Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Wedlock

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore

by Wendy Moore

Wedlock by Wendy Moore X
Wedlock by Wendy Moore
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2009, 400 pages
    Mar 2010, 400 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Marnie Colton

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book

Print Review

Women and Botany
Before her husband forbade her from pursuing any hobbies or interests, Mary Eleanor Bowes devoted considerable time to studying botany and overseeing the gardens at her family estates. She even became the patron of Scottish naturalist William Paterson, funding his expedition to South Africa, from where he brought native plant specimens as well as the first giraffe remains ever seen in England. Unfortunately for Paterson, his scientific accomplishments were obscured by the debt that he found himself in when Stoney/Bowes cut off the funds that Mary had promised; the fortune hunter thus added "impeding scientific progress" to his list of iniquities.

In a strange parallel, another 18th century British botanical enthusiast, Mary Delany (1700-1788) found herself, at the age of 16, coerced into marrying an alcoholic squire in his 60s and living the next 10 years in quiet desperation. Although her husband did not display the flagrantly evil traits of Stoney/Bowes and had not stooped to tricking her into matrimony, the marriage, engineered by Mary's relatives for political purposes, stifled her zest for life. Unlike Mary Eleanor Bowes, however, Mary Delany went on to marry a kindly vicar who encouraged her love of plants, and when she was in her 70s, she began creating exquisitely detailed flower collages that she dubbed "flower mosaiks". Over a century before the Dadaists claimed to invent collage, Mary Delany had employed scissors and paste, those hallmarks of women's leisure activities, in service of the "feminine" science, botany.

Because botanical study and illustration could be executed in the home and did not specifically require taking part in expeditions (most female botanists worked with specimens that male naturalists had brought from the field), it was generally considered an acceptable form of science for women to pursue. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, "An inquiry into abstract and speculative truths, into the principles, and axioms of sciences and every thing that render our ideas more general, is not the province of women. Their studies ought to be all practical; it is their business to apply the principles discovered by man, and to make the observations by which our sex is induced to establish those principles…" In other words, women should play back-up, secretarial roles to men's exploratory and inquisitive ones. With the exception of some radical clergymen who decried even botany as inappropriate for women to study, due to the reproductive distinctions between plants, this attitude toward botany as a "gentle" science that the "little lady" could practice at her writing desk prevailed throughout the 18th century.

According to Ann B. Shteir's expansive treatise on the subject, Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science: Flora's Daughter's and Botany in England, 1760-1860, this changed in the 19th century, but not necessarily for the better. Eager to rescue botany from its feminine sphere, male naturalists began to distinguish between "botanophiles" (botany enthusiasts, usually female) and "botanists" (scientists, usually male) and to move botany from the drawing room to the laboratory. Although the suffrage movement eventually helped break down barriers to women's formal education, resulting in women finally earning college degrees and gaining admittance into prestigious scientific societies, Shteir posits that botany's domestic and genteel roots should be a source of pride and wonder, not shame and denigration. Botany's pioneering women, stretching back to the earliest herbalists who practiced medicine culled from plants, made discoveries that hold true today, and early botanical illustrators, including Mary Delany, created images as accurate as they are beautiful. The "gentle" science might have earned a reputation as a much colder, less precise discipline without these women's influence.

Article by Marnie Colton

This article was originally published in May 2009, and has been updated for the March 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Calypso
    by David Sedaris
    David Sedaris' Calypso is every bit as hilarious and irreverent, as clever and incisive, as ...
  • Book Jacket: The Word Is Murder
    The Word Is Murder
    by Anthony Horowitz
    A wealthy widow enters a London funeral home to make arrangements for her own funeral. Six hours ...
  • Book Jacket: Call Me American
    Call Me American
    by Abdi Nor Iftin
    As a boy growing up in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, Abdi Nor Iftin loved watching action ...
  • Book Jacket
    Driving Miss Norma
    by Ramie Liddle, Tim Bauerschmidt
    In my cultural life, I've met and been awed by two Normas: The demanding, clueless, fiercely ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan

From a dazzling new literary voice, a debut novel about a Palestinian family caught between present and past.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Place for Us
    by Fatima Farheen Mirza

    A deeply moving story of love, identity and belonging--the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win If You See Me, Don't Say Hi

If You See Me, Don't Say Hi by Neel Patel

Patel's stories introduce a bold and timely new literary voice.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

A P Saved I A P E

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.