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  • JillianForsberg

Sneak Peek: Settings of The Rhino Keeper

It's cold and snowy in Kansas today, rare for late November. If I were writing about today, I'd include the crunch of my boots on the damp sparkling snow and how my eight-year-old child was convinced at midnight that we'd left a light on in the kitchen because the streetlights reflected so brightly on the white-coated landscape. "Mama," she said, "it's as bright as a lamp outside."

But I don't usually write about today. I prefer to write about yesterdays, preferably 300 years of them. I'm offering you a small snippet of those places today.

One of the best things about writing my novel, The Rhino Keeper, was diving into historical 18th-century locations.

Clara the Rhino and her keeper Douwe's adventurous road trip lasted almost two decades. However, the book is condensed, so you, dear reader, don't feel like you're reading for two decades. I described the locations in The Rhino Keeper using historical advertisements, pieces of art, and news articles from the 1740s or 1750s. I saved and referenced amazing images as I wrote.

Below, you'll find a compelling gallery - these places are stunning. Even if you've visited Europe or India, you'll find that most things are now drastically different, so I've tried to include 18th-century paintings and modern images for you to enjoy.

The Rhino Keeper begins in 18th-century Calcutta, India (Now Kolkata). Fort William is pictured here, with the massive ramp leading to Dutch East India trading ships. Imagine taking a rhino down that ramp!

The Old Fort Ghauht from the View of Calcutta. Thomas Daniell, 1787. National Museum of Asian Art.

Fort William in the Kingdom of Bengal, Robert Sayer, 1754. British Museum.

Old Court House and Street Calcutta 1786 by Thomas Daniell.

Next up, a Dutch East Indiaman. Douwe, the rhino keeper, and Clara, the rhino, spent six months at sea on a ship similar to this. Their ship, the Knappenhof, moored in South Africa for a few weeks.

The Amsterdam - a replica of an 18th century cargo ship. Photo: Can Pac Swire, Flickr.

Below, the University of Leiden, Holland. What better place to study a rhino than a college that made strides in anatomy and biology? Douwe and Clara spent a lot of time there. Founded in 1575, the University is still operating today. The black slate floors of the church really captured my imagination.

The University is the setting of the modern timeline of The Rhino Keeper, where the modern protagonist, Andrea, makes historical discoveries in the archives of the museum.

Academic Historical Museum, Leiden University.

Academic Historical Museum, Leiden University.

A Graduation Ceremony at Leiden University, About 1650, Hendrick van der Burgh. Rijksmuseum.

Interior of the Pieterskerk, Wikimedia Commons

Next up: German cities. Berlin was one of the first to welcome Clara and Douwe on their tour in the 1740s.

View of Berlin, German 18th century engraving. De Agostini collection.

Tagesspiegel Stock Image of Berlin

Then: Ah, Vienna! One of my favorite places to research and write about was the Schonbrunn Palace, which opened in 1700. The palace was a wedding gift to Maria Theresa, who remodelled the place during the time of Douwe and Clara. It just glows like a yellow pearl, doesn't it? Imagine a rhino happened!

The Imperial Pleasure Palace Schonbrunn, Courtyard Side by Bernardo Bellotto, 1759. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

The Bergl Rooms on the ground floor of Schonbrunn. Photo:

Schönbrunn ballroom. Photo: Jean-Etienne Minh-Dur Poirrier.

Schonbrunn Palace. Photo: TripAdvisor

One of the most famous places Clara and Douwe went was Versailles, where Clara lived in the menagerie for month. The menagerie is gone now - its former location is now the current Presidential residence at Versailles.

This is me near the gardens, and below that, the gardens in the 18th century. I cannot truly describe the immense overwhelm knowing that Clara traipsed the orangery there and I, too, walked those grounds.

Me in September 2023 overlooking the orangerie of Versailles. Photo: Annika Wooton.

Vue de l'Orangerie de Versailles by Jean-Baptiste Rigaud, 1752. Rosenwald Collection, National Gallery of Art.

Lastly... Venice! The only Clara image you'll get in this blog post. (More coming later!)

Here, Clara was at Carnival, as clearly marked by the masked noble people in the painting by Pietro Longhi. The black moretta mask on the woman in the back was held tightly between the wearer's teeth. Can you imagine a rhino near Venice's canals...? You'll read that adventure in The Rhino Keeper!

Le Rhinoceros. Pietro Longhi, 1751. Ca' Rezzonico.

I hope you've enjoyed this sneak into the 1700s and Clara's world. Let me know which place you're most excited to read about in the comments!

47 views4 comments


Cody Forsberg
Cody Forsberg
Nov 27, 2023

Love the descriptions with the photos. I feel as if I have visited these locations after reading the Rhino Keeper. Cannot wait for everyone else to experience the life of Clara!

Nov 27, 2023
Replying to

You have such privilege as husband and early reader, darling!


Nov 26, 2023

I am super excited to learn about all the places the Rhino visited, but my personal bucket list is to visit Venice, so I vote Venice!!!

Nov 26, 2023
Replying to

Ah it’s on my bucket list, too! Especially during Carnival!

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