Caroline Herschel’s prospects as a plain, poor and pox-scarred woman in 19th-century Germany are not good. Living in a cramped home surrounded by siblings and an affectionless mother, her only saviors are her brilliant older brother William—who moved to England—and her loving but sickly father, who after attending the wedding of a neighbor’s daughter wails to Caroline, “Oh, my dear. You are neither handsome nor rich. What is to be done?”
After Caroline sends her attractive, eccentric brother a letter in which she pleads, “Save me,” he brings her to England to serve as his assistant. An astronomer of growing renown, William teaches Caroline (he calls her Lina) to help him chart the skies. She also cooks, cleans, handles his records and keeps the household accounts, while managing to become an accomplished astronomer in her own right. When William decides to marry—it is not coincidental that his betrothed has inherited a sizable estate—Caroline finds herself on her own for the first time in her life, faced with deciding who she is.
The Stargazer’s Sister is a lovely addition to Carrie Brown’s works of historical fiction. Brown brings the true story of the Herschel siblings to life in exquisite detail and deftly explores what it meant for Caroline to be an intelligent woman far ahead of her time.