‘The Birdman’s Wife’ by Melissa Ashley

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.

Author: Alison Ferguson

Back in the 1970s, Alison Ferguson completed one of the first Bachelor of Arts degrees in Professional Writing and then went on to qualify as a speech pathologist, working as a clinician and academic for over thirty years. As well as writing research-based book chapters and papers for international refereed journals, Alison authored two scholarly books (published by Plural Publishing, and Palgrave Macmillan). Recently retired, Alison is pursuing her long-standing fascination with story writing in both non-fiction and fiction.

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