This exquisitely imagined novel opens as William rescues Caroline from a life of drudgery in Germany and brings her to England and a world of music making and stargazing. Lina, as Caroline is known, serves as William's assistant and the captain of his exhilaratingly busy household. William is generous, wise, and charismatic, an obsessive genius whom Lina adores and serves with the fervency of a beloved wife. When William suddenly announces that he will be married, Lina watches her world collapse. With her characteristically elegant prose, Carrie Brown creates from history a compelling story that interweaves familial collaboration and conflict with a haunting exploration of the sublime beauty of astronomy and our small but essential place within a vast and astonishing cosmos. Through Lina's trials and successes we witness the dawning of an early feminist consciousness--a woman struggling to find her own place among the stars.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-11-16
- Reviewer: Staff
Caroline HerschelWilliam Herschels real-life sister and a housekeeper, research assistant, star pupil, and by her death in 1848 an accomplished astronomer in her own righttakes center stage for this historical novel featuring siblings who, between them, designed telescopes, identified double stars, and discovered the planet Uranus as well as several comets. Linas story begins with an unhappy childhood in Germany, where William and his brothers are trained as musicians while small, sickly Lina does household chores. Passionate about science, William introduces his younger sister to state-of-the-art scientific thinking and teaches her to read the night sky. Eventually he brings her to England to keep house, share his musical career, and assist in his amateur astronomical pursuits. Ingenious, visionary, resolute William designs a new kind of telescope; meticulous, hardworking Lina helps get it built. Together they move from Bath to a modest home in Slough that includes its own observatory, where they devote themselves full-time to astronomy. Then William marries and Lina makes some discoveries of her own. A fictional romance is added to this real-life story of an unusual woman, but it proves less compelling than the events documented by the Herschels themselves. By the end, it is the descriptions of constructing a 40-foot telescope and using it to sweep for undiscovered heavenly bodies that most vividly capture the Age of Wonder. (Jan.)
A life written in the stars?
Caroline Herschel’s prospects as a plain, poor and pox-scarred woman in 19th-century Germany are not good. Living in a cramped home surrounded by siblings and an affectionless mother, her only saviors are her brilliant older brother William—who moved to England—and her loving but sickly father, who after attending the wedding of a neighbor’s daughter wails to Caroline, “Oh, my dear. You are neither handsome nor rich. What is to be done?”
After Caroline sends her attractive, eccentric brother a letter in which she pleads, “Save me,” he brings her to England to serve as his assistant. An astronomer of growing renown, William teaches Caroline (he calls her Lina) to help him chart the skies. She also cooks, cleans, handles his records and keeps the household accounts, while managing to become an accomplished astronomer in her own right. When William decides to marry—it is not coincidental that his betrothed has inherited a sizable estate—Caroline finds herself on her own for the first time in her life, faced with deciding who she is.
The Stargazer’s Sister is a lovely addition to Carrie Brown’s works of historical fiction. Brown brings the true story of the Herschel siblings to life in exquisite detail and deftly explores what it meant for Caroline to be an intelligent woman far ahead of her time.