Title: Into the World
Author: Stephanie Parkyn
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 1st December 2017
Synopsis: Abandoned by her lover and fleeing the wrath of her family, Marie-Louise must make a desperate choice. Find a man or become one.
- In the midst of the French Revolution, unwed mother Marie-Louise Girardin takes one last look at her baby son before entrusting him to her friend, the revolutionary Olympe de Gouges. She must escape, and only the most daring plan will bring her both the anonymity she needs and the independence to return one day for her son.Marie-Louise disguises herself as a man and joins a voyage of exploration employed as a steward on the Recherche, one of two ships commissioned to journey to the Great Southern Ocean to find the missing explorer La Perouse.
Protecting her identity throughout, Marie-Louise forms friendships among the eccentric naturalists. But tensions rise between the royalist officers and the revolutionaries, and Marie-Louise’s position becomes precarious when she discovers someone on board knows the secrets of her past. When the expedition docks in Java, chaos erupts as they learn of King Louis XVI’s execution and are imprisoned by the Dutch. Marie-Louise seems certain to be unmasked. Will she ever return to France and be reunited with her child?
Inspired by a true story, Into the World is a compelling novel of the amazing life of Marie-Louise Girardin battling perilous seas, her own self-doubt, and finding unforeseen loves on a journey to reclaim her child.
Marie-Louse Giradin lives in a time of turmoil, where revolutionaries – the Jacobins – and royalists, the supporters of Louis XIV and his Austrian queen, Marie-Antoinette, are at loggerheads as the Jacobins petition for the removal of the King, and a new, more egalitarian government. In 1791, Marie-Louise finds herself alone, and a single mother, she fled during the early days of the revolution, and found herself aboard a ship, disguised as a young man named Louis. The Recherche and the rest of their fleet are charged with finding out what happened to explorer La Pérouse. As they follow his path in the Great Southern Ocean, exploring the Cape of Good Hope, various Pacific Islands, New Holland and Van Diemen’s land, Marie-Louise must find a way to hide her true identity. Only a few senior officers know, the captain, Kermadoc and a few others, and she is at the mercy of their protection during the perilous journey that has separated her from her son. Far from home, and unaware of the dangers of the revolution, Marie-Louise is fighting her own battle – abandoning her son, and where she fits in the world. As a man, she is still mocked in some ways, and finds herself caught between the royalists and the revolutionaries aboard the ship as they navigate the Southern Hemisphere and what was at the time, in the 1790s, the unknown and exotic. Told through Marie-Louise’s eyes in third person, the reader can experience her horror at the way islander tribes and Aboriginal people are treated, and the awe that she has when coming into contact with these people who appear to be wary, but at times happy and helpful – for a woman in the 1790s to have these experiences would have been extraordinary and her reactions reflect how she coped with the unknown, whilst reflecting the attitudes of the time, and coupling them with the horrified reactions and emotional outpour from Marie-Louise.
As they journey home after their experiences in Van Diemen’s Land and New Holland, unsuccessful at finding La Pérouse, they are taken hostage in the Dutch East Indies, where they hear what has happened back home during the revolution and the end to the monarchical system. But to Marie-Louise, the fear of being unmasked and unable to return home to her son looms overhead.
It is always refreshing to read a novel where the central female character isn’t driven by romantic love, but rather, the love for son and country, and where she heads off into the unknown because of this love. It is as much about the journey and subsequent history as it is about Marie-Louise herself, and what she went through and endured to return to France in 1793-4. A quick Google search spat back some resources from various state libraries, the national library and the Australian Dictionary of Biography, in total, 245,000 results, with the most relevant appearing to be at the top. Stephanie Parkyn’s book takes a look at Marie’s journey and what she went through, in an eloquent and interesting way, perhaps hinting at romance between another crew member and Marie-Louise, but not explicitly stating it. In doing so, Parkyn has recreated a historical figure, who, had she submitted to society’s expectations as her father demanded, might never have set foot in Australia and we might never have known her story. Stephanie’s story has provided readers with a strong, determined character who flouts convention and manages on her own, a refreshing characteristic in historical fiction, and a trend I have been observing. Allowing the characters like Marie-Louise to be strong in many ways but at the same time of their time is a feat that when done well, results in an engaging and intriguing story that sparks interest in these characters beyond the pages of the book they appear in.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which has sparked an interest in the French Revolution and finding more about Marie-Louise Giradin and her fate at the end of the expedition. Each character is a real person, giving the story a colour that ensures the history as it is retold feels as real as it would when reading about it in a history book, with a little more colour to it that is engaging and enjoyable. I found this book hard to put down, and it is one that will show what women were capable of and achieved in a time when the people around them expected less of these women.