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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 483

Three themes leap out from Galileo's Daughter.

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First, women in seventeenth-century Italy had very little power in this heavily patriarchal culture. Maria Celeste and her sister, who became Sister Arcangela, were put into the cloistered convent of San Matteo at young ages without being consulted as to their desires. This had nothing to do with religious calling and everything to do with making life more convenient for Galileo. While he went to effort and expense to legitimize his son, he did not want to go to that expense for his daughters by setting them up with dowries to make them marriageable. It was easier and cheaper to put them in a convent. In Galileo's defense, as Sobel shows, many, many Florentine women went into convents, so it was a socially acceptable way to deal with "excess" women. Nevertheless, what amounted to, essentially, a life prison sentence with no chance of parole visited on two innocent girls would today seem like a human rights violation. We feel for Maria Celeste and her sister, trapped in such a situation. We admire Maria for how sensibly she dealt with her fate and for her attempts to help her sister and make sure they were not forgotten by their father. Maria's sister, Arcangela, not surprisingly, suffered from mental illness and did not cope with the same strength and patience that Maria was able to exhibit.

A related theme is that a man can be a great scientist, full of insight about the galaxy, and yet blind and lacking in empathy in how he treats those closest to him. Although Galileo was acting within cultural norms for his period, this book, written for modern audience, can't help but shock readers. Written dispassionately, it lets the facts speak for themselves: a great thinker devalued women enough to put his own daughters into a poor convent with precarious finances. One comes away...

(The entire section contains 483 words.)

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