The Making of a Bestseller: Alexander and Jane Marcet’s Conversations on Chemistry

  • Jean-Jacques DreifussEmail author
  • Natalia Tikhonov Sigrist
Part of the Science Networks. Historical Studies book series (SNHS, volume 44)


Jane Marcet (1769–1858) authored several works of popular science, the foremost of these being Conversations on Chemistry which first appeared in Great Britain in 1806, without the author’s name. That it ran to 16 British and at least 23 American editions (plus further adaptations) during Marcet’s lifetime, as well as being translated into French, German, and Italian, provides some indication of the book’s popular success. In this chapter, we outlined the collaboration of Jane and Alexander Marcet in the successful production of Conversations on Chemistry. A previously little-exploited source confirms that the book was not, as is sometimes assumed, the work of Jane alone; her husband Alexander took a signi?cant role in the work’s conception and realization. Alexander’s testimony as given in his private notebooks, Jane’s exposure to his note cards and rehearsed lectures on mineral chemistry, Jane’s use of Alexander’s “Lecture on Electro-Chemistry,” and the back-and-forth writing and rewriting they performed in producing the Chemistry all demonstrate an interaction between the Marcets which superceded the husband-teacher/wife-pupil relation- ship, achieving a complementary partnership indeed.


Political Economy Royal Institution Mineral Chemistry Oxford Dictionary Young Pupil 
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We would like to thank Digby Thomas and Danica Wishkovich for their assistance with the English version of our chapter, originally written in French, and the editors of this volume for their suggestions. We are also grateful to Prof. Doris Jakubec and Dr. Lubor Jilek for enabling our access to the Marcet Collection of the Guy de Pourtalès Archives, which was held by Centre d’archives européennes, Institut européen de l’Université de Genève, Coppet, Switzerland, during the time of our research for this chapter. This source has recently been moved to the Bibliothèque de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland.

Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean-Jacques Dreifuss
    • 1
    Email author
  • Natalia Tikhonov Sigrist
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for the History of MedicineUniversity of Geneva Medical CenterTartegninSwitzerland
  2. 2.Vlaams Akademisch CentrumKoninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en KunstenBrusselBelgium

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