Cover image for Mary Somerville : science, illumination, and the female mind
Mary Somerville : science, illumination, and the female mind
Neeley, Kathryn A. (Kathryn Angelyn), 1954-
Publication Information:
Cambridge, UK ; New York : Cambridge University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvi, 263 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Personal Subject:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Q143.S7 N44 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In an era when science was perceived as a male domain, Mary Somerville (1780-1872) became both the leading woman scientist of her day and an integral part of the British scientific community. She achieved this status through careful management of her gender identity and by creating rich, readable, and authoritative accounts of science that were rhetorically compelling, aesthetically satisfying, and valuable to the scientific community in the UK and abroad. This biography offers detailed analysis of the underlying patterns, themes, and rhetorical strategies of her major works and argues that Somerville employed a transcendent feminine style that retained the advantages but transcended the limitations usually associated with women's ways of knowing. The book advocates a new narrative for women's participation in science and demonstrates the many ways that gender relates to science and science functions in culture.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Both in telling the life story and in the discussion of the particular situation of women in 19th-century science, this book will replace Elizabeth Chambers Patterson's Mary Somerville and the Cultivation of Science, 1815-1840 (CH, Oct'84) as the definitive scholarly biography of this eminent woman of science. By weaving together the details of Somerville's life with a detailed description of the books she published, Neeley (technology, culture, and communication, Univ. of Virginia) presents an informative account of what Mary Somerville actually did and how her personal history shaped both her style and her intellectual interests. The author is clearly interested in rethinking the story of women's participation in science, and the concluding chapters of the book, which discuss in detail Somerville's account of her own life and how she is remembered, raise significant issues for women studies and the history of science. The introductory chapter suggests that Somerville's eminence depended in part on her successful blending of poetry and science, and the succeeding chapters illustrate this. This scholarly book is accessible and clear. Detailed bibliography and index. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through faculty. M. H. Chaplin Wellesley College

Table of Contents

Author's preface
Perceiving what others do not perceive: the 'peculiar illumination' of the female mind
1 Head among the stars, feet firm upon the earth: the problem of categorizing Mary Somerville
2 Creating a room of her own in the world of science: how Mary Fairfax became the famous Mrs Somerville
3 Science as exact calculation and elevated meditation: Mechanism of the Heavens (1931), Preliminary Dissertation (1832), and On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences (1834)
4 The earth, the sea, the air, and their inhabitants: Physical Geography (1848) and On Molecular and Microscopic Science (1869)
5 Personal Recollections (1973): Mary Somerville on Mary Somerville
6 Memory and Mary Somerville: in the public eye and historical memory
Epilogue: science, voice, and vision