I have had this book for months, but it fell into an unfortunate category – the “I know I’m going to be sad when it’s over so I can’t start it” category. I am so sad that it is over. I loved it so much.
Lucy has recently lost her father and watched her lover get married to a man. She has spent the last decade assisting her father’s astronomic pursuits and doing all of the mathematical calculations. Her brother, a painter, is starting to make noises about her getting married and selling the telescope. A timely letter from the Countess of Moth asking for recommendations for a translator sends Lucy running to London.
Catherine, Countess of Moth is bored and uncertain how to spend her time as a widow. She supported her husband’s quest to find a new astronomic phenomena that he could name after himself. When Lucy arrives recommending herself as the translator for the French treatise on astronomy, Catherine is not sure she wants another scientific genius in her house, but invites her to stay anyway. Lucy and Catherine come together slowly. All the baggage between them and their prescribed roles as women make it difficult for them to imagine a future together.
Waite focuses her story on the lives of women, the way women were able to operate as scientists, artists and business women unnoticed by men. Lucy has a strong sense of self and having grown up with men who were artists and scientists she has a good sense of her own capabilities. Catherine’s late husband was determined to minimize Catherine, leaving her feeling like her work and worth must always be in service to a male genius.
…she would compose long descriptions of the weather wherever they were, and border them with sketches of worm-eaten rose leaves bristling with thorns, or quiet, tense bundles of forget-me-nots. Aunt Kelmarsh would respond with equally polite replies about the state of English roads, but her bright additions of lilies and willows and myrtle would offer palpable solace in answer to Catherine’s wordless plea.
Olivia Waite’s prose is beautiful and gives this book the richness that Catherine’s embroidery would give a shawl. I did not read this book, I flowed through it.
As much as I loved this book, I do hope that it prompts readers to find out about the women who were advancing scientific knowledge in the 19th century. Although I understand the story Waite was telling, I think she does her characters and readers a disservice by not acknowledging the women who did exist and were erased. But that’s something I thought about after I finished reading. While I was reading I was just in love.