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"Judge me for my own merits, or lack of them, but do not look upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that great scholar, this star that shines at the court of France or that famed author. I am in my own right a whole person, responsible to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do."
-Emilie Du Châtelet
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Emilie du Chatelet
Portrait of Emilie Du Châtelet

Finding Emilie: About Emilie Du Châtelet

Emilie du Breteuil's father was a baron in the court of Louis XIV. As a child, she was given lessons in fencing and gymnastics to help overcome her gawkiness. At 12, she could speak French, German, Latin, and Greek, and as a young woman used her own money to hire tutors to teach her mathematics and physics. After becoming the wife of the tolerant and often-absent Marquis du Chatelet, she took lovers from among the top scientists and writers of the day, At 28, she and the philosopher Voltaire began living openly as lovers at the marquis' country estate, Cirey. There they amassed a library of 21,000 books and set up labs to conduct experiments in gravity, fire, and optics. Affectionately called "Emilie Newton" by her friends, she wrote many scientific papers, and her translation of Newton's Principia from Latin to French is still the standard today.

Passionate, vain, materialistic, extravagant, and brilliant, Emilie du Chatelet looked forward to an old age filled with "gambling, study, and greed." It was not to be. An accidental pregnancy from an affair with a dashing young military officer and poet brought about her death at age 42. Having had premonitions of her death, 6 days after an uncomplicated birth of a daughter Stanislas-Adélaïde, Emilie was back at work. After finishing and signing her last scientific paper that day, she complained of not feeling well, and within hours she was dead. "It is not a mistress I have lost, but half of myself," Voltaire said upon hearing the news.

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