I had the immense pleasure of meeting Deanna Raybourn at Triangle Reads last month and I must say she is every bit as delightful in person as she is on the page. Her latest novel, A CURIOUS BEGINNING, is one of our Fall book club selections and if you’ve not yet read her work, it’s a fabulous place to start!
Arranging flowers, practicing the piano, and covering up the furniture legs with doilies—these are the things we think our Victorian sisters were doing. And bless them, some were! But there were others, the women who listened to the quiet, insistent call of the unknown. These women packed up their parasols and their petticoats and set off in search of adventure.
They aren’t as well known as their male counterparts. Far more people would recognize the line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume,” than would know the names Mary Kingsley or Isabella Bird. But they should. These women were intrepid and courageous, traversing hostile terrain and enduring hardship and privation as great as anything their male explorers experienced, and they were doing it in corsets and crinolines.
My favorite of these daring women was Margaret Fountaine. A lepidopterist by trade—butterfly hunting was one of the few genteel occupations open to ladies—Margaret netted specimens on six continents over the span of a fifty-year career. She kept journals of her travels, detailing the challenges and the triumphs, as well as the many hearts she broke along the way. Not only was Margaret a keen collector of winged insects, she was a keen collector of men as well, gathering admirers as easily as she acquired Lepidoptera. Her unique way of living a truly grand life—much larger than that of her hearth-bound sisters–makes her endearingly memorable as well as an unparalleled inspiration for Veronica Speedwell, the heroine of A CURIOUS BEGINNING, the first book in my new Victorian series.
Veronica is very much her own woman, daring, forthright, and unapologetic about pursuing her passions, both professional and personal. She is, like all of her colleagues in exploration, a modern woman for her time, firmly rooted in Victorian England while looking ahead with delighted anticipation to the dawn of the twentieth century. I made her a lepidopterist in affectionate homage to Margaret, and I think they might have been very great friends—so long as they weren’t chasing after the same Morpho blue!
London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.
But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.