Date of Award

Spring 2015

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


LACS: French

First Advisor

Karen Humphreys


Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle’s Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds is one of the first major works of the French Enlightenment. First published in 1686, the work is organized as a series of dialogues between a philosopher and a marquise who discuss scientific topics such as heliocentrism and the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Treating these subjects was a risky affair; less than a century earlier Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake, and fifty years before Fontenelle, Galileo was arrested for “holding, teaching, and defending” heliocentrism. Fontenelle employed several rhetorical and stylistic strategies in the work: he wrote in French (as opposed to Latin), he introduced a woman into scientific discourse, and he wrote in the form of a dialogue.

The rhetorical strategies that Fontenelle employs in the Conversations are the focus of the thesis. Fontenelle’s rhetoric sought to make science accessible to a greater audience, to protect himself from religious authorities, and to develop the heliocentric argument. While situating Fontenelle in a cultural and historical context, this thesis explores how through the form of a dialogue, Fontenelle makes accessible scientific ideas that had serious historical weight. His command of language, through wittiness, imagery, and discourse, creates a powerful work in the evolution and popularization of science.


Senior thesis completed at Trinity College for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in French.