Reading the WOMEN’S REVIEW OF BOOKS (May/June 2012 Issue)

When Louise-Antoine de Bougainville set out in 1766 to circumnavigate the globe on behalf of the French crown in the coupled interests of knowledge and empire, his expedition included the necessary contingent of cartographers and doctors, an astronomer, a naturalist, and a crew of 330 officers and men —  one of whom was revealed in the course of the voyage to be a young woman in sailor’s clothing.  Jeanne — who was known on board as “Jean” —  Baret, valet and botanist-assistant to the celebrated naturalist Philibert Commerson, was not known at journey’s start to be his lover.  She was in fact not only his lover and companion but also, we discover, the mother of a son born to them and left at the Paris foundling hospital the previous year, and his teacher in all manner of herbal wisdom.

*     *     *     *

Ridley is not the first to recognize Baret’s achievements and to expose her cross-dressing.  In fact, Bougainville’s voyage is documented by eight surviving original accounts, four of which speak of Jeanne Baret in some (sometimes conflicting) detail, including the commander’s log (published in 1771) and the naturalist’s journal.

—  from Janet Beizer’s review of Glynis Ridley’s The Discovery of Jeanne Baret:  A Story of Science, the High Seas, and the First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe (New York:  Crown Publishers, 2010) in the Women’s Review of Books, Vol. 29, No. 3 (May/June 2012)

The same issue of the Women’s Review has a fascinating review by Candace Howes of three new books about care workers.  Howes writes:

. . .  as women entered the workforce in large numbers during the twentieth century, they “outsourced” their unpaid domestic labor, substituting for it commodities like washers, dryers, precooked food, and paid labor.  Middle-class white women hired mainly foreign-born and native-born women of color to care for their children and aging parents, enabling them to work outside the home while minimizing domestic conflict —  giving rise to the notion that “serfdom saved the women’s movement.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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