Monday, April 11, 2011

"Finding Emilie"

Laurel Corona's books include The Four Seasons: A Novel Of Vivaldi’s Venice and Penelope’s Daughter.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Finding Emilie, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my new historical novel Finding Emilie is the opening of chapter 5, just after one of the vignettes from the life of Emilie du Chatelet that appear between all the chapters. In that scene, a young Emilie, now a wife and mother, waits outside a cafe for Pierre-Louis de Maupertuis, the greatest mathematician in France, whom the wealthy aristocrat and science-loving Emilie pays to give her private lessons in calculus. She is not inside the cafe because women are forbidden entry.

What are they permitted to do? Page 69 gives a good example. The opening words:
The mallet connected with an off-center thunk, and the ball dribbled less than a meter across the grass. “Oh, dear,” Delphine said, looking up with a pretty smile at the cluster of guests playing a game of paille-maille on one of the lawns of the chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte.

Frivolous, flirtatious, decorative Delphine is in training to become charming, and she is learning these lessons well.
What a contrast between a woman who burns with passion to learn everything there is to know and to formulate ideas of her own! Emilie du Chatelet used funds from her dowry to buy math and science books, and as in the case of Maupertuis, when she needed a tutor, she hired the best.
“You must hit the ball with more force,” Jacques-Mars Courville said. “May I?” He came up behind and slipped his hands alongside hers. “Like this.” He followed through with a firm whack and the ball rolled cleanly across a meter of short grass through the metal arch at which he had been aiming.

The crowd clapped, as sixteen-year-old Delphine turned her face up toward him and gave him an admiring smile. “Perhaps it is my good fortune to be so bad at this that I require the help of someone so charming,” she said in a deliberately lilting voice.
Emilie knew how to milk a crowd and charm the stockings off a man--sometimes literally, as with Maupertuis, who was briefly her lover and became a lifelong friend. She had all the qualities Delphine strives to master, but for Delphine they are ends and for Emilie they are only means. “Be like Delphine,” the culture told young women, useless for everything except the roles of wife, mother, and entertaining social creature. Some fought back, and others like Delphine settled for learning to play the game.

Finding Emilie is the story of the daughter of real-life physicist and mathematician Emilie du Chatelet, whose wild and reckless lifestyle led to a pregnancy at age 43, which took her life just after childbirth. The daughter she bore, Lili, raised as sisters with Delphine, is told little about her scandalous mother, but as she reaches marriageable age, she realizes that to avoid being swallowed up by the superficialities and limitations of her society, she must track down the facts about the mother who so bravely resisted such a fate. The novel alternates between short sketches about real-life Emilie and fictional Lili’s story, as she navigates her way through croquet, debuts, and lessons in how to curtsey and use a fan. It’s easy to root for them both, and to appreciate the many things women today don’t have to endure!
Learn more about the book and author at Laurel Corona's website and diary.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue