Figuring explores the complexities of love and the human search for truth and meaning through the interconnected lives of several historical figures across four centuries; beginning with the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, and ending with the marine biologist and author Rachel Carson, who catalyzed the environmental movement.
Stretching between these figures is a collection of artists, writers, and scientists – mostly women - whose public contributions have formulated from their unclassifiable and often heartbreaking private relationships to change the way we understand, experience, and appreciate the universe. Among them are the astronomer Maria Mitchell, who paved the way for women in science; the sculptor Harriet Hosmer, who did the same in art; the journalist and literary critic Margaret Fuller, who sparked the feminist movement; and the poet Emily Dickinson.
From these lives emerges larger questions about the standard of a good life and what it means to leave a lasting mark of improvement on an imperfect world: Are achievement and acceptance enough for happiness? Is genius enough? Is love enough? Seeping through the narrative is a set of secondary characters, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Darwin, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Herman Melville, Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Walt Whitman; and a tapestry of themes spanning music, feminism, the history of science, religion, and how the intersection of astronomy, poetry, and transcendentalist philosophy instigated the movement to save the environment.