The Comet Sweeper is the incredible story of Britain’s first female professional scientist. Caroline Herschel - a true Enlightenment celebrity whose rediscovery is long overdue.
Such was Herschel’s reputation that a congratulatory letter in 1790 from the director of the Paris Observatory was simply addressed to ‘Mlle Caroline Herschel, Astronome Culubre, Slough’. Having escaped domestic servitude in Germany by teaching herself to sing and establish a career in England, Herschel learned astronomy while helping her brother William, then royal astronomer.
Soon she was making discoveries in her own right, and she swept to international scientific and popular fame. She was awarded a salary by George III in 1787, becoming the first woman in Britain ever to make her living from science. But, as a woman in a male-dominated world, Herschel’s great success was achieved despite constant frustration of her ambitions. Assisting her brother had to take priority over her own work, and his marriage separate her from the instruments of her trade, stalling her career.
Drawing on original sources - including Herschel’s diaries and her fiery letters - Claire Brock tells the story of a woman so determined to win independence and satisfy her ambition that she moved careers and countries while chasing success.
Claire Brock is a lecturer in the English Department at the University of Leicester. She was recently awarded the British Society for the History of Science’s Singer Prize for an article on the Victorian scientist and writer Mary Somerville.
Icon Books, 2007, 292 S.
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