CLARA'S GRAND TOUR: Travels with an Eighteenth-Century Rhinoceros

Glynis Ridley, Author . Atlantic Monthly $21 (222p) ISBN 978-0-87113-883-5

The titular rhino was raised from a calf by a Dutch sea captain who exhibited her in the 1740s and '50s to enthusiastic crowds of European commoners and royalty. In this pleasant if somewhat aimless study, Ridley treats Clara as an early harbinger of the society of the spectacle. Poets celebrated her, sculptors and painters immortalized her, and she was the star of "one of the first recognizable media campaigns," as her owner drummed up excitement with enticing ads and raked in a fortune at the box office and from the sale of posters, medallions and other Clara memorabilia. Ridley's narrative ambles agreeably along, veering from the details of Clara's diet and travel arrangements to accounts of her impact on contemporary observers, and feels padded out with digressions on such topics as Renaissance anatomy texts, porcelain production in Saxony and Hannibal's invasion of Italy. Ridley's claim that Clara stood "at the center of philosophical and theological disputes"—one philosophe allegedly cited her as proof of the existence of God—is overhyped; the animal's main influence appears to have been the correction of misconceptions about rhino anatomy. But Ridley's first book is a gracefully written look at a diverting sideshow in European cultural history. Eight pages b&w illus. not seen by PW . Agent, Atlantic U.K. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 12/06/2004
Release date: 02/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 222 pages - 978-1-84354-010-6
Paperback - 222 pages - 978-0-8021-4233-7
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