I was fascinated and thoroughly enjoyed The Stargazer’s Sister last year, a novel about Caroline Herschel, the sister of eighteenth century astronomer William Herschel who became a prolific astronomer in her own right. The description for The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter promised to explore similar themes in a similar setting. While there are elements of what I was expecting—hoping—to find in the novel, Pipkin goes beyond focusing on his titular heroine and not always with tremendous success.
Fictitious astronomer Arthur Ainsworth is determined to find a new planet in the heavens so he can name it for his late wife and honor her legacy. It is a mission he enlists his daughter, Caroline, to help him with as he transforms his Irish estate into an observatory and commissions work on a telescope to rival that of William Herschel in England. But there is more going on in Ireland and there are more secrets in Caroline’s past than she is aware of until her father, blinded by looking too often at the sun through his telescope, dies. She learns the truth of who she is and it upends everything she once thought about herself, her father, and his work. It will take many years for Caroline to pick up the pieces of her shattered self and reassemble them into someone new, just as Ireland threatens to rip itself apart in 1798.
It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in STEM fields, both currently and historically. You would think that a greater effort would be made to acknowledge and educate the public about those women who have contributed in those fields—and there are some groups who are trying. Novels like Carrie Brown’s upcoming The Stargazer’s Sister will help to further the growing awareness and interest in bringing modern recognition to women who have been historically marginalized—women like astronomer, Caroline Herschel.
From the early days of her life, Caroline “Lina” Herschel was close to her older brother, William. Despite the difficulties of growing up in an overcrowded and underfunded family, Lina took to her brother’s instruction and educational guidance with passion and amazement. Circumstances separating them and her own illnesses strained her relationships with some members of her family, but when William—having settled in England—agreed to bring her over to rescue her from living miserably with her unappreciative and malicious mother, Lina vows to do anything and everything she can to assist William in his life’s work. She shares much of his obsessive nature but is better at remembering things like eating and sleeping, and the working relationship they develop enables William to build increasingly larger telescopes and discover hundreds of new stars, comets, and even a planet (Uranus). But as time goes by, Lina becomes more aware of the dynamics in their relationship and that she wants to be something—someone—more than just her brother’s assistant. Continue reading →