The play Transit of Venus was authored by Maureen Hunter. The storyline was based on the life of an 18th century French astronomer named Guillaume le Gentil de la Galaisière. As an astronomer Le Gentil attempted to chart the crossing of the planet Venus across the sun and the Earth, hence the title, Transit of Venus.
Le Gentil was obsessed in charting the transit of Venus across the sun to the point that he neglected his fiancée, Celeste. His obsession took him away from home for long periods of time. On one of his absences, Celeste thought that he died on his journey and thus, turned her love to Le Gentil’s assistant, Demarais.
Upon Le Gentil’s return, after his unsuccessful journey, he tried to win back Celeste but failed. Thus, the play showed Le Gentil’s unsuccessful attempt in love – his love for his occupation as well as his love for his fiancée.
We could see signs of symbolisms used throughout the play. For instance, the opening of the play was accompanied by a storm which reflects the character’s obsession and incessant desire which is very much evident all throughout the play.
While we know that the main character of the story, Le Gentil needs love, he was not able to know just how much he needs it until it was too late as he was blinded by the frenzy of mapping Venus’ journey across the sun, an obsession quite common among astronomers during the 18th century.
It is also evident that Celeste desires Le Gentil and was even willing to wait for him for long periods of time. In the end, Celeste learned to let go of her feelings for Le Gentil as she found the love which she seeks on Le Gentil’s assistant, Demarais.
While the transit of Venus is often associated with science, the play itself focused more on how Venus was used to symbolize love. The use of the planet Venus to symbolize love is not surprising as Venus is also the Roman counterpart of the Greek’s goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite. Throughout the play, we could see how love (Venus) made its way (transit) across the characters of the story.
The opera also showed us different faces of love. For instance, while we know that Le Gentil’s love for his fiancée is real we could also see that it was outweighed by his devotion to serve God.
The story revealed that Le Gentil’s obsession was driven by his need to serve God. It was not uncommon during Le Gentil’s time for scientists to correlate science with religion and there are many people who believed that by mapping the transit of Venus across the sun they would be able to prove that science could coexist with religion.
Le Gentil was greatly driven by the need to map the transit of Venus to the point that he was not able to see what is really important, his love for his fiancée, Celeste.
As I have already mentioned earlier, Le Gentil failed to map the transit of Venus and at the same time he also failed to pursue his love for Celeste. We could see that this was symbolized by the fact that his attempt to map the transit of Venus failed as clouds blurred his vision and disabled him from witnessing Venus’ transit.
The opera also made use of expressionism. Expressionism gives emphasis on the characters’ divine awakening, pain, and suffering. In watching the play, the audience would be drawn to the sufferings of the characters.
Expressionism is evident on Le Gentil’s desire to fulfill his spiritual hunger which he believed could only be done by serving God. His journey to serve God, to unite science with religion, led him to a path filled with pain and suffering as he did not succeed in his journey and at the same time lost the love of his fiancée.
Expressionism is also present on Le Gentil’s relationship with Celeste in that at first, Celeste was willing to sacrifice for Le Gentil. For love, Celeste was willing to wait until Le Gentil was done with his journey. While it pained her that Le Gentil’s work is more important than her, she endured the pain and silently waited for her fiancée’s return.
Women, during Celeste’s time, were not exactly on the same footing with men. This is evident on how Celeste’s character showed how she allowed her fiancée to subjugate her own desire. However, at the end of the play we saw how their positions were reversed as Celeste rejected Le Gentil’s love.