THE PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS of Maria van Leeuwenhoek, Antoni’s Dochter (1668-1696)
Including accounts of novel discoveries made in Delft that bear upon the oft vexing mysteries of sexual generation, particularly as they apply to the fate and purpose of women
In the 1670s in a small town in Holland, in a world constantly racked by fevers, plagues, wars, and an amazing rate of scientific discovery due to the telescope and microscope, two shocking, mutually contradictory discoveries are made: eggs in the ovaries of women, and animalcules in men’s semen. For the learned men of the age, these eggs and animalcules quickly inspire new and competing theories about sexual generation, theories that reject the belief that life comes from putrefaction and insist instead that it comes preformed, life from life, from either an egg or an animalcule. But this is not the story of the learned gentlemen . . .
This is Maria van Leeuwenhoek’s story and she tells us directly how her father Antoni, an unlearned but inspired amateur, a burger of Delft, discovers these animalcules, what happens to the two of them because of this—how she, a daughter not a son, one with as much independence of mind as her father, must make her own sense of his findings and of the theories that flow from them because they directly concern her own fate and purpose. What experimental knowledge does she bring to these questions that men cannot? As a woman, a daughter of marriageable age, where do her loyalty, her love, and her integrity lie? Who will carry her theories forward? 416 pp. ISBN: 978-0-9826933-8-4
Heather Tosteson has delivered a prodigious achievement. The turmoils that shook Europe in the seventeenth century are almost matched in ferocity by the conflicts in the hearts of her characters. The great microbiologist Antoni Leeuwenhoek is partnered by his daughter Maria as he explores the teeming universe his lenses reveal. The Philosophical Transactions of Maria Van Leeuwenhoek is a title that conceals an unceasing tumult of passion. This novel is entrancing and, in its own strict terms, monumental, an achievement to be acclaimed widely and enthusiastically. Here is a masterpiece. Fred Chappell, author of A Shadow All of Light, Ancestors and Others, Familiars, Midquest and the Kirkman Tetralogy
Heather Tosteson’s meticulous research deeply informs and illuminates her novel of scientific and artistic discovery, professional intrigue and competition. But the beating heart of this fiction is its fascinating cast of under-sung females: daughter and narrator Maria, stepmother Cornelia, Maria—daughter of Vermeer—and others. Tosteson recreates seventeenth century Holland with authority and impressive finesse. In such capable hands, you’ll relish the journey back to that time and place and most especially the language and craft that escort you there.
Kat Meads, author of For You, Madam Lenin; 2:12 a.m.; and In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These