Study Guide

Nina Agnes Paterson Fawcett in The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

By David Grann

Nina Agnes Paterson Fawcett

Not-Totally-Desperate Housewife

It's only a matter of time before someone writes one of those annoyingly titled books in which the main female character is defined by her relationship to a man. In the vein of The Time Traveler's Wife or The Memory Keeper's Daughter, you might call a novel about Nina Fawcett The Explorer's Wife.

It would start with Nina meeting Percy Fawcett and falling madly in love, only to find out that the hunk's family doesn't approve of the marriage. They disapprove so much, in fact, that they spread false rumors about Nina's virtue, and Fawcett breaks off their engagement. In a dramatic scene, Nina collapses to the ground and sighs, "I thought I had no love left for him" (4.25). Little does she know that later in life, love for him will be all that she has.

Nina marries some other schlub—who drops dead, and it's only after that that she marries Fawcett. You might say it's her destiny. She becomes his "chief advocate" (12.4) and spends her days living vicariously through him. She publicizes his journeys, but she never travels herself, unless you count moving from one ramshackle house to another because of her deadbeat husband's inability to pay rent while he's "traveling."

Grann describes Nina as a Penelope waiting for her Ulysses. Soon, waiting is all she's got left: "To doubt her husband after so many years of sacrifice was to doubt her own life's work. Indeed, she needed Z just as much as he did" (18.5). When Fawcett finally disappears, the memory of him is all Nina has left. She must keep him alive in her memory in order to maintain her own identity as the explorer's wife.

The saddest part of all this is that in her desperation to believe Fawcett is alive, she often signs her letters "believe me" (22.57). Nina dies without ever learning her husband's whereabouts.

In case you hadn't realized, our story is a comedy.