The Earl’s Lady Geologist by Alissa Baxter
Updated: May 19, 2021
(Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, famously wrote letters to each other whenever they were apart. These blog posts imagine what such letters would have looked like if the sisters had shared reviews of books they were reading. The twist? These are books published in our time, inspired by the works of Jane Austen herself.)
I have but little news and all of it said before. Yet I feel I must oblige you with a letter, since you urge me so. However, I barely have enough to tell to fill a sheet of paper, and so will have to resort to discussing the weather.
The countryside continues to green, despite one or two persistent snowfalls. Trees are in bud, and the daffodils make for a cheerful sight. Birds there are a-plenty, though not yet the full complement of the season.
You see, dear Jane, it is a rather lacklustre letter thus far, and I fear not the sort you were eager to receive. But I have so enjoyed your correspondence! Reading your words brings you home again to me, and brightens a day made dull by your absence.
And what charming books you recommend. I have been slow in doing the same, as you are familiar with all the books in Father’s library. However, just this week, we received a gift of no less than five new prints, all wrapped in wax paper, from Cousin Eliza. I have read the first of these and will send it with my letter. I hope it will, a little, make up for my want of things to say.
This offering is called “The Earl’s Lady Geologist.” The author is Mrs Alissa Baxter. It is just the sort of book you would enjoy. It is not at all silly or trite. Mrs Baxter has done her research exceptionally well. She has woven fascinating details about the fossils at Lyme Regis into a most enjoyable narrative.
The heroine is quite unconventional, of which I am certain you would approve. Cassandra Linfield is a dedicated palaeontologist, trudging along the shores of Dorset in very practical attire. Though she has been under the care of an aunt since the passing of her parents, she will soon inherit well and enjoy the independence which this promises.
Lord Rothbury seeks a wife of convenience. Love is too risky. He has been hurt before. (Oh Jane, is that not very sad?) He shares a deep interest in fossils with Miss Linfield and imagines their lives as a pleasant partnership. But Cassandra carries a deep fear that prevents her from even considering marriage at all. (Aha! Do I have your interest now?)
I liked both characters immensely. They are playful at times, poignant at others. Does it sound strange to say I enjoyed spending time with their family? (The characters are related by marriage.) Perhaps it is, in part, because I miss you so that I have appreciated their imaginary company.
One lingering thought remained with me after the book was done. Throughout the chapters, we read how eagerly the gentlemen of the Geological Society seek acceptance and recognition. However, as a woman, Miss Linfield is not only barred from membership, but she can never receive the acclaim she so rightly deserves. The nearest she can come to having her work acknowledged, is as artist recording the fossils collected by others, writing about her findings under a male pseudonym, or joining her husband as an assistant in his endeavours.
You know I am not one to protest too loudly, dear sister, but I do admit to feeling great frustration that these limitations exist. Goodness knows, my own life is simple, and I seek no such fame. But for those who reach for something more, it seems a great pity to shut the gates in their face.
Well now, I have said enough. Perhaps I have even surprised you with the strength of my feeling. At least I have filled the page and can finally offer you my much-awaited correspondence.
Please do write soon. My own lethargy should not excuse your own. You are by far the more skilled writer and cannot be discouraged by the mere fact that there is little to write about.
Do we know yet when to expect you home? I await your return with no pretence at patience.
Until then, I am less myself,
yet remain your devoted sister,