The English Character

I've been accused of being obsessed with England. I don't think that's entirely true because If it were, I would probably eat beans on toast for breakfast, and that's a dietary choice I just can't fathom. I will, however, read pretty much any book that's set in Britain as long as it's not too gory. Historical, mystery, contemporary, whatever - I'll read it if the place is across the pond, and I just finished two that I absolutely loved. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier tells the story of two women living in the seaside town of Lyme Regis in the early 1800s. One is Mary Anning, a young, uneducated girl who is a whiz at finding fossils which are called "curies" or curiosities by the locals. The other is Elizabeth Philpot, a spinster from London who is living in somewhat reduced circumstances with two of her three sisters. She is also fascinated by curies and sets out to gather her own collection that focuses on fossil fish. Tossed into the mix are characters who are also based on real people (both Mary and Elizabeth actually lived in Lyme, and Mary did discover the skeletons of several species) including members of the religious and scientific communities who debated the meaning of fossils and how they related to God's creation and intent. Extinction was a radical concept then, and many people could not accept the fact that something that once lived could no longer exist. Chevalier's research is extensive and she uses that to good effect, recreating Lyme and the time period and making those involved in the discovery and collecting of fossils, including the icthyosaur and plesiosaur, come alive. 

Anyone who has read a Miss Marple novel by Agatha Christie knows that underneath the roses and quaint cottages, the English village is not always serene. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson examines the pettiness, racism and greed that exists in one village, and frames them in a romance between an elderly major and the local, lovely shopkeeper, Mrs. Ali. Mrs. Ali was born in England but her ancestry is Pakistani and so she is looked upon with some suspicion and is not fully accepted into Edgecomb St. Mary's society. I lovedMajor Pettigrew's Last Stand for lots of reasons, but I especially liked it because it follows the traditional romance form and, like the very best romance novels, also provides a thoughtful story of substance.

If you, too, have ever been called "obsessively Anglophilic", just go with it and enjoy these novels.