The Movement of Stars
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It is 1845, and Hannah Gardner Price has lived all twentyfour 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 differentand elusivegoal: 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, darkskinned 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.
Amy Brill is a writer and producer who has worked for PBS and MTV, and has been awarded fellowships by the Edward F. Albee Foundation, the Millay Colony, and the American Antiquarian Society, among others. This is her first novel. She lives in Brooklyn.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- Compare the women in the bookAnn Gardner Price, Miss Norris, Mary Coffey, Lucia Hapwell, Millicent Rotchto 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?
- 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?
- 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?