Women in science in the 19th century - An excerpt from Book 2
Updated: Sep 23
I'm a scientist turned novelist, and so it was quite natural for me to include a bit of science in my writing. I've enjoyed searching through old scientific articles to find interesting bits of trivia to add to my books, and I thought I would share some of what I've been working on lately. The scene below is from the second book in The Irish Fortune Series, where Alannah meets a doddering old Englishman, who informs her that there are, in fact, women in science in the mid-19th century. I hope you enjoy it!
“Hm…hm…ah yes, there’s Mary Anning, of course!” he declared finally, with some excitement at having remembered a name at last. “She’s famed for the excavation of many fossil finds.” He nodded at me enthusiastically. "In fact, I believe she’s been credited with one of the most complete skeletons ever dug up. Now what was the creature called? Something with a P, I think. Ply…, Plo…, oh, I forget. Never mind,”—he flipped a hand dismissively—“in any case, her discoveries had quite a few tongues wagging some years ago, I’ll have you know.” [...] “But you’ll want to hear about other women scientists, won’t you?” he asked after a moment. I nodded. “Hm…let me think. I’m fairly sure there are more…”—he wrinkled his brow—“in fact, I know there are. But…I can’t seem to think of any just now.” He sounded rather surprised, and a little irritated, at this admission. He leaned towards me, one sharp grey moustache end coming dangerously close to my face. “A most unfortunate consequence of aging,” he informed me slowly, raising his brows for emphasis, “is that the brain no longer works as well as it once did.” He sighed. “Ah…but what is to be done about it?” He shrugged his shoulders, and I patted his arm reassuringly, thinking that his brain must still be working quite well, judging by all that he had been able to tell me over the past half hour. The old man took an absent sip of his sherry, perhaps to aid thought. If that had indeed been his aim, it seemed to have worked, as he suddenly exclaimed “Ada Lovelace” at high volume, making me jump and several panicked faces turn in our direction. Seeing nothing untoward, they soon returned to their own conversations, only to be thoroughly startled once more a moment later, as Sir Linklater yelled, “And Anna Atkins. Ha! Take that, old age!” I laughed at the sight of the old man standing with a fist raised in triumph, grinning from ear to ear, and the bewildered faces that surrounded him. “Ada Lovelace and Anna Atkins,” he repeated, beaming, “how could I forget?” He slapped himself on the forehead. “Ada Lovelace—a countess you know and most gifted mathematician, by all accounts.” He nodded vigorously, making me smile. “And Anna Atkins,” he continued enthusiastically. “Oh, you would find her book so very fascinating, as did I. I have a friend you know—well, a friend of a friend, really—in any case, this friend is most frightfully interested in plants and such. And he managed to obtain a copy of Anna Atkin’s book—not an easy feat, by any means, since there are so few available—and he showed it to me. And how very interesting it was too. Not because of all the algae themselves, oh no—Miss Atkins examined the different algae in the British Isles, you see—but because of the pictures contained in the book.” He paused and raised his bushy brows at me for emphasis. “What were the pictures like?” I asked, riveted. “Cyanotype impressions, they were,” Sir Linklater pronounced slowly with an air of pride. “Now why can I remember that, but not the lady’s name?” He looked at me in some bewilderment before flipping his wrist and continuing. “Photographs—pictures so very life-like that it seemed to me that the specimens must be embedded in the paper itself!” “Really?” I said, fascinated.
If you want to read more of this section, I'm afraid you'll have to wait a little longer, until Book 2 is finished. In the meantime, if you haven't read it yet, go check out the first book in The Irish Fortune Series, Under the Emerald Sky, which is available now. And remember to leave a review when you're done!
by Juliane Weber (@Writer_JW) 31 March 2021 [subscribe on the main blog page]
About Juliane Weber
Juliane is a scientist, turned medical writer, turned novelist. Her debut historical novel, Under the Emerald Sky, is the first book in The Irish Fortune Series, which is set in 19th century Ireland around the time of the Great Famine.
He's come to Ireland to escape his past. She's trying to run from her future.