Bringing history alive takes something very special and it is clear that Melissa Ashley has that skill. In ‘The Birdman’s Wife‘, she has blended her thorough enquiry into the life of the artist, Elizabeth Gould, with a creative realisation of how the main events in her life unfolded.
Until this work, far more people have heard about John Gould, Elizabeth’s husband for his art and science as a zoologist, mainly through his well-known book, ‘The Birds of Australia’, originally published in 1848. However, Elizabeth’s life was to change on being introduced to him by her brother:
“I still found it hard to believe that on the strength of my brother’s mention of my passion for sketching and painting, Mr Gould had insisted we meet, inviting me to his rooms to make him a drawing.” (quoted from Ashley, chapter 1)
Six children and hours of painstaking contribution as a natural history artist to her husband’s work later, Elizabeth’s short life was over, aged 37 years.
As you can see from the short quote from ‘The Birdman’s Wife’ above, Ashley has captured both the social stance of the nineteenth century woman and her use of language is pitch-perfect for the historical period.
Ashley, M. The Birdman’s Wife. Melbourne: Affirm Press, 2016.