Melissa Ashley

The Birdman’s Wife

Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) Artist: Elizabeth Gould. From John Gould, Monograph of the Trogonidae, or Family of Trogons (1830-1832). Image courtesy of the Queensland Museum Library. Photograph courtesy of Vikki Lambert.
Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) Artist: Elizabeth Gould. From John Gould, Monograph of the Trogonidae, or Family of Trogons (1830-1832). Image courtesy of the Queensland Museum Library. Photograph courtesy of Vikki Lambert.

Artist Elizabeth Gould spent her life capturing the sublime beauty of birds the world had never seen before. But her legacy was eclipsed by the fame of her husband, John Gould. The Birdman’s Wife at last gives voice to a passionate and adventurous spirit who was so much more than the woman behind the man.

Elizabeth was a woman ahead of her time, juggling the demands of her artistic life with her roles as wife, lover, helpmate, and mother to an evergrowing brood of children. In a golden age of discovery, her artistry breathed wondrous life into hundreds of exotic new species, including Charles Darwin’s famous Galapagos finches.

In The Birdmans Wife, the naïive young girl who falls in love with a demanding and ambitious genius comes into her own as a woman, an artist and a bold adventurer who defies convention by embarking on a trailblazing expedition to collect and illustrate Australia’s ‘curious’ birdlife.

In this indelible portrait, an extraordinary woman overshadowed by history steps back into the light where she belongs.

Norfolk Island Kaka Nestor productus Artist: Elizabeth Gould. From John Gould, The Birds of Australia (1840-1848) Volume 5, Plate 6. Image courtesy of Special Collections, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.
Norfolk Island Kaka Nestor productus Artist: Elizabeth Gould. From John Gould, The Birds of Australia (1840-1848) Volume 5, Plate 6. Image courtesy of Special Collections, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries.

Melissa Ashley is a writer, poet, birder and academic who tutors in poetry and creative writing at the University of Queensland. She has published a collection of poems, Hospital for Dolls, short stories, essays and articles. What started out as research for a PhD dissertation on Elizabeth Gould became a labour of love and her first novel, The Birdman’s Wife. Inspired by her heroine, she studied taxidermy as a volunteer at the Queensland Museum. Melissa lives in Brisbane.

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