When she was 13, Virginia Galilei, eldest daughter of the great scientist Galileo, was placed by her father in a convent near him in Florence and took the name Suor Maria Celeste. Unable to see him except on his occasional visits, she wrote him continually, as her 124 surviving letters (which Galileo kept) attest. Now, for the first time, all of these letters are reproduced in English, translated by Dava Sobel, and in their original Italian, and Ms. Sobel has also written an introduction and annotations placing the letters in historical context.
The 124 letters span only a decade of Maria Celeste's 33 years. In that dramatic period, a pope came to power who battled the Protestant Reformation; the Thirty Years' War embroiled all of Europe; the bubonic plague erupted across Italy; and a new philosophy of science, promulgated most forcefully by Galileo himself, threatened to overturn the order of the universe. Maria Celeste's evocative, beautifully written letters touch on all of these situations, but they dwell in the small details of everyday life; and though Galileo's letters to her have not survived, it is clear from hers that he answered every one. Especially for those who have read Ms. Sobel's Galileo's Daughter, but even for those who haven't, Maria Celeste's letters provide an indelible chronicle of convent life in the early 17th century, a memorable portrait of deep affection between a famous father and his daughter, and fascinating insight into Galileo himself.