Émilie du Châtelet



“Let us reflect a bit why, at no time in the course of so many centuries, a good tragedy, a good poem, a respected tale, a beautiful painting, a good book of physics has ever come from the hand of a woman.”


(Preface to her translation of Mandeville’s “Fable of the Bees”)

Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, la Marquise Du Châtelet was a French philosophe, author and translator active from the early 1730s until her untimely death in 1749. In addition to producing famous translations of works by authors such as Bernard Mandeville and Isaac Newton, Du Châtelet wrote a number of significant philosophical essays, letters and books. Her magnum opus, Institutions de Physique (Paris, 1740, first edition), or Foundations of Physics, circulated widely, generated heated debates, and was republished and translated into several other languages two years of its original publication. She participated in the famous vis viva debate, concerning the best way to measure the force of a body and the best means of thinking about conservation principles. Her ideas were heavily represented in the most famous text of the French Enlightenment, the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D’Alembert, first published shortly after Du Châtelet’s death. Numerous biographies, books and plays have been written about her life and work in the two centuries since her death. In the early 21st century, her life and ideas have generated renewed interest. (Project Vox )