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The Discovery of Jeanne Baret


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An herb woman, the daughter of illiterate peasants, Jeanne Baret found herself in peril when she disguised herself as a man to assist her lover, Philibert Commerson, in his role as botanist on France's 1765 expedition to circumnavigate the globe. With a 21st-century critic's eye, Ridley explains all that was not yet known in Baret's world and the extent of Baret's largely unacknowledged but significant contributions to the expedition's botanical discoveries. Ridley (English, Univ. of Louisville; Clara's Grand Tour) uses primary sources (e.g., records of ship officers and official government documents) to unpack this story but does not provide detailed endnotes (her "Notes and References" before her bibliography are more general) and frequently uses paraphrase rather than direct quotation, thus giving the book more of a flowing narrative but making it difficult for serious readers to study her sources. Additionally, Ridley does take some liberties in surmising Baret's emotions and the extent of what were in all likelihood vicious sexual attacks upon her by crewmates. Verdict Readers of seafaring adventures may well enjoy this, but, as a narrative of an 18th-century scientific expedition that is also a study of class and sexual politics, it should certainly be recommended to readers in 18th-century studies, the history of science, exploration, or sexual politics.-Megan Curran, UCLA Medical Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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