For fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things and Pip Williams’ The Dictionary of Lost Words, The Natural History of Love is based upon the true story of 19th century French explorer, naturalist and diploma the Count de Castelnau and his lover Madame Fonçeca.
When Melbourne lawyer Nathan Smithson takes on the case of mad, wealthy Edward Fonçeca’s inheritance trial against his ruthless brother in 1902, he must unearth long-buried family secrets to have any chance of winning.
Brazil, 1852: François, the Count de Castelnau and French Consul to Bahia falls dangerously ill on a naturalist expedition and is delivered by a rainforest tribesman to the Fonçeca household. Carolina Fonçeca is sixteen years old and longs to leave the confines of her family’s remote Brazilian sugar plantation. With a head full of Balzac and dreams of Parisian life, she is instantly beguiled by the middle-aged Frenchman. What Carolina doesn’t know is that François has a wife and son back in France. Desperate for a new life, she makes a decision that will haunt her forever.
Melbourne-based author Caroline Petit says she was first inspired to write The Natural History of Love when she visited a decaying old mansion days before it was set to be demolished. The mansion was the former estate of Edward Fonçeca, the illegitimate son of Carolina and François, and it was this visit that set her on the path to writing this novel.
Petit states that her research into these real-life figures led her to uncover a story of “romance, infidelity, family resentment, madness and a couple’s shared passion for the science of evolution but what was missing from the archives entirely was the perspective of Carolina.” In The Natural History of Love, Petit seeks to rectify this absence by placing Carolina’s story front and centre. Here, she tells the story of a woman whose life is transformed when she falls for a man more than twenty years her senior.
Moving from the wilds of Brazil to the salons of Paris and the early days of Melbourne’s settlement, this novel is a sweeping historical tale brought to life through vivid detail and meticulous research.