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How are the stories in Ship Fever arranged? How does that order influence your reading of the book as a whole?

Ship Fever: Stories

Scientists are often stereotyped as purely rational beings, working at something cerebral and abstract without being subject to human passions. Did you gain a different view of scientists from reading the book? How do you think ambition, vanity, loneliness, and desire shape the course of science?

What is she saying about sticking with the values and people we love?

Does the point of view create equal sympathy for both characters? How is the story changed by focusing on Carriere rather than Wallace?

Andrea Barrett

How does Carriere come to view the course of his life, which has been driven by his obsessions? Does this make the story difficult to read? Why do you think Rose has been able to make a successful career for herself in science, while Bianca has given it up? What do you see each sister as gaining or losing by her choices? Do you see any parallels between what happened to them, in , and what happens to refugees arriving in the United States now?


What initially drives Dr. Lauchlin Grant to the quarantine station on Grosse Isle?

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How do his contacts with Nora Kynd and the other Irish emigrants alter his view of the world? So they begin a correspondence with the famous Carl Linnaeus — yes, the same Linnaeus of The English Pupil , although much younger in this story — in an attempt to convince him of their finding but he is apparently more enamored by his beliefs than by the truth. While the ending of this story was fitting, I found it quite frustrating in how abruptly the story ended when there was obviously so much more to tell.

I was anxious to learn the fate of the two friends while the author was content to have them escape from the dominance of the brother and vanish somewhere where they could continue their experiments undeterred.

Based on the other stories, it seemed out of character for Barrett not to explore their scientific explorations further, but the story was still powerful, if incomplete. Birds With No Feet is a bittersweet tale of a young naturalist named Alec who is a contemporary and occasional collaborator of Alfred Wallace. In the mid 19th century he roams South America and Asia gathering specimens, both living and dead, of rare animals. He feels some sorrow for the animals he kills in his search, but in a letter Wallace reminds him that Each bird we shot and butterfly we netted was in the service of science.

Andrea Barrett - Wikipedia

Wallace has wealthy patrons and does not suffer many deprivations during his years in the wild, so that he is able to spend time analyzing his specimens and thinking about evolution, ultimately writing important papers proposing major new theories. Alec is poor, struggling to survive during his work.

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Thus Alec is so pre-occupied with finding new specimens, trying to sell them to collectors back home to raise enough money to survive, that he has no time to analyze or devise theories it never occurs to Alec that perhaps he is not smart enough to devise any theories. And while he considers himself a scientist, and the progress of science is indeed his goal, he actually accomplishes nothing more in his career than providing fancy specimens for rich collectors.

Sparking your literary interest…

The centerpiece of the entire collection though is the short novel Ship Fever , a powerful tale of the Irish immigration to Canada as a result of the potato famine in the midth century. Due largely to the inhumane conditions aboard the ships, the immigrants bring with them a massive typhus epidemic that affects such cities as Montreal and Toronto, but most notably Grosse Island, which is the point of debarkation for the European ships. The story is told from the point of view of Dr. Lauchlin Grant, a young research scientist who has accomplished very little scientifically in his life and feels obligated to validate his learning by serving on the meager staff of doctors and nurses on Grosse Island.

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Through their eyes we see the horrid conditions of the arriving immigrants and the often-futile attempts made by the meager medical staff on Grosse Island to heal them. This is a major story about desperation, passion, and commitment, with a bittersweet ending that is both appropriate and moving. I can definitely relate to that.