Feminine Pursuits, Book 1
Heat Factor: Seeing stars. Literally and figuratively.
Character Chemistry: These two have a wonderful, supportive relationship.
Plot: Lady Scientist sets out to prove herself. Other scientists dismissive, but she finds a supportive Patroness and also True Love.
Overall: Pretty darn great.
My favorite part of The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was the embroidery. In many Regency romances, the heroine pushes against the strictures of 19th century England. Perhaps she is a scientist or a painter or a magical healer. Perhaps she is a governess, but not a strict one, an unconventional Mary Poppins one. Or perhaps she is a lady, but she’s too busy being a hoyden and riding horses and whatnot to engage in traditionally feminine pursuits. So it was refreshing to spend some time with Catherine, Lady Moth, who not only spends a great deal of her time engaging in traditionally feminine pursuits, but really excels at needlework.
Here’s the thing about embroidery: it is slow and painstaking, and making something both beautiful and useful for someone is a tremendous act of love. So when Catherine makes Lucy, a young astronomer staying in her home, a shawl embroidered with stars and comets, Lucy knows that this is a deeply intimate act:
This whole scene had been carefully, painstakingly sewn one stitch at a time by Lady Moth’s own talented hands. Lucy’s breath caught, and she hoped her red cheeks could be mistaken for a grateful blush, but all she could imagine was Lady Moth’s hands going everywhere the shawl would: curving over Lucy’s shoulders, tucked tight in the crook of her elbow, cupping the tender skin on the back of her neck…
Because of the time and place where this book is set, the strictures of society play a huge role in shaping the story. Lucy, budding lesbian scientist, knows that she can’t just accost Catherine, but has to feel her out slowly, lest there be serious consequences (Catherine is, after all, her patron). Lucy and Catherine dance around their desire for each other. This triangulation is rife with miscommunication because they don’t just say things straight out – they communicate obliquely. Which brings me back to the scene with the shawl, which is one of the many beautiful (and mostly quiet) moments between the women as their intimacy develops.
The story isn’t only about Lucy and Catherine, however. The central plot is that Lucy is translating an important work of astronomy into English. However, she is repeatedly undermined by her fellow scientists, who refuse to recognize her as a colleague, despite her years of work as her father’s assistant. She’s a woman, and shouldn’t trouble her pretty head about manly things like mathematics. While my description may make this book seem like a downer, it wasn’t. Rather, the limitations placed on Lucy and Catherine ground the story in 19th century England – and make their eventual triumph all the more satisfying.
My one quibble is that the plot felt meandery at times. There are several subplots (the fate of a lady’s maid, Lucy’s old flame, whether embroidery is “art”) which pull the story in different directions. While Waite pulls the threads of the story together in the end, there were some moments in the middle when I wondered where exactly we were going.
Despite some sagginess, this book was immensely enjoyable. I recommend it to all readers with brains that think and hearts that are open to love.
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