The Butterfly Collector

Written by Tea Cooper
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

1922 Sydney. Verity Binks wants to be a reporter like her father and grandfather, but with soldiers coming home from the Great War, she loses her low-level job at the newspaper. Thinking she can sell articles as a stringer, she looks for a good story. She attends the Sydney Artists Masquerade Ball, which leads her to the Treadwell Foundation, a charity that purports to help unmarried pregnant women, which then leads her to investigate her own family’s past.

1868 Morpeth. Clarrie and her beau Sidney Binks can’t afford to get married, and when Clarrie gets pregnant, she loses her job. She is temporarily hired at the Breckenridge estate. Most of the family are in Sydney for the season, but open-minded naturalist painter and butterfly-lover Theodora has stayed in Morpeth. Clarrie is hired as maid of all work and as a chaperone for when Theodora goes exploring with her friend, Redmond, Sid’s boss and owner of the local newspaper. But what will Clarrie do when the baby comes and the rest of the Breckenridges return?

Cooper skillfully brings these settings to life. Verity flies around Sydney on her bicycle, trying to make a place for herself in a man’s world. Clarrie and Sid struggle in Morpeth, living where they work, trying to be a family when their salaries aren’t enough to support a single person. Through the excursions of Theodora and Redmond, the author brings to life the natural environment of the eastern coast of Australia: the birds, water, plants, and strange arrival of the Monarch butterfly. The novel covers many topics, including Australia’s difficult history of baby farming. The several plot threads keep your attention and weave together into an exciting conclusion.