Monday, May 30, 2016
Galileo's Daughter started slowly for me. The first hundred or so pages simply outline Galileo's work and family, and introduce us to his daughter Virginia. Ineligible for marriage due to their illegitimacy, Virginia and her sister Livia, entered a convent of the Poor Clares as young teens, taking the names Maria Celeste and Arcangela respectively. Marie Celeste was a bright woman who, in another century, probably would have become a scientist in her own right. Instead, she became her father's assistant, transcribing his books and helping manage his household from behind convent walls. Sobel uses Marie Celeste's letters to her father (many of them reproduced here) to bring a woman with a theoretically limited life alive. She was useful not just to her father but to her entire family and to the convent where she served at apothecary and was about to become the head administrator when she died at age 33.