Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Lady of the Butterflies.
History, passion, marriage and love fuse in the life of British entomologist Eleanor Glanville (1654–1709). A wealthy woman in her own right, Eleanor inherited several properties from her father, Major William Goodricke, including the vast Tickenham Court in Somerset where she established her home and where much of the action takes place in this gorgeously redolent novel.
Focusing on both the political and the personal in Eleanor Glanville’s life, Mountain charts her heroine's transformation into an accomplished woman and an independent spirit, her haunting passions for the natural world so much a part of her being. But much like the short life of her beloved butterflies, Eleanor’s ascendancy as a naturalist and as a collector is clouded by the restrictive social and religious mores of the period in which she lived.
In Eleanor’s world, a wife should be prepared to suppress any interests or passions of her own. It’s not surprising, then, that she finds herself challenged by those who would keep her from her strange and beloved occupation. A deeply impassioned woman far ahead of her time, Eleanor must call upon all her strengths to escape the inevitable accusations of witchcraft and madness that will
haunt much of her life.
Eleanor’s story begins in 1661, the sheltered girl’s relationship with her Puritan father taking center stage. William Goodricke attempts to shield her from the world
as the plague wind blows its deadly miasma westward from London. William, on his deathbed,
warns his beautiful daughter that she “carries the stain of Eve’s sin upon her soul.”
Although beset by her father's somewhat fortuitous warning, Eleanor has a loving and trusting nature and a radiance shaped by her love of the Tickenham moors and the wetlands of Somerset, a vivid pastoral landscape which satisfies many of Eleanor’s deep and unquenchable yearnings for color and sunshine. Only here does she
feel safe from the papist plots, intolerance and suspicion as rife as the battles between the Cavaliers and Roundheads.
While both parties intend the slaughter of the other in their beds, the dashing Cavalier Richard Glanville invigorates much of Eleanor’s existence. Possessed of wit and great courage, Richard is like a “knight striding in out of the rain with his cloud of long, black cavalier curls.” In the end, Richard’s dark and brooding intensity arouses in Eleanor a disturbing desire that causes a devastating betrayal and blindsides much of her later life.
Mountain exposes the infinite nature of her heroine’s all-consuming devotion to Richard, a maelstrom of wild emotion, along with the other two men Eleanor loves so very differently: her first husband, the devoted Edmund Ashfield; and James Petiver, the London apothecary and insect collector.
Kindly James loyally corresponds with Eleanor over the years and sets her free from her excessive passions and unfulfilled desires,
including the “rage of love” that so characterized her creativity and despair.