Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Clara’s Grand Tour

Travels with a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth-Century Europe

by Glynis Ridley

A biography of Clara, an eighteenth-century globe-trotting celebrity that also happened to be a fully grown Indian rhinoceros

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 240
  • Publication Date January 16, 2006
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4233-7
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $12.00

About The Book

A biography of Clara, an eighteenth-century globe-trotting celebrity that also happened to be a fully grown Indian rhinoceros

In 1741, an enterprising Dutch sea captain transported a young female Indian rhinoceros from Assam to Europe, where she was displayed before everyone from peasants to princes.

In an age before railways and modern roads, the three-ton Clara, as she became known, had to travel in an enormous coach drawn by eight horses. For seventeen years she journeyed across mainland Europe and Britain: she became a favorite of heads of state, including Frederick the Great and Louis XV; she modeled for scientific portraits and etchings; she inspired poems, songs, and fashions; and she was immortalized in everything from tin coins to the finest porcelain. She was a star.

Her tour involved unprecedented logistical planning, as no one knew how to care for this largest of land mammals. A rhinoceros can eat up to 150 pounds of vegetation a day–two and a half tons a month–and Clara developed an uncommon fondness for oranges, beer, and tobacco. Later, when Clara’s popularity threatened to decline, her owner orchestrated a series of publicity stunts. For instance, upon news of Clara’s certain and imminent death, there would be an upsurge in interest, sympathy . . . and bookings. She eventually ended her days in London, where she had become famous enough to merit mention in Oliver Goldsmith’s History of the Earth and Animated Nature and in Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa.

Awarded the prestigious Institute of Historical Research Prize, Glynis Ridley’s sparkling history brings Clara’s tragicomic story vividly to life. Clara’s Grand Tour is also a portrait of an era that saw the rhinoceros as both an object of marvel and a challenge to fundamental philosophical and theological beliefs.


“Engrossing . . . A work that is as much a cultural history of the rhinoceros as it is a biography of [Clara] . . . There’s much to love about a scholarly work that contains the galloping statement “Rhinomania was imminent.”” –Henry Alford, New York Times

“Provides readers with an opportunity most often served up by the more thoughtful strains of historical fiction: namely, the chance to spend time in another, centuries-old reality and to emerge humbled, charmed and aware again of how very odd a place the world really is. . . . A lovingly constructed portrait of an age when something as natural as a rhinoceros could enthrall all of Europe.” –Ben Cosgrove, San Francisco Chronicle

“Ridley narrates this modest rococo picaresque with a good bit of sweetness and charm.” –Jon Newlin, New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Entertainingly evoking the era’s intellectual and social landscape, Ridley presents a wry account of this remarkable pair and their 17-year tour.

B+” –Wook Kim, Entertainment Weekly

“Few readers will let [Clara] go without a twinge of sorrow.” –Mary Caldwell, The Courier Journal

“This is the best book about the post-Renaissance European conception of the rhinoceros I have ever read. . . . Instead of a single too-broad thesis, we get many interesting details at the edges of Clara’s journeys. . . . She fits into history as part of the story of celebrity and spectacle, and as a way to explore the stories of those she connected with. Clara’s Grand Tour follows both threads without overreaching.” –Sumana Harihareswara, Bookslut

“Ridley surveys the full range of historical understanding (or misunderstanding) of the rhinoceros. . . . An event-filled narrative that captures the wonder of Clara’s march through Europe–and of the mindsets she altered.” –Kirkus Reviews

“Ridley’s first book is a gracefully written look at a diverting sideshow in European cultural history.” –Publishers Weekly

“Her book richly details one animal’s unusual odyssey and European perceptions of this animal through an engaging analysis of illustrations and other works of art.” –Alvin Hutchinson, Library Journal

“This book is fascinating, brisk and well-written with a great deal of information.” –CurledUpWithaGoodBook.com


Winner of the Institute of Historical Research Prize