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The Movement of Stars: A Novel
by Amy Brill

Published: 2013-04-18
Hardcover : 400 pages
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?Gorgeous . . . Sings with insights about love, work and how we create our own families”?Oprah.com

?Amy Brill shines in her sparkling debut novel.”?Vanity Fair

 ?Brill's rich detail and research are hugely impressive; it's easy to envision the scenes she sees.”?USA Today
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Introduction

?Gorgeous . . . Sings with insights about love, work and how we create our own families”?Oprah.com

?Amy Brill shines in her sparkling debut novel.”?Vanity Fair

 ?Brill's rich detail and research are hugely impressive; it's easy to envision the scenes she sees.”?USA Today

?Beautifully written and richly characterized.”?Kirkus (starred review)

?A terrifically poised and captivating debut."?Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife

A love story set in 1845 Nantucket, between a female astronomer and the unusual man who understands her dreams.

It is 1845, and Hannah Gardner Price has lived all twenty-four years of her life according to the principles of the Nantucket Quaker community in which she was raised, where simplicity and restraint are valued above all, and a woman’s path is expected to lead to marriage and motherhood. But up on the rooftop each night, Hannah pursues a very different?and elusive?goal: discovering a comet and thereby winning a gold medal awarded by the King of Denmark, something unheard of for a woman.

And then she meets Isaac Martin, a young, dark-skinned whaler from the Azores who, like herself, has ambitions beyond his expected station in life. Drawn to his intellectual curiosity and honest manner, Hannah agrees to take Isaac on as a student. But when their shared interest in the stars develops into something deeper, Hannah’s standing in the community begins to unravel, challenging her most fundamental beliefs about work and love, and ultimately changing the course of her life forever.

Inspired by the work of Maria Mitchell, the first professional female astronomer in America, The Movement of Stars is a richly drawn portrait of desire and ambition in the face of adversity.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

APRIL 1845

Nantucket

. 1 .

Crosshairs

Hannah bent over her notebook in the half dark of the tiny room at the top of the house, squeezing the remainder of her entry onto

the very last lines of the page:

3:04 am, 12 mo. 4, 1845, she wrote. Unable to resolve nebulosity around Antares. Object sighted at 22 degrees north has not reappeared. Further observations obscured by clouds.

As if to underscore her failure, the candle at her elbow sputtered and died. For a moment, Hannah sat in the dark, ?ghting the urge to hurl it across the room, and closed her eyes. Mastering her emotions had been as much a part of her education as long division and multiplication. She hadn’t thrown anything, or stomped her feet, or wept in public in over two decades. But now, at twenty-four years of age, unmarried, she some- times wondered if she was even capable of feeling deeply about anything besides what she saw—or didn’t see—in the night sky.

Only on the small porch affixed to her roof, after sunset, did Hannah allow herself to be thrilled by a glimpse of something new ?ickering among the celestial bodies, or overcome by wonder at their majestic order. Even the crushing sense of defeat she felt on nights like tonight,when the elements or her instruments obscured the beautiful mysteries overhead, moved her more than anything that went on in daylight. Or so it often seemed.

She had hoped to revisit the nebula she’d seen the night before, near the Cat’s Eyes in the tail of the Scorpion. A pale, luminous area like a suspended cloud with two distinct bands, one darker than the other, which threaded through the nebulosity from north to south like velvet ribbons. At the southeast edge of one, Hannah had observed a bright mist that seemed less distinct on one side. Sighting it, she’d felt like an explorer on the knife edge of the New World, the veil of possibility and promise suddenly thin enough to puncture with the slightest breath.

It was unlikely to be a comet, but unless she saw it again, she would never know. As soon as darkness had fallen she’d grabbed a new stub of candle and sprung up the steps to the roof-walk. But the sky had been thick with clouds, and Hannah blew out a long, disappointed breath and leaned on the railing, watching the clouds scud by overhead.

Since her father had taken a bank job that kept him away for long periods, Hannah alone conducted the nightly observations that her family used to calibrate the chronometers carried by whaling vessels to keep time at sea. She also made the necessary corrections to every such clock in the ?eet when they were in port. In addition, she ran the house, kept the ledgers in order, and paid the boys who managed the small farm they kept a mile east of Town, even as it steadily lost money. Then there was her own job as junior librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum, from which she emerged at the end of each day, eyes aching, to return to an empty house and spend a few hours observing from their small rooftop porch.

Off-Islanders morbidly referred to the platform as a “widow’s walk,” for the women of Nantucket Island and similar environs who spent their days working themselves toward an early grave and their nights upon the roof, watching and waiting for husbands to return from distant whal- ing grounds. In truth, most of the women Hannah knew to have men on the whaling ships had little time or inclination to stand around on the roof waiting for anything. If her twin brother, Edward, were present, he’d have pointed out the irony of her having become exactly like those whaling widows she both pitied and scorned, without having married anyone.

But Hannah allowed her situation only an occasional crumb of pity. Waiting for the return of a brother was surely not the same as waiting for a husband, she imagined. Still, she’d thought of Edward every day in the two years and seven months since he’d shipped with the whaling bark Regiment, stealing away at dawn and leaving only a note behind:

Do not bear ill will to Mary Coffey, he’d written. She is like a fair wind to your brother, tho not as forceful a gale as yourself. But Hannah could no more alter her judgment than she could change the weather: he’d run off to prove himself marriageable to a girl who no more deserved his affections than the giant beasts he now pursued across the globe deserved their brutal fate. In his note he’d insisted that she pursue her observations and not be distracted by marriage or teaching or some other all- consuming female endeavor. But he’d offered no advice on how, exactly, she should go on living without her only sibling, friend and con?dant.

After ten minutes, Hannah had given up on the weather and gone back downstairs. She wished her father were there. She’d been hoping to show him the broken crosshair she’d repaired with a sticky strand of cocoon just the week before, knowing that he’d appreciate her ingenuity as well as her economy. Fixing the crucial, slender bit of wire herself meant saving the expense of crating the instrument in hay and shipping it all the way to Cambridge, where their family friends the Bonds over- saw the new observatory at Harvard. Plus, it meant she wouldn’t miss a night of her own observations.

But the garret was empty. When she was a child, Nathaniel Price had been a constant presence beside her in this room and up on the walk, at all hours of the night, in all kinds of weather. Her ?rst job as his “assistant” had been to count seconds for him as a star made pass- age across his lens. At twelve years of age, she’d taken her position with utmost seriousness, and he’d handed over a tiny stopwatch he’d made for her out of old parts, with a polished brass case inscribed with her ini- tials. She’d loved that little clock nearly to death, and when it stopped tick- ing for good and could not be restored, she’d laid it at the bottom of the trunk at the foot of her bed, wrapped in a muslin cloth, one of the few treasures she bothered to shield from the eyes and hands of her twin.

Since Edward’s departure, though, their father had avoided the little room at the top of the house as if it was quarantined. Alone, Hannah had thrown herself into observing like a zealot at a revival, but her slavish regimen of sweeping the night skies had neither rekindled her father’s interest nor revealed a single new thing in the Heavens.

If anything, her accomplishments seemed to shrink in inverse pro- portion to the Universe itself, which was expanding at dizzying speed. In the last two years alone, there had been Faye’s comet, De Vico’s comet, and the resolution of more nebulae. The parallax of a half dozen ?xed stars had been computed; new observatories had sprung up in Cleveland, Cambridge, Washington. It was all happening—but she had no part in it.

Hannah slid the telescope on its tripod closer to her desk, then pointed it at the wavering candlelight to examine her new crosshair again, hoping to buoy her spirits. But with only cobwebs and clam- shells as her witnesses, the cunning morsel of her accomplishment was diminished.

*

Had she tilted the eye piece a few degrees, she would have seen the world outside the small, diamond-shaped window focused in its lens. Nantucket Town, upside down: slate, mourning dove, granite, thistle. Grays hard as rocks and soft as shadows, cobblestones and shingles, sand and ash, as far as the dark slick of the wharves and the leaden, undulating sea beyond. Past the massive sandbar that protected the har- bor, the bobbing masts of a dozen whaling vessels pierced the horizon line; west of them lay forty miles of open water to the New England coastline, and some three thousand in the other direction. In between, seven thousand souls resided upon her windswept Island, each entan- gled in a lifelong embrace with the sea itself. When blockade or blizzard made passage to the mainland impossible, life on the Island ground to a halt: no commerce and no industry, no wood and no currency, no news and no whale oil, which meant no light.

If she glanced at the window itself, she would have seen her own wavy re?ection in its glass. Nearly six feet tall and angular in the extreme, from jawline to elbow to knee; thick coal-colored hair that reached the middle of her spine and resisted her attempts to contain it under the bonnet she wore anytime she was in public; ?ne lines etched around her large, dark eyes from squinting at the night sky for nearly a dozen years. In every part of her appearance Hannah was the opposite of most Islanders, whose freckled skin and pale blue eyes passed from generation to generation as surely as their views and customs. When she’d read Lamarck’s theories about evolution, Hannah wondered if her own people were one of his dead ends, so perfectly calibrated to life on their Island that no further change was even possible.

Not one of them expected anything of her besides service to her father and, eventually—soon—to a husband. None of them thought her interest in the night skies would amount to any signi?cant contribution, certainly not the discovery of a new comet—a wanderer—among the millions of ?xed stars. Not when so many men, all over the world, were watching, waiting, sweeping with superior instruments, all scanning the same sky in hopes of spotting that singular celestial event.

But this was Hannah’s intention: to ?nd a comet that no one on Earth had yet seen. It was more than she could reasonably hope for, with no proper observatory, no hope of a higher education, and no instruments but the dear, battered, three-foot-long Dollond telescope and her own two eyes. But the part of her that soared each time she sighted a blazing wanderer crossing her lens hoped anyway, and she supported that irra- tional sentiment by observing as often as she could manage without abandoning sleep entirely.

If she could establish priority, her accomplishment would be stamped forever in the shape of her name. “Comet Price” would earn her the King of Denmark’s prize—a gold medal and generous sum to anyone, anywhere in the world, who found a new comet. Each time another such prize was announced, a part of her despaired, while another strengthened its resolve: Next time, it whispered. Next time it will be you. A platform from which to pursue her work would mean a chance to contribute to more than the tick-tock of the clocks that cluttered her workspace and guided the whalers on their global hunts.

But most important—and this she dared not consider too long or carefully—there would be a reason for her father to pay attention to their work the way he had before Edward had broken the beautiful geometry of their tiny family.

The ?rst time she’d observed the stars from anywhere but the walk, she and Edward couldn’t have been more than four or ?ve. That was the year their father had taken them on their ?rst overnight camping trip. Carrying battered canvas tent and poles, potatoes and bedrolls, they hiked two miles west along the Madaket road to Maxcy’s Pond. Her father strapped the cookpot to Hannah’s small pack, laughing as it clanked along with each step she took, ?rst along their own narrow sand- and-dirt street, past all the neighbors on both sides. The weathered grey shingles clung to the squat saltbox houses like ?sh scales, and the lamps, just lit, cast a warm yellow glow into the late afternoon. As they headed out of Town, the houses grew farther apart, surrounded by farms with ?elds of high corn waving in the twilight, the Prices’ own acre and a half

tucked in among them, and then disappeared altogether, and the family had heard only the crickets and their own footfalls in the sea-damp air.

It was August. They set up their camp as twilight deepened, the evening punctured with the glow of ?re?ies. Their bellies were full of boiled potatoes and the blueberries they’d picked along the way, and as darkness descended, Nathaniel led the twins along a trail, slender as a willow tree, that opened into a small clearing. He laid out a scratchy old blanket and the three lay with their heads touching in the center, like the spokes of a wheel, as the stars glimmered into the sky. As the night deepened, Hannah tried to commit them to memory, each in turn, until they blurred together and she slept beneath them.

At dawn, Hannah went with Nathaniel to collect oysters at low tide, holding tightly to his hand as they waded among the shoals, and he named everything for her as it passed underfoot: mosses and crustaceans, water-weeds and tiny silver ?sh that darted among their toes— making her laugh and leap into his arms.

The memory of his bony shoulder pressed to her cheek now lightened her mood in the garret. Nathaniel had been her ballast, a fountain of curiosities in her child’s world of hard benches at Meeting and lined copybooks at school. He had a brightness then that seemed never to diminish; Hannah often wondered if Edward’s departure was but the ?nal blow in a series of disappointments she had charted with her own eyes, ranging from physical to ?nancial.

She inhaled deeply, as if she could still smell the humid, salt-soaked dawn of her childhood memory. It was enough to buoy her for the work ahead, even as the empty room reminded her that one upstanding daughter did not make up for one disobedient, seagoing son.

. 2 .

Timekeeping

By the time Hannah changed into her First Day dress and lit the ?re, it was nearly six a.m. She was used to the echoey ring of fatigue, but there was no comfort in the thought of the morning ahead. The weekly ritual of silent worship at the Meeting House had once soothed her, the swish of skirts and conversation settling into quiet like sand to the bottom of Miacomet Pond. It was beautiful not for any divine revelation— not to her, anyway—but for the way the hours in the hard-backed pew seemed to stretch time like taffy. It had been the perfect place to think,

to contemplate, to dream.

But as her schoolmates married or moved off-Island, meeting for worship had devolved into a chore, and she dragged her feet as she stirred together ?our and salt for graham bread. If Hannah arrived early, someone was sure to try and engage her in gossip, or suggest that she attend this or that lecture or event. If she was late, a hundred pairs of eyes would observe her as she made her way to her seat, gauging her dress or her demeanor, wondering about her future.

She was just about to pour the batter into the pan when she heard a soft, rhythmic knocking, just audible over the hiss of the damp ?rewood. Someone was drumming gently on the front door.

Swinging it open, Hannah blinked twice. A dark-skinned man stood in the dim, grey morning, a swaddled bundle tucked into the crook of his arm. A seaman of some lower rank, she decided immediately, exam- ining him in one long glance. His boots were cracked white with salt, and though his pants and jumper were clean, they were inadequate for the weather. Studying his hands, she wondered if he was Ethiopian. He wasn’t as dark as most Africans she’d seen—closer to the color of honey or new molasses. Perhaps he was Wampanoag or South American. He was as tall as Hannah, who towered over nearly everyone, which made averting her eyes awkward. She looked back at his hands. The contrast between the pink of his nails and the brown of his skin was strange, as was the white of his palms, cradling an object. She wished she’d put on her bonnet.

She cleared her throat and raised her eyebrows, hoping he spoke

English.

“Is that a chronometer?” she asked, nodding at the parcel in his hands. It was nearly six and thirty; if she didn’t get the bread done before she left for Meeting, she’d go hungry till noon.

“I am knocking upon the door,” he said ?nally, and nodded at the wide wooden entry as if it were faulty, which it was. It needed a white- wash, as did the rest of the house, and the useless door-knocker—an old brass hummingbird missing its beak—was still broken.

“And I heard thee,” Hannah said, choosing the formal mode of ad- dress reserved for elders, hoping that it would silence any further comment on the state of her door by a stranger of indeterminate race. She found the so-called plain speak of the Friends to be a useful tool for keeping one’s distance, though hardly anyone under age ?fty used it any- more outside of the Meeting House or conversation with their parents.

She held out both arms for the bundle he carried; he hesitated for a second, then passed it to her.

“Are you wedded to Mr. Price?”

“Certainly not,” she snapped. Glancing at his face, she was struck by the unusual color of his eyes. Neither brown nor orange, they were a near-perfect match for a chunk of amber she remembered from the Bonds’ mantel in Cambridge. She could envision it clearly, though it had been nearly two decades since she’d seen it up close, clutched tightly in George Bond’s pale, sweaty palm. Trans?xed, Hannah could practically hear his tinny voice: You may look upon it but you may not touch it. It’s not for girls.

She let the cloth slip away from the clock, and its soft sweep on her hands pulled her back to the present. She examined the instrument. It had a burnished mahogany casing and a gleaming brass plate ?xed to the top. Someone had polished it carefully: Pearl, it read. Hannah smiled and lifted the cover, making a swift examination of the face, its Roman numerals and hands stilled at half-three.

“Lovely,” she murmured. The chronometers were beautiful machines. She loved their magni?cent springs, the special construction that allowed them to keep time at sea, in spite of the pitch and roll and humidity. This one was English, made by Arnold; it probably kept to within ?ve seconds.

“I’m sorry?”

“How has it done for the Pearl?” Hannah asked, inspecting the casing to keep herself from staring at the man’s features.

“ I do not know,” he answered. “I was not aboard her last voyage.” “How did thee come to possess it, then?” She drew the clock closer

to her body and took a second look at the man, wondering if she should take caution. Hundreds of captains, plus ?rst and second mates, had brought their chronometers to the Price house to be rated over the years, but she couldn’t remember a single one that wasn’t white beneath his sun- and wind-browned skin.

“The ?rst mate, Mr. Leary, is giving it to me this morning, to deliver for Mr. Price’s attention.”

“John Leary? Are you a boatsteerer?” Hannah realized too late that she’d dropped the formal address.

“I was. I am now second mate.”

Hannah could practically see the man grow an inch taller as he said it. She decided he couldn’t possibly be lying. It would be too easy to uncover such a deception: she knew Mr. Leary, as she knew everyone who had grown up on the Island. And there was no reason to suspect him, aside from the color of his skin. A twang of shame for her suspicions vibrated in her body as she snapped the cover closed.

“It’s a ?ne instrument,” she said, drawing the cloth back over its face. Normally she’d log all the required information right then, but she’d be late for Meeting if she did that. In fact, she was already late. And the house was empty.

“Can you return for it in a day’s time? We can have it ready in the afternoon.”

She ducked inside, put the chronometer down on the little table beneath the hat rack, and made to close the door, but he looked so per- plexed that she paused in mid-swing.

“I was told— Mr. Price is not at home?” Now Hannah was confused.

“Do you need to speak with my father? He’s not here. If you must, you can walk with me: it’s First Day, and he’ll be at Meeting. But you’ll have to wait. I need to douse the ?re.”

He squinted at her.

“First Day. What you call Sunday. We order our days and months numerically.”

He didn’t look convinced, but he nodded, and she stepped back inside. There was no need to explain that the plain calendar evolved because early Friends recoiled from using names for days and months derived from pagan deities. Perhaps he’d be offended by it—who knew what sort of God he worshipped? After hesitating for a moment, Hannah closed the door with a gentle click. The gesture felt odd—she was coming back a moment later—but she didn’t want to leave him stand- ing on the step in front of an open door. She didn’t consider inviting him in.

Scraping the ashes, it occurred to Hannah that the sailor wasn’t con- fused. He was worried about leaving the chronometer with her. Rocking back on her heels, she swiped her hands on her apron, then untied it and dumped it on the table before buttoning up her coat. Taking her bonnet from the rack, she knotted the strings swift and taut, then swung the door open again.

“You’ve no need to fear the fate of the Pearl ’s chronometer,” she announced as she stepped onto the porch, yanking the door shut. “My father will oversee its adjustment with due care.”

When he didn’t respond, she marched down the ?agstone path to the little gate, unlatched it, and then stood in the sandy street, waiting for him to follow. Hannah took a deep breath, hoping to quell the indignity of having to escort this sailor from who-knew-where to speak with her father because he thought a woman incapable of handling his ship’s chronometer.

He was slow as a slug. Hannah took off walking, happy to let him trail behind. The notion of a woman handling such a delicate and important thing would likely unnerve all twelve thousand whaling men on Earth, save her twin—but Edward was the exception to nearly every rule. At the corner of Main, she forced herself to wait in case the sailor didn’t know the way to the Meeting House.

By habit, she glanced up the street toward a three-foot-high stone obelisk in front of the Paci?c National Bank, the markings on its face etched into her memory: Northern extremity of the Town’s meridian line.

Five years earlier, she and Edward had navigated the heavy cart containing that stone toward its designated resting place, the wheels send- ing up a mighty clatter that rattled their teeth through their laughter. Nathaniel led the way, marching with the spades perched on his shoul- der like a sentinel at arms. Hannah recalled the ping of pebbles ?ying as they dug, the not unpleasant burning in her arms and shoulders.

“You’re listing, Hannah,” Edward had said, stumbling under the weight of the marker as the three of them guided it into place. “I hope your membership in the weaker Sex won’t mean broken toes for the men.” Hannah rolled her eyes and adjusted her hands to counterbalance

the weight.

“If the power of your reason exceeded your wit, we could discuss which Sex is truly the weaker.”

“As your elder brother, it’s my duty to model my outstanding wit in hopes that you’ll aspire to emulate it.”

“Elder by four minutes,” Hannah said, panting as they began to lower the stone.

“Best four minutes of my life.” Edward winked and nearly fell into the hole.

“Gently now, Prices,” Nathaniel murmured. A small crowd had gathered as they bent over the marker, and when the three of them straightened their backs, the patter of applause warmed Hannah’s cheek and lit her body with pride for the declaration they had made: the pre- cise location of their Island would now be known to all passersby. We are here! the stones announced, and would for eternity.

*

w h e n t h e sa i l or c aug h t u p they turned onto Main, where the modest little houses clad in identical grey shingles, home to most everyone Hannah knew, gave way to a series of newly built mansions set back from the cobblestone street, away from the rattle of carts and pedestrians. The pomposity of these grand homes made Hannah wince. The Three Bricks, identical structures built for the three sons of whaling patriarch Joseph Starbuck, wore their porticoes like feathered ruffs; the white clapboard Barrett house boasted an enclosed cupola and enough chimneys to incinerate the rest of the houses on the Island. A few blocks farther on, the ostentatious residences gave way to the commercial stretch of mapmakers and milliners, bakers and ?shmongers, along the main artery of Nantucket Town. Lutherans and Unitarians and Friends all moved in a steady ?ow en route to their various houses of worship. Among them were the residents of the black neighborhood called New Guinea, on their way to the African Baptist Society’s Meeting House at the corner of Pleasant and York streets in Five Corners, just east of Town.

“Do you attend church?” Hannah glanced sideways at him, wondering if they had churches where he came from, or if it was an uncivilized, Godless place. It seemed unlikely, since his speech was elegant, if odd— somewhere between a clergyman and a deckhand. Yet there were many such places upon the Earth where people knew nothing of their Creator, or imagined there were many all at once.

“I am not religious,” he said. He walked with his hands at his sides and his eyes straight ahead. His stride was so steady he almost seemed to glide.

“Does your family worship?”

“They did at one time. When I was a young man. Now—” He paused. Hannah thought she heard him sigh. “I do not know.”

The street became more crowded as they drew close to the Meeting House, and a breeze carried the smell of ?sh and rancid oil, tar and saw- dust, up from the wharves a few blocks away. Margaret Granger, an unsmiling woman of some thirty years who ran her mother’s shop, bustled down the opposite side of the street; her husband was aboard the Regiment with Edward. Margaret shot a quick, puzzled look at Hannah’s companion, then hurried on her way. It happened twice more on the short journey to the corner of Fair Street, and Hannah’s face was burn- ing by the time they arrived.

She dropped back slightly as they crossed Main, stepping carefully on the uneven cobblestones. There wasn’t anywhere to hide among the shuttered, two-story wooden storefronts, and it was too late to pretend she hadn’t been walking alongside the man, even if she were inclined toward fakery. Nor should she: he’d come with a chronometer, and wished to speak with her father. There was no more or less to it. But she was equally annoyed with herself—for not having realized that strolling to Meeting alongside any stranger, much less this one, would stir scrutiny—and with her neighbors, who treated anyone they didn’t recognize as an unwanted guest.

Scanning the near-identical wooden buildings nestled together like candlesticks, she aimed for the shadow of the awning over John Dar- ling’s Maps &c, at the corner of Fair Street. The wide, plain double doors of the Meeting House just down the street were obscured by a swarm of grey-bonneted women and black-hatted men, though three times as many could ?t inside. The congregation seemed to diminish weekly; the vanished were evenly split between those no longer interested in adhering to the ever-tightening code of Discipline and those who’d been disowned after failing to do so.

Edward was among the former group, but had been well on his way to joining the latter when he left. He was spectacularly unconcerned about the possibility of disownment, which to Hannah seemed tantamount to being cast out of one’s family. She was in the minority of her peers, though. With disownments being handed down daily for infractions as minor as wearing a colored ribbon or singing in public, the heads of her fellow congregants were as uniformly grey as the building itself.

The handful of young people who did remain did so mostly out of allegiance to their parents or grandparents.

“If I want to bore myself to sleep,” Edward had told Hannah a fort- night before the Regiment sailed, “I can do it in my own house well enough.”

“You’re not supposed to sleep at Meeting,” Hannah had answered. “You’re supposed to wait for insight. Revelation.”

“I am waiting. No reason I can’t wait here, where there’s coffee. And the newspaper.” He’d reached out and squeezed Hannah’s hand. “Don’t worry. I’m sure God can ?nd me if He wants to have a word.”

While she waited for the tide of worshippers to diminish, Hannah tried to think of something to say to her companion, who’d circled back to stand beside her. Idle chatter was confounding. Should she ask him about the Pearl? About his origins? His proximity was unnerving, though his demeanor was calm as stone.

“What vessel were you with, before the Pearl?” she ?nally asked. “I was boatsteerer upon the Independence, out of New Bedford.”

“The Independence? I heard about that ship. Over three thousand barrels and not a single injury or crew change the entire time. My brother read me an article about it.” Edward had been trying to shore up his argument for joining a whaling crew, but Hannah had reminded him that far more whalers ended up dismembered, dead, or lost at sea than did qualify for interviews by the Nantucket Inquirer.

“We are having good luck upon the journey.” The sailor bowed his head a little. He’s modest, Hannah thought. It was unusual for a whaler. Every one she knew enjoyed crowing about his superior skills with the reeling line or the harpoon.

“Did you by chance tie up with the Regiment on your journey home?” It was a long shot at best, but she couldn’t resist asking.

“I do not believe so. But I am not consuming spirits, so I am not always in the festivities when our ship is meeting others.” view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. How do Hannah’s perceptions of Isaac evolve over the course of the book? To what extent does race play a role in her treatment of him?

2. As Hannah becomes aware of her feelings for Isaac, how does she handle her newfound desire? At what point does she acknowledge that their relationship has crossed over from being platonic to romantic? How does her perception of female sexuality compare to her ideas about male desire?

3. Hannah resents the fact that she must rely on men for support, but even she acknowledges that without them, she could not have achieved her goals. How does this affect her relationship with Edward? With George? With her father? With Dr. Hall? Discuss.

4. Isaac claims that he is “not a child, imagining a life that cannot be.” Is he telling the truth? At what point does he become aware that his interest in Hannah poses a problem for them both?

5. Intellectual, emotional, and physical desire is central to Hannah’s evolution as an astronomer and as a woman. How does her community thwart and/or support these different facets of femininity?

6. Compare the women in the book—Ann Gardner Price, Miss Norris, Mary Coffey, Lucia Hapwell, Millicent Rotch—to the men. How do their actions reflect their stations in life, their occupations, and the era in which they live? Do women have a greater or lesser impact on Hannah’s life than men? How does Hannah’s perception of the women in her life change over the course of the story?

7. Why does Hannah ultimately choose to leave Nantucket? Why does Isaac encourage her to go? Are the forces that guide her decision external or internal?

8. The history, geography, and topography of Nantucket are central to the narrative. In what ways is the island a character in and of itself? How does the setting impact the lives and destinies of each of the characters?

Suggested by Members

The mind vs. passion
The cost of limits based on gender, race, economy and class
Expanding our horizons
by Prudentia (see profile) 04/22/15

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Based on Lady Astronomer Maria Mitchell
by Prudentia (see profile) 04/22/15
Do a little research on Maria and print some photos of her, the island of Nantucket and the Azores to give some context to the story.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "the movement of starts"by Carolynr (see profile) 04/20/16

t is 1845 and Hannah Price has lived all her life according to the principles of the Nantucket Quaker community in which she was raised. She is an Astronomer and she dreams of discovering a comet (this... (read more)

 
  "Patience Needed But Worth It"by Prudentia (see profile) 04/22/15

While the first third of this well-researched book moves at a snail's pace, we become more invested in Hannah Price's journey into astronomy and independence as the story evolves. Great insight into the... (read more)

 
by siosue (see profile) 11/08/14

 
  "A movement of stars"by vernandglen (see profile) 12/18/13

It was slow start but became more interesting. I found it a little unbelieveable, but still enjoyed.

 
  "The Movement of Stars"by Neyly (see profile) 05/28/13

I didn't warm up to Hannah and that marred the story for me. Her interest in Isaac and his in her never took hold for me: hence ... the "unconvincing" descriptor. A goodly portion of the book explores... (read more)

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