Why a booktrail?
A poor woman makes an important scientific discovery in times past but will she be remembered or ridiculed?
From London to the islands of Portugal, this is the story of a woman on the biggest mission of her life
Story in a nutshell
In the 18th century, Dawnay Price is something of an anomaly.
Born a foundling, she taught herself to read by candlelight and her tough start in life only makes her more determined to make her mark on the world.
But this is a traditional and man made world where the world looks down upon the achievements of women, that’s if they are allowed to make any at all, and those they do make are ridiculed or ignored. The world of science is one in particular where men are making headway, discoveries and changing the world…or so they think. When Dawnay comes and challenges this, they are less than happy.
Soon Dawnay heads off to Portugal and some still as yet unexplored islands where she makes some shocking discoveries and challenges the theories held by scientists of the day.
Place and setting
From Falmouth to the Deptford Docks to Peniche in Portugal, the Berlengas islands and the wonders of the animal menagerie which was once held within the walls of the Tower of London…oh and Charmouth..
Dawnay’s journey of discovery takes her from the poverty of a London orphanage to the stunning Berlengas archipelago, the island of Minorca and the cool crisp blue waters of the Mediterranean of the 18th century.
Travelling by boat in a time where single women did not travel alone and where travelling in explored territories was risky and dangerous. Her soul is described as a ‘nomadic one which cannot be cured by reading from the Arabian Nights’ like the son of her tutor, Mr Applebee.
This journey is one of discovery, exploration, wonderment, scientific importance and wonderful evocative images of seeing new lands, plants, animals, people and a whole new world.
The Berlengas islands are stunning, with caves full of hidden treasures. Arriving at Berlenga Grande, the largest island –
The water in this cove is luminous turquoise , almost green and crystal clear. Ahead of us rise stately granite rocks painted red, yellow, pink and grey by nature and the sunlight
Dawnay finds caves here and although some are fictional are based on real ones near the town of Peniche. These caves are significant finds and Dawnay’s excitement is palpable. There are sea cows and mermaids – evidence of animals and sightings of things not yet explained by man and science but all the more mythical for being there
From where I stand, I feel the islands throb around me with independent existence, rich with industry and a battle for survival, against each other, against the pounding sea and the scouring wind.
A journey of many fascinating discoveries and one woman in a sea of men who must do everything to keep afloat
‘They have slackened my rope and given me a taste of the world beyond my fence. And I will have more of it, mark my words’
From the heartbreaking days in the orphanage to the series of events which sees her boarding a ship to Portugal, I was with Dawnay all the way. Her voice, vision and intelligence puts others to shame and you just know she’s getting to Portugal one was or another
What would have happened had this lady and others like her had not made their discoveries? Would Darwin and other male scientists which followed have been able to do what they did? The author calls her the wrong person at the wrong time of history and that in itself is a sobering thought when reading the novel.
The research is outstanding but never gets in the way of plot. I was there with a notebook wanting to discover things as she did, marvelling at the pictures which formed inside my mind. The historical notes at the back of the books simply added to the overall excitement that this was based on real facts.
The clever weaving of real life historical events, such as the Lisbon earthquake really added to the overall atmosphere and time of the novel.
Quite a discovery!