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Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds

Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds

Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle
Translation by H. A. Hargreaves
Introduction by Nina Rattner Gelbart
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 132
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  • Book Info
    Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds
    Book Description:

    Surveying the night sky, a charming philosopher and his hostess, the Marquise, are considering thep ossibility of travelers from the moon. "What if they were skillful enough to navigate on the outer surface of our air, and from there, through their curiosity to see us, they angled for us like fish? Would that please you?" asks the philosopher. "Why not?" the Marquise replies. "As for me, I'd put myself into their nets of my own volition just to have the pleasure of seeing those who caught me." In this imaginary conversation of three hundred years ago, readers can share the excitement of a new, extremely daring view of the uinverse.Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds (Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes),first published in 1686, is one of the best loved classics of the early French enlightenment. Through a series of informal dialogues that take place on successive evenings in the marquise's moonlit gardens, Fontenelle describes the new cosmology of the Copernican world view with matchles clarity, imagination, and wit. Moreover, he boldly makes his interlocutor a woman, inviting female participation in the almost exclusively male province of scientific discourse. The popular Fontenelle lived through an entire century, from 1657 to 1757, and wrote prolifically. H. A. Hargreaves's fresh, appealing translation brings the author's masterpiece to new generations of readers, while the introduction by Nina Rattner Gelbart clearly demonstrates the importance of theConversationsfor the history of science, of women, of literature, and of French civilization, and for the popularization of culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91058-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xxxii)
    Nina Rattner Gelbart

    Fontenelle’sEntretiens sur la pluralité des mondesorConversations on the Plurality of Worldsbecame an instant best-seller three hundred years ago. But the author, introducing these ideas for the first time to a broad public, courted danger when he wrote his pioneering work in 1686. Less than a century earlier, in 1600, Giordano Bruno had been burned at the stake for, among other offenses, desacrilizing the Earth by suggesting the possibility of multiple inhabited worlds in the universe. Only fifty years before Fontenelle wrote, Galileo had lost his freedom and had been placed under permanent house arrest for writing...

  4. Translator’s Preface
    (pp. xxxiii-2)
    H. A. H.
  5. Preface
    (pp. 3-6)
  6. To Monsieur L
    (pp. 7-8)
  7. The First Evening
    (pp. 9-22)

    One evening after supper we went to walk in the garden. There was a delicious breeze, which made up for the extremely hot day we had had to bear. The Moon had risen about an hour before, and shining through the trees it made a pleasant mixture of bright white against the dark greenery that appeared black. There was no cloud to hide even the smallest star; they were all pure and shining gold and stood out clearly against their blue background. The spectacle set me to musing, and I might have gone on like that for some time if...

  8. The Second Evening
    (pp. 23-36)

    The following morning, as soon as anyone was allowed into the Marquise’s rooms, I sent to ask how she was, and if she’d been able to sleep while turning round. She answered that she was not completely used to this motion of the Earth, and that she’d spent the night as tranquilly as Copernicus himself. A little later people came to visit her and, after the annoying country fashion, stayed until evening. Still, we felt much obliged to them, for they also had the country right of prolonging their visit until the following morning if they’d wished to, and they...

  9. The Third Evening
    (pp. 37-47)

    The Marquise wanted to engage me during the day to follow up our conversation, but I argued that we should only confide such fancies to the Moon and stars, especially since these were the main subjects of them. We didn’t fail that night to go to the garden, which had become a place consecrated to our learned conversations.

    “I’ve great news to tell you,” I said to her. “The Moon I was describing yesterday, which to all appearances was inhabited, may not be so after all; I’ve thought of something that puts those inhabitants in danger.”

    “I’ll put up with...

  10. The Fourth Evening
    (pp. 48-61)

    Her dreams weren’t at all successful; they kept providing something that resembled what one sees here on Earth. I had to scold her for what certain people (those who produce nothing but bizarre and grotesque paintings) reproach us for at the sight of our pictures. “Well!” they tell us, “this is all too realistic. There’s no imagination!” So we resolved to forget about the shapes of the inhabitants of the planets, and content ourselves with guessing at what we could, while continuing the voyage we had begun among the worlds. We had come to Venus!

    “We’re quite sure,” I told...

  11. The Fifth Evening
    (pp. 62-74)

    The Marquise was really impatient to know what might happen with the fixed stars. “Will they be inhabited like the planets,” she asked me, “or not? What will we make of them?”

    “You could probably guess if you really wanted to,” I said. “The fixed stars can’t be less distant from the Earth than fifty million leagues or so,¹ and if you were to anger an astronomer he’d put them still farther away. The distance from the Sun to the farthest planet is nothing in comparison with the distance from the Sun or the Earth to the fixed stars, and...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 75-82)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 83-83)