Monday, March 08, 2010

Getting to know Evelyn Cheesman

As an oblique contribution to International Women's Day, let's have a look at the two Evelyn Cheesman I bought in Finedon.

One is simply a biography of Charles Darwin written for children, though the biographical note after her name on the title page gives a flavour of the woman:

F.R.E.S., Formerly Curator of Insects at
the London Zoo, author of 'Marooned in
Du-Bu Cove', 'Camping Adventures on
Cannibal Islands', 'Insects Indomitable'

This book, Charles Darwin and His Problems, is illustrated by Geoffrey Whittam, who was remembered by Bear Alley a couple of years ago.

But the second book, Who Stand Alone, is remarkable. It is a study of the European settlers she met on her travels in New Guinea and the New Hebrides. As the blurb says, most:
lived in almost total isolation - these were the days before radio and other communications with the outside world - and to live on one's own mental resources is a cruel test of character.
And Cheesman observes those who cope and those do not with a cool naturalist's eye.

The blurb concludes:
she is fascinated by such subjects as cannibalism and incest among the settlers; yet her most vivid portrait is perhaps herself - gifted, unsentimental, sympathetic and superbly original.
What a woman!

I was first attracted to Evelyn Cheesman by the suggestion that she had started her career as a governess at Gumley Hall near Market Harborough. To discover the truth of that I shall have to get hold of one of her two volumes of more straightforward memoirs.

1 comment:

aligorah said...

I have just become interested in this remarkable woman while researching about Lord Howe Island a small island off the coast of Australia. Cheesman wrote about some people who were marooned on the island in Landfall the Unknown, published in 1950. I couldn't believe it when I read her biography - extraordinary achievements!