Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley


This delightful and very interesting book tells the story of Elizabeth Gould, the artist wife of the famous ornithologist, John Gould. I first heard Melissa Ashley interviewed on a radio program and she spoke so passionately about Elizabeth as such a talented artist, that I was very enthusiastic to read her story.

Melissa Ashley has written this story, as fictionalised account of Elizabeth Gould’s life after very detailed research and it is a very convincing story. I am not usually attracted to historic fiction, but looking over my reading list quite recently, I noticed quite a bit more making it onto my list – all books being well researched, but fictionalised accounts of real women’s lives. Such books as the titles by Hannah Kent and “The Anchoress” by Robyn Cadwallader.

The story of Elizabeth Gould proved to be a fascinating read, and was so much more than just about her as an artist. As a woman in the 1800’s she led a very similar, but also very different life to other women in the same upper middle class situation as her. It was quite an eye opener to read about how Elizabeth was able to continue with her painting of bird specimens after her marriage to John Gould, and also manage the responsibility of her household and family. The descriptions of Elizabeth and John’s shared passion of studying the birds was particularly interesting, as it highlighted their equal relationship as husband and wife working towards the same intellectual pursuit, at a time when this would have been very uncommon. One of the most incredible parts of the story is when Elizabeth agrees to travel with her husband, by boat, to Australia and leave behind most of her young family in London. This journey takes two years and provides a great picture of life in the early colonies of Australia.

Although this is a fictionalised account of a real woman’s life, it is a truly fascinating story that is very beautifully written and also gives the reader such insight into the life of a very remarkable and brave woman.


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