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. Her scientific writings contributed to one of the most important cultural projects of Victorian Britain: establishing science as a distinct, integral, and unifying element of culture. By the time of her death, Somerville had achieved near-mythic status in Britain. Her works reflect both the power of science to capture imagination and the influence of cultural factors in the development of science. They provide a window into a particularly lucid and illuminated mind and into one of the most formative periods in the evolution of modern scientific culture. This retelling of Somerville's story focuses on the factors that allowed her to become an eminent scientist and argues for rethinking the story of women's participation in science.

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