David Auburn

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Sophie Germain Character Analysis

Sophie Germain was a real-life 18th century French mathematician, and Catherine looks up to her for her genius and for her persistence in the face of rampant sexism. In fact, Catherine first brings up Sophie Germaine in a moment when she herself is facing sexist assumptions about women in math. Hal has just implied that all mathematicians are men, so Catherine relays the story of Sophie Germain teaching herself advanced math while trapped in her home during the French Revolution. Germain wanted to study at a university, but none would accept women, so she furthered her career another way: under a male pseudonym, she wrote to a famous mathematician (a man named Gauss), and he mentored her via correspondence. In this way, Germain was able to produce groundbreaking mathematical work—and, once she was recognized for her abilities, she was able to reveal her true identity to Gauss, who remained supportive. While Germain lived centuries before Catherine, the two women share a struggle with sexism in math. Like Germain, Catherine has uncanny mathematical abilities that she struggles to convince others to recognize, and like Germain, Catherine has to produce groundbreaking work in order to be seen as credible at all.

Sophie Germain Quotes in Proof

The Proof quotes below are all either spoken by Sophie Germain or refer to Sophie Germain. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Genius and Mental Instability Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Farrar, Straus and Giroux edition of Proof published in 2001.
Act One, Scene 3 Quotes

CATHERINE: […] Later a mutual friend told [Gauss] the brilliant young man was a woman.

He wrote to her: “A taste for the mysteries of numbers is excessively rare, but when a person of the sex which, according to our customs and prejudices, must encounter infinitely more difficulties than men to familiarize herself with these thorny researches, succeeds nevertheless in penetrating the most obscure parts of them, then without a doubt she must have the noblest courage, quite extraordinary talents, and superior genius.”

(Now self-conscious) I memorized it…

Related Characters: Catherine (speaker), Gauss (speaker), Sophie Germain
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:
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Proof PDF

Sophie Germain Character Timeline in Proof

The timeline below shows where the character Sophie Germain appears in Proof. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One, Scene 3
Sexism Theme Icon
Proof, Trust, and Credibility Theme Icon
...there are some women, like a woman at Stanford whose name he can’t remember. “Sophie Germain,” Catherine says, and Hal says he’s probably seen her at conferences. Catherine coolly informs him... (full context)
Sexism Theme Icon
Awkwardly, Hal acknowledges that he was wrong. Catherine explains that Sophie Germain taught herself math during the French Revolution. When no school would accept her based on... (full context)
Sexism Theme Icon
Hal realizes who Catherine is talking about—Sophie Germain is the person behind Germain Primes. He gives Catherine a simple example of a Germain... (full context)
Sexism Theme Icon
When Hal asks whether Gauss ever discovered Germain’s real identity, Catherine says that he did. He then wrote to Germain, praising her tenacity... (full context)