people will have ever heard about. Highly recommended. ( )
  drmaf | Aug 6, 2013 |
Any non-fiction book that tells the story of an unknown (to me) and unusual historical character and fascinating history of something we all take for granted - - - gets a 5 star rating !
Not only for Ms. Baret, but the story of botany, ship voyages.
These are my cryptic notes - made to help my memory of some facts:

Herbal woman-rural France-met Commerson, became his ‘live-in’ & aid/co-worker.
Philibert Commerson has passion for Botany - Naturalist
works with Swedish Linneaus who created nomenclature for species, etc
Louis Antoine de Bougainville - French circumnavigation in 1766–1769

Baret disguised as man aboard ship (illegal for women) - was his ‘beast of burden’ Much thought that her gender was “known” ? but . . . claims to be ‘eunuch’
They end up in the captain’s quarters (ease of storing plants - Capt. closer to sailors) so easier to conceal
Rio, Straits of Magellan, Tahiti - at some point a gang-rape becomes pregnant - has child while she and Commerson stay in Mauritius
supposedly to help another French settlement Botanist
He dies, she marries army member
Gets passage back to France - claims inheritance from Commerson
and later gets a pension (equal to what Commerson would have gotten)
lives out life in small town

( )
  CasaBooks | Apr 28, 2013 |
A profoundly annoying book. Great story - the first woman on record to sail around the world, Jeanne Baret disguised herself as a man and did not just accompany her lover Commerson on Bouganville's voyage of discovery, she worked as hard or harder than most of the expedition as a botanist's assistant. It appears however that the records are scanty and Ridley fills the gaps with great screeds of guesswork, including what the characters were thinking and feeling, much of which seems anachronistic to me. I feel that this would've been better as a novel with an epilogue explaining what is known about our heroine. (Reminded me rather of "The Stolen Woman" which suffers from the same speculative structure). Read it if you are interested in the story but read it with a grain of salt... ( )
  Figgles | Mar 5, 2013 |
While Jeanne Baret is a fascinating subject and admirable heroine for any woman, the execution of The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe suffers as Glynis Ridley interjects too much supposition for a woman who left virtually no paper trail. No one could possibly know her thoughts or her feelings, and yet that is precisely how Ms. Ridley fills the pages. There is a bit too much reading between the lines on firsthand accounts of the journey as it is, and the insertion of emotions and thought processes for a woman who will always remain a shadowy figure in history compounds the issue. Unfortunately, it is excellent historical research undone by the author's personal feelings interspersed throughout the pages.
  jmchshannon | Dec 29, 2012 |
"You donÄôt have to be a history buff or a science junkie to enjoy this true tale. Ridley weaves the various threads with excellent skill, and sets the historical stage with well-written prose that reads like historical fiction.

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret is incredible well-researched, although Ridley takes a lot of liberties where there are gaps in historical knowledge. Ridley sets forth many explanations and hypotheses for the historical outcome, while commenting on what more likely occurred.

There are a couple things that I felt lukewarm about: Occasionally the source references felt a little heavy-handed, but once I was familiar with Ridley’s style, the story read smoother; the other thing that bothered me, is that there is a lack of primary sources for Baret’s own thoughts and feelings, yet Ridley often inferred that they were documented.

Read my full review on my blog: http://www.monniblog.com/2012/07/the-discovery-of-jeanne-baret-by-glynis-ridley/" ( )
  monnibo | Nov 9, 2012 |
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In a deeply researched and engagingly written narrative of science, adventure, love, and an unprecedented voyage of discovery, Ridley reveals the true story of Jeanne Baret, the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

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