The Quiet Revolution of Caroline Herschel by Emily Winterburn

Review published on January 27, 2018.

I knew precious little about the scientific world of the 1700s, it was an age of intense discovery all over the civilised world. James Watt and his steam engines, Montgolfier and his hot air balloons, John Harrison and the Marine Chronometer, but also at its heart, was a collection of independent astronomers. In the main they were quite often drawn from the aristocracy, but nonetheless serious stargazing was a recognised science that found favour with royalty, and inevitably with the governing factions of different countries.

Emily Winterburn has written the book The Quiet Revolution of Caroline Herschel. It is altogether a superb book, very easily digested even though it is full of factual evidence of how women were then regarded in a male-dominated society. Her personal revolution was in infiltrating the hallowed halls of the Royal Society, and becoming recognised as an exceptional ‘comet finder’ amidst her other astronomical findings. Caroline also found time to be a prolific writer, and arranger of her brother William’s findings. William became a Royal Astronomer, invented new design telescopes, and found favour with King George III. Aided by William’s access to the Royal Society, Caroline thus became a recognised person in her own right. She often wrote out William’s reports herself, so she did not miss any opportunity to put her own name forward. She also found fame from many other sources.

Caroline Herschel, as written about in this book, comes over as a quiet, dedicated and trustworthy soul who remained single throughout her life. She became educated to a high degree once she had left her family home in Hanover, to join two of her brothers in Bath, England. They originally were talented musicians, but all moved onto different educational standards, and careers, Caroline was no exception.

A terrific read that feeds the reader with information on how the latter half of the 1700s was conducted in society. Her life-story has all sorts of variable attitudes; she particularly disliked gossips, and time-wasters, but still found time to be polite and generous to callers. A missing decade of her journals may have explained her feelings about William’s wife Mary, but there are other possible motives for that which are explored. An intriguing book that I found fascinating throughout.

Reg Seward 5/2

The Quiet Revolution of Caroline Herschel by Emily Winterburn
The History Press 9780750980678 hbk Oct 2017

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