The Signature of All Things

I recently finished reading The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, it was an unexpected read, as it seems all my novels of late have been. Somehow this found its way onto my list, I decided to check it out from the library and started reading and then couldn’t put it down. It’s only the second book I’ve read by Gilbert (having read Eat, Pray, Love) and it was a pleasant surprise.

The book follows the life of Alma Whittaker, born in 1800 just outside Philadelphia to a rather eccentric family for the time. Her father is a great botanist and her mother is also well educated. Alma grows up learning, exploring the forests around her, and she is quite adept at languages. The novel follows her life throughout the century, as she grows up, as she becomes famous for her knowledge of moss, and as she eventually travels.

The entire character of Alma was fascinating. Would a woman be allowed to live a life like hers in that time period? She writes, studies, and helps run her father’s business. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was the exception to what a woman born in 1800 could expect her life to be like, I admit, I think she was. But even though that is the case, she was still incredibly interesting. Brilliant in so many ways, but also completely naive in others. I enjoyed getting to know her, even if some parts of the story were rushed through, the parts of Alma’s life I got to see inside were worth the read.

All she had ever wanted was to know things, yet still and now—even after all these years of tireless questioning—all she did was ponder and wonder and guess. (loc 6374)