Scene Excerpts – Urania Act I

Voltaire Emilie du Chatelet Urania the Play

François-Marie Arouet nom de plume Voltaire (1694-1778)

Scene excerpts from the play Urania, The Life of Emilie Du Châtelet – Act I Scene II
The location is Paris, A Study. Voltaire opens the scene excerpt with a conversation with his old friend and former classmate Pierre Robert Le Cornier de Cideville.  He is discussing his recent introduction and immediate attraction to Emilie Du Chatelet.

Voltaire: I have to admit I’m intrigued by her.

Cideville: Ladies of high rank usually intrigue you and then bore you.

Voltaire: I resent that comment. Ladies of high rank lend status to my reputation.

Cideville: Indeed? Perhaps. But not this one, choose one of less intellectual leanings.

Voltaire: Imagine the gossip, the bourgeois rebel recently returned from his anglo saxon sojourn takes up with a charming intelligent lady of the first rank.

Cideville: You realize her monies are limited.

Voltaire: You realize my monies are plentiful.

Cideville: Due to your lottery winnings.

Voltaire: Yes, my carefully planned winning of the lottery and then the income from my plays provide very well for me.

Cideville: Not, when the plays fail.

Voltaire: You are cruel.

Cideville: I look out for your financial interests, which are my own. The heart should be ignored in such matters.

Voltaire: I really enjoy her spirit, she has such lightness to her being. How do you think I should pursue her?

Cideville: By not pursuing her.

Voltaire: Why not?

Cideville: Lack of plentiful funds, but of the highest rank. Her family sits close to the king and that means she will cost you a great deal.

Voltaire: I have plenty of money.

Cideville: So select someone else. Someone less privileged and more appreciative.

Voltaire: But I think she might be capable of understanding me.

Cideville: And why must you be understood by a woman?

Voltaire: It’s such an allure. It seems she has a mind, doubtless, not completely formed like most women. They really don’t have much of a chance. I could help create the antithesis of the lady of rank. Someone not devoted to parties and socializing.

Cideville: However you happen to adore society and its’ attentions, though you pretend to only humor it. Who else would attend your plays and read your poems?

(Enter Maupertuis and Clairaut)

Maupertuis: Well, I will still read your poetry, especially because your mathematics are abominable.

Voltaire: All the mathematical reasonings of men are not worth one sentiment of women. Monsieur I am unable to complete my homework without inspiration.

Maupertuis: I would then suggest leaving mathematics and return instead to poetry for inspiration.

Voltaire: Well, perhaps, I need another student of yours to study with for inspiration. Is there anyone you can think of perhaps?

Maupertuis: No, but I do have a new tutor for you. Allow me to introduce Monsieur Alexis Claude de Clairaut.

Voltaire: A new male tutor? Charmed, but I thought a very charming young lady was one of your most esteemed students. Rumor has it that she is rather brilliant at mathematics. Perhaps she could join me and the new tutor for our lessons. I’m sorry what was your name again? You seem very young.

Clairaut: Monsieur…

Voltaire: And what right have you to give me a new tutor? I feel a favor is in order.

Maupertuis: A favor? I have business to attend to and I simply have no time to properly continue your lessons. And, you don’t even bother to complete your homework. Here. Three questions not even answered.

Voltaire: Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

Maupertuis: In which case, your questions are infinite. Give it to Monsieur Clairaut. He will be correcting it from now on.

Clairaut: Well, it appears you went wrong almost immediately on the first problem.

Voltaire: That’s enough sir, I fully recognize my mistakes.

Clairaut: And…

Voltaire: Come now, I am really developing a fondness for her.

Clairaut: Sir?

Cideville: You only met her last night!

Voltaire: Monsieur Cideville has no heart for romance. Really, Monsieur help me gain her favor. Suggest I take lessons with her.

Maupertuis: She’s quite beyond you, you are aware?

Voltaire: Beyond me, is this a conversation about social stature?

Maupertuis: I would be the last to defend most women. However, she is really quite remarkable. I can’t say that I have ever retained any interest in conversation with most women. There is just a point where they no longer follow you.

Voltaire: I don’t follow you half the time.

Maupertuis: Monsieur, after your return from England, I have admired your dedication to rounding out your education. But you have no talent for mathematics. She however does.

Voltaire: Too much geometry, makes your speech too acute.

Maupertuis: Don’t pretend affront. I am your tutor, if you had more geometry as a child and less poetry, then I would be less frustrated. And that is referred to as a proof.

Cideville: He is right, I have glanced at your studies. For example, today’s studies or lack thereof.

Voltaire: Your opinion is really not necessary at this moment.

Maupertuis: More to the point. This is a lady of unusual intellect. I think your approach of poetic seduction is all wrong. I can tell you myself, I could have her, had I the need, and she, the desire.

Cideville: Oh, how would that be?

Maupertuis: Let me be blunt. Roses won’t win her, nor will flippant promises. Try intriguing her with something interesting.

Voltaire: Monsieur, I admire your cunning. Not that I didn’t sense such a path might work. Perhaps, I could share my love of Newton with her. Teach her English. She does not speak English?

Clairaut: Monsieur, are we going to have a lesson today?

Maupertuis: In English, I don’t believe so.

Voltaire: And she has mentioned her desires to better understand Newton. We could study English together.

Maupertuis: Certainly not mathematics. She’s advanced well beyond you. Do you study together now? No. I simply have found you a replacement tutor for myself and that happens to be the same tutor as for Madame Emilie. I will not arrange for you to study English with her.

Voltaire: And you will be seeing her today too?

Maupertuis: Yes.

Voltaire: And I could happen to mistake the time and appear during the lesson.

Maupertuis: Please refrain from that action.

Voltaire: What time is her lesson? And what a challenging invitation to my lovely lady. Studies of Newton with the esteemed poet of France. In fact, I could flatter her by asking her opinion on my notes for Alzire. My latest play.

Maupertuis: I wish you luck with your attempt and now if we don’t begin your lesson, I shall have to leave.

Cideville: I shall have to leave myself, despite the magnificent entertainment value of the upcoming lesson.

Voltaire: Oh, leave already. I have to concentrate.

Clairaut: Will we now begin the lesson?

Voltaire: Yes, we will now begin the lesson.

Maupertuis: Good day and good luck.

(Exit Maupertuis and Cideville)

Scene: III Paris, A Study, later that day

(Enter Maupertuis and Emilie followed by Clairaut)

Maupertuis: I apologize but I simply have not had time to correct your homework and teach you daily. You went from lessons once a month to weekly to now, almost daily.

Emilie: And you have been too busy teaching other ladies?

Maupertuis: No, but I do have a great deal of work. You realize you are one of my favorite and gifted pupils and as is such, I have selected an excellent new tutor for you. Allow me to properly introduce to you, Monsieur Alexis Claude de Clairaut.

Emilie: Charmed, but I will miss working with you Monsieur.

Maupertuis: I will never be far. You can write at any time.

Clairaut: And I will do my best to teach you as well as Monsieur Maupertuis.

Emilie: Well, it seems I do not have a choice in the matter.

Maupertuis: Good day my dear. Monsieur, I expect to hear her sing your praises.

(Exit Maupertuis)

Emilie: Well, I have my homework from the other day.

Clairaut: Yes, I corrected it.

Emilie: You did? When? You two have been planning this change long before today then?

Clairaut: Yes. I mean, No, I mean…yes, I did correct your homework.

Emilie: And yes, you planned this change?

Clairaut: No, Madame.

Emilie: No?

Clairaut: Never, Madame.

Emilie: Well, I made two mistakes but they are nearly taken care of.

Clairaut: You did make two mistakes, but actually three.

Emilie: Three?

Clairaut: Yes, three.

Emilie: Let me see.

Clairaut: If there are 2 couriers, one in Lille and the other in Paris 50 leagues apart. Your distance in meters seems to be off by let me see .001 and that’s mistake number one.

Emilie: I see the rest. Thank you. How old are you by the way?

Clairaut: Madame?

Emilie: Wait a moment. I recognize your name. You presented a paper on differential Calculus at age 13?

Clairaut: I’m much older now.

Emilie: But this is exciting. I would like to learn Calculus.

Clairaut: Well, perhaps we should finish our studies of Cartesian Analytical Geometry. It’s much different than Euclidean Geometry.

Emilie: And then we can work on Calculus.

Clairaut: Well, Monsieur Maupertuis suggested…

Emilie: Why don’t we create a textbook? I detest my current textbook. I have told Maupertuis how much I detest it and yet there is no other textbook yet written.

Clairaut: Well, I was not thinking of creating a textbook.

Emilie: I think we should, it would be amusing and informative. I will begin by creating an outline for our textbook.

Clairaut: Our textbook?

Emilie: Are you familiar with Monsieur Voltaire? Is he to be your student now too?

Clairaut: I believe so, perhaps, we should begin our lesson?

Emilie: Is he taking lessons with you too?

Clairaut: Yes.

Emilie: Interesting. Does he do well?

Clairaut: I have just begun to study his progress. I’m afraid I’m a poor substitute for Monsieur Maupertuis.

Emilie: No, you’re going to be marvelous. I know of your reputation. You are brilliant. Now here, I’m confused about the methods of deriving infinite series.

(Enter Voltaire)

Voltaire: Madame, what a surprise? I thought this was the time for my lesson.

Emilie: No, I believe you are mistaken.

Voltaire: How terrible of me.

Clairaut: Yes, how terrible.

Voltaire: Well, all is not lost. I can join you.

Emilie and Clairaut: Oh?

Voltaire: I only find it difficult to concentrate on numbers when I have such a divine creature in next to me. I wish to speak to her of love and poetry, not some difficulty concerning leagues and Paris.

Emilie: It is the lesson. I thought you enjoyed studying Newton. You cannot possibly understand Newton without understanding Cartesian Geometry.

Voltaire: I understand English and I do understand the basics of his mathematics, just not every equation of this Cartesian geometry.

Clairaut: Wouldn’t greater understanding require completing your homework?

Voltaire: Monsieur Clairaut seems to prefer a lesson alone with you.

Emilie: I do have many questions today and would like to work with Monsieur Clairaut, but I do not wish to inconvenience you. I realize there’s been a mistake in the time for your lesson.

Voltaire: Yes, most unfortunate.

Clairaut: Most unfortunate, indeed.

Voltaire: However, I could be comforted with a stroll in the garden after your lesson. I could return in an hour or so. In fact, I would greatly enjoy your opinion on the background material for Alzire.

Emilie: Your next play?

Voltaire: Yes.

Emilie: You would like my opinion?

Voltaire: Well, yes of course.

Emilie: I’m very flattered. Thank you.

Voltaire: Also, before I depart, are you fluent in English?

Emilie: No.

Voltaire: A pity, but perhaps, I could teach you.

Emilie: I do enjoy languages. What a delightful array you are offering me.

Voltaire: I will see you soon then?

Emilie: Yes, soon, of course. I would be delighted

Voltaire: Splendid. Good Day.

(Voltaire, meeting Cideville as he exits.)

Emilie: Well, he’s rather charming. Shall we continue?

Clairaut: You actually wish to continue?

Emilie: Minor distraction. We have a lot of work to do on our textbook.

Clairaut: Our textbook?

Emilie: Yes, let’s begin.


Cideville: A questionable success.

Voltaire: I made an impression.

Cideville: Of what sort? The late disorganized student?