I raced the dawn to finish The Lady Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite. Worth every minute of lost sleep. It Fabulously tackles the fraught subjects of what is art, who is a scientist, the tangling of ambition & genius & the most amazing discovery: You are not alone. pic.twitter.com/z4Um05djgP— Ana Coqui (@anacoqui) June 25, 2019
Lucy Muchelney worked at her father's side for years doing all the tedious work of astronomy without credit, purely for the opportunity to pursue her passion. After her father's death she feels most alone and vulnerable, her artist brother anxiously eager to see her settled in the same kind of comfortable marriage her long-time lover Priscilla has just abandoned her too, and threatening to sell her telescope, conscious that a lady astronomer would not be soon accepted.
Catherine, Lady Moth, was widowed three years before, yet she is still haunted by her late husband's dismissive and abusive treatment of her and her interests. Like many of the other women of the Polite Science Society, she has served Science by supporting the scientific pursuits of others, directly and indirectly. She is incredibly wary of Lucy's bright eyes, desperate ambition and clear genius but welcomes her into her home because she can't bear to turn her out.
Through the course of the novel we see Catherine and Lucy circle around each other, their growing awareness blossoming, along with the realization that they can leave behind the strictures and confining roles their previous lovers had bounded them in, while finding in each other someone who truly sees them and champions them.
One of my favorite elements in the novel is Catherine's growing confidence that her needlework is ART rather than simply a frivolous feminine pursuit. I loved the moment where she first advocated and negotiated on her own behalf, after a lifetime of doing on behalf of others. Likewise I loved the moment Lucy is dumbstruck by the fact that she is not alone as scientist, that there have been hundreds of women before her, echoing Catherine belated realization of her own mother's long-time love affair with woman. Lucy anger at realizing how many women have been erased and sidelined before her, and the comfort and power she draws from their persistence was incandescent. It is such a powerful dismantling of the "not-like-other-girls"dynamic that so many women have in STEM develop, having sought approval from the men in their orbit.
As fabulous as the build up was the payoff to both the romantic and career story-lines was simply glorious. The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics is worth every minute of lost sleep and will leave you breathless in wonder, much like the night sky leaves Lucy and Catherine.