Lady of the Butterflies is a tale of Eleanor Glanville learning about love and loyalty through the life changes of a butterfly. At the heart of the story is the life of Eleanor Glanville and the distinctly contrasting men that come in and out of her life as she grows from a young girl into an experienced woman. It all starts with meeting Eleanor in her childhood living at Tickenham Court, a mansion in the midst of an English moor, with her father, a Puritan noblemen. Her curiosity and lack of interaction, the exception of a no-good Thomas and a maid named Bess, with the outside world encourages in Eleanor a healthy knack for animals and plants that grow around the property, notably the butterflies. Her father believes in the education of woman, a rarity in the seventeenth-century, and undertakes the challenge of protecting his daughter from becoming another ignorant by lecturing Eleanor in the arts and sciences.
Then the story follows Eleanor into her first glimpse at reality when her father dies and she if forced by the culture of the time period in order to claim Tickenham Court. After a handful of marriage proposals, Eleanor agrees to take a financially secure man with a relaxed disposition, Edmund Ashfield. In her mind, Edmund is a good match that will admire both her mind and womanly charms.
Unfortunately, Eleanor is in love with another man. It is the friend of Edmund's that will take his life by administering a false medication, Richard Glanville. Edmund and Eleanor have one son, Forest. In the late winter, Edmund contracts a disease that leads to his death and leaves Eleanor a widow. At first Eleanor is in denial of his death but reaches a point of blame and guilt for having eyes for another man. Richard marries her almost immediately, inheriting Tickenham Court and fathering two children: Ellie and Dickon.
A majority of the story revolves around the events and activities between Eleanor and Richard, incorporating her fascination with collecting dead butterflies and framing them to preserve for further investigation. Richard is learns to tolerate the fact that his wife is educated but is unamused. It all starts with Eleanor and Richard's marriage and the launch of a different kind of life together. Eleanor had been raised a Puritan and Richard is a hardcore Cavaliere which invites a dysfunctional union; years transforming and revealing the genuine natures of both Eleanor and Richard to be brutally stubborn and filled with secrets that make themselves known public and privately. The townspeople label Eleanor as being a witch because of a drought in the marshlands, blaming her intelligence and butterfly collections as evidence of magic. Thomas Knight, a childhood enemy, is revealed as being her half-brother that should have inherited Tickenham Court by law and Richard's dark intentions to steal her father's land and wealth from her are brought to the surface.
Eleanor flees for her life, taking with her Dickon and her butterfly collection and leaves behind all of the memories and materials of her former life. She finds herself in the company of a former acquaintance, James Petiver; an apothecary and renowned naturalist, James makes for an ideal relationship and someone to share her love of butterflies. It should be noted that Eleanor had written numerous letters to this man, secretly, during her marriage to Richard about the contents and details of her biological findings. He creates a world for her that expounds all forms of happiness Eleanor and has ever known, even taking-on Dickon as an apprentice in his shop.
The story ends with Richard learning of Eleanor's whereabouts and kidnapping Dickon, hiding him at Tickenham Court. Regardless of her freedom, Eleanor travels back to the place of domestic abuse and grief to find her youngest son. Quickly, she learned that Richard had spread rumors of her death due to madness. It is bemusing that Richard take another wife and Forest, an angry and spiteful son, is in charge of Tickenham Court. Eleanor manages to negotiate Dickon's freedom and devises a mock-scenario of her jumping-off the edge of a cliff into the deep, stone-filled, water and exchanges the clothes of a woman for the shirt and breeches of a man. In this disguise, Eleanor leaves the British landscape and those in it behind for a different, more fulfilling, life in the Americas.
Best part of story, including ending:
I really liked this story because of the seventeenth-century setting and the strong female lead. I really disliked the use of sexual details in the book, however, all were necessary.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene happened in the first lines of the book where the reader first meets a child-version of Eleanor. It is her collecting and observing butterflies on the moors while her father, abandoning the culture of this time, to teach his daughter biology and sciences.