The Adventures of Madalene and Louisa

My first book read in 2018 is truly a delight.  Madalene and Louisa were two real Victorian girls who were fascinated by entomology, who spent their teenaged years pretty much running wild and capturing insects.  Happily, between the ages of 12 and 16, they recorded their insect hunts in a notebook of watercolor  illustrations showing themselves pursuing, and being menaced by, amusingly oversized but accurately drawn insects of all sorts.  Their great-great- nephew selected pages from their notebooks and published them as The Adventures of Madalene and Louisa(Random House, 1980).  It is very funny, and a charming bit of social history as well.

"When we were young my sister Madalene and I preferred chasing beetles and butterflies to lessons in the schoolroom. We explained to a series of daily governesses that we would rather study ENTOMOLOGY than ARITHMETIC--but none of them was interested in beetles and all of them persisted in setting us sums."

The two girls (image above from The Library of 19th Century Photography) nevertheless persisted, sneaking out at night to hunt, and making the most of every family outdoor outing, bringing home their prey with determination and conviction.

Madaline was also the author and illustrator of A Selection of British Butterflies and Moths

Sadly, two other books, "Our Pets" and "Rocks pools and their inhabitants" don't seem to have survived.  I would like to read "Our Pets" very much!


  1. It always strikes me as funny that 19th c. girls like these were being compelled to do lessons still when they look so old - like grown women - to me. Surely by twenty they could decide whether or not to pursue bugs rather than numbers.

    1. They were still teenagers when they were doing their illustrations though; I think its just the clothes and stiffness that make them look old. One of them ended up married, but the other remained a single bug catcher....


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