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Enjoy with care
on April 26, 2004
This book scores highly for the length of its footnotes and its bibliographies - and van Tilburg is to be congratulated on bringing a great but overlooked story into print - but how much do you trust a biographer who mistakes the dates of both the birth and marriage of her subject?
Knowing a little of Katherine Routledge and her times, I found van Tilburg's narrative unconvincing. Perhaps it would be unfair to expect an author working from America to understand the absurd and divisive nuances of British notions of class, though class was a key factor in Routledge's life. I bridled, however, at the author's repeated insistence on Routledge's mental illness. Has van Tilburg seen evidence for this, perhaps from Routledge's surviving family (tracking down descendants, even establishing the fate of the ship Mana, is something van Tilburg does well) that she is not prepared to publish? The suggestion that Routledge's life and work were profoundly affected by schizophrenia is a major charge. It needs more substantiation than this book presents: what we have does not rise above gossip.
The book is also curiously thin, coming from an author with much experience of Easter Island archaeology, on what makes Routledge's Pacific work so special. There are many details here, and much useful material to inspire and aid further research. Too many minor errors, however, warn against taking it all on trust. Read and enjoy, but keep your critical faculties about you.
(For the record: Katherine Routledge was born on 11 March 1866 [not 11 August, though the author has corrected her previously published error over the year] and was married on 8 August [not 6 August] 1906 - she was over, not nearly, 40 on her wedding day. Nit picking? These dates are easy to check. The reader, though, cannot check facts that van Tilburg quotes from inaccessible or ungiven sources)