This is a love story – a love story between a woman, her great mind, the man who treated her as an equal, and two souls that were seemingly made for each other.
Gabrielle Emilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil du Châtelet was born December 17th, 1706. She was the cream of the upper class. She was the daughter of Louis-Charles-Auguste le Tonnelier de Breteuil and Gabrielle Anne de Froulay. As a child she was given lessons in fencing, riding and gymnastics in an attempt to improve her less than graceful nature. Proper etiquette was taught to her at home, tutors provided a basic education, and Emilie’s father instructed her in Latin. In these times ladies were groomed as such. They were excluded from all realms of higher education. Women were fit but for one thing and one thing only: marriage.
What made her stand out from the crowd was the simple fact that Emilie was a genius. She had a high aptitude for languages, mathematics and the sciences. By the time she was twelve she could read, write, and speak fluent German, Latin, and Greek. She also liked to dance, was a passable performer on the spinet, sang opera, and was an amateur actress – she had more than average talent. And in these times she was considered smarter than the average woman – something that would haunt her for the rest of her life.
She married on 20th June 1725 to the Marquis Florent-Claude du Chastellet, and thus became Marquise du Chastellet. But this was not the match made in heaven… that was to come much later. This was an arranged marriage of convenience. After the birth of their third child she deemed her marital responsibility complete. She would go on to have many lovers and affairs. But it was not until the spring of 1733 that she finally met her match – a man by the name of Voltaire. Voltaire was known throughout France as a playwright, a poet, and a writer for social reform. This man’s writing spoke out against war, religious intolerance, and political and social injustice. This was the meeting of two great minds. Together, Emilie and Voltaire studied and wrote, discussed and debated; determined to find the truth to all things: moral philosophy, history, natural science, and critical deism…
In the year of her death she completed the work regarded as her outstanding achievement: her translation into French, with her own commentary, of Newton’s celebrated Principia Mathematica, including her derivation from its principles of mechanics the notion of conservation of energy. To date this is still the standard translation of the work in French.
She was a great man who’s only failing was being a woman — as it was said during those times. Emilie Du Châtelet died at the tender age of 43 after giving birth.
“It is not a mistress I have lost but half of myself, a soul for which my soul seems to have been made.”