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Episode 2

Richard Holmes examines the often ignored lives of women in the early history of science. Frequently derided by the male establishment, their contribution was a crucial catalyst.

A meditation on the art of biography from a master of the genre. Ranging widely over art, science and poetry, Richard Holmes confesses to a lifetime's obsession with his Romantic subjects - a pursuit and pilgrimage that takes him across three centuries, through much of Europe and into the lively company of many earlier biographers.

In this second extract, Richard examines the often ignored lives of women in the early history of science. Frequently derided by the male establishment, their contribution was a crucial catalyst in the first discussion of the social role of science. Precisely because they were excluded from places like the Royal Society, women like Margaret Cavendish were able to see the life of science in a wider world.

The diversity of Holmes's material is testimony to his empathy, his erudition and his enquiring spirit - and also sometimes to his mischief. He offers a unique insider's account of a biographer at work, travelling, teaching, researching, fantasising, forgetting, and even ballooning.

Written by Richard Holmes
Read by Patrick Malahide
Abridged and produced by Jill Waters
A Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4.

15 minutes

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