A few years ago, I bought floral wallpaper covered in flowers and vines and Venus flytraps and ants. Designed by a small company called Grow House Grow, the name of the pattern was “Ms. Treat.” The design was inspired by Mary Treat, an American scientist in the late 19th century. Treat’s work is forgotten, but she was a specialist in carnivorous plants, published several books and influenced the work of Charles Darwin. Who was she? And why did I only learn about her because of a wallpaper design?
So thank God for Barbara Kingsolver, one of America’s hardiest novelists, who has also stumbled upon the lost history of Treat. Kingsolver went into the archives and got her hands on Treat’s papers and correspondence with Darwin, emerging with Unsheltered, a gripping novel of two multigenerational households set in Vineland, New Jersey.