A novel is a huge undertaking, and for that reason authors are very particular about what subject matter they take on. In thinking about a person, place, event, or era for a book, mere interest is not enough. Something about the topic has to pick you up by the scruff of the neck and refuse to let you down.
That’s what happened to me the first time I watched the segment about Emilie du Châtelet in “Einstein’s Big Idea,” a NOVA program based on David Bodanis’ book E=MC2. Who was this fabulous woman, I wondered, who lived, worked, and thought just as she wished, while navigating the rigid but crumbling world of pre-Revolutionary France? Could she really be as amazing as she seemed?
The answer turned out to be a resounding “yes,” and I knew I wanted to tell the world about her. And then I ended up doing something different. Rather than focus on Emilie’s story, I decided to focus on the baby daughter she left behind when she died at age forty-three. What would it be like to grow up the motherless victim of a scandal that causes her father’s rejection, raised by two women at war about the proper way to educate a young girl? What would it be like never to be told how remarkable her mother was, even though Emilie’s spirit and intelligence shines as brightly in her?
As life in aristocratic society constricts around her like the excruciating corsets she is forced to wear, Emilie’s daughter Lili must learn what the reader already knows--that the secret to understanding herself and gaining the courage to fashion her own life lies in seeking out the story of the remarkable woman who bore her. And who knows? Perhaps in Emilie du Chatelet’s life there is a message for you, the reader as well.