A classic, page-turning story of secrets and science, passion and betrayal, innocence and experience – in the tradition of Tracy Chevalier and Philippa Gregory
Dark secrets haunt the manor house at Selden in Buckinghamshire, where Emilie Selden, motherless, fiercely intelligent and more beautiful than she realises, has been raised in near isolation by her father.
John Selden, student of Isaac Newton, is conducting a bold and secret experiment. He aims to turn Emilie into a brilliant natural philosopher and alchemist. Secluded in his ancient manor house, with only their two servants for company, he fills her with knowledge and records every step she takes.
In the spring of 1725, when Emilie is eighteen, father and daughter begin their most daring alchemical adventure of all – an attempt to breathe life into dead matter. But their work is interrupted by the arrival of two strangers, one a researcher into the life of plants, the other a dazzling young merchant. During the course of a sultry August, whilst her father is away, Emilie is caught up in the passion of first love and, listening for the first time to her heart rather than her head, she makes her choice…with consequences that are far-reaching and tumultuous.
This novel was inspired by the astonishing life of Emilie du Chatelet (1706-1749), a French mathematician who wrote a paper on the Nature of Fire, and translated Newton from Latin to French. She had the distinction of being Voltaire’s lover, and died in childbirth, thereby providing a poignant and powerful role model – a woman who defied every stereotype.
‘McMahon has given us a first rate historical romance: it’s hard to think it will be bettered this year.’
THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY
‘The Emilie we relate to is passionate and modern. The Emilie we admire is rational and less modern. It works beautifully, giving us a more complex Emilie while keeping a sense of the miraculousness of the times, an era when men – and women – challenged God.’
DUBLIN EVENING HERALD
‘This is an intelligent portrait of England in the early 18th century, as experienced by a remarkable young woman.’
‘What makes The Alchemist’s Daughter more than a routine entertainment is McMahon’s vivid sense of both the natural world and of the smells and illuminated darkness of Selden’s workroom. We believe in Emilie and come to love her for all her follies, because she is so passionate in her experience of the world around her.’
‘McMahon writes seriously and well, and conveys the disjunction between knowing something scientifically and knowing it emotionally. This is familiar material, but McMahon handles it with intelligence.’
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
‘McMahon write a clear, sensual prose, filled with wit…Emilie may be a classic fairy-tale heroine on the surface, but this Sleeping Beauty has depth and an increasingly self-aware intelligence.’
‘Rich in period detail, this historical novel has all the right trappings.’
THE BOSTON GLOBE
‘Perfectly timed and modulated not only to draw us in and wring us out but also to reveal the spirit of a time.’
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS