The story begins with Le Gentil’s departure from France to India on his first attempt to record the
transit of Venus. The transit was an important scientific event that would help measure the
distance between the Earth and the Sun.
Le Gentil’s departure is not expected and his household is disrupted, particularly for Celeste, the
young woman to whom he is engaged. Celeste’s mother Margot is surprised by the engagement
since she and Le Gentil had had an affair when they were younger. Before he departs, Celeste
attempts to seduce Le Gentil in his return.
Six years later, Margot and Le Gentil’s mother, Madame Sylvie are anxiously awaiting his
arrival. When Celeste enters the room, she realizes something is wrong and goes to Desmarais,
Le Gentil’s assistant who was sent home from India because of illness. Desmarais argues with
Celeste about Le Gentil and tells her that Le Gentil has changed.
Leaving Desmarais, Celeste enters the observatory to discover le Gentil already has been there
for some time. Although they still care for one another, they are tentative with each other. Le
Gentil playfully teases Celeste and she chides him for his lengthy absence. As he tells her how
much more infinite and beautiful the world is than he had imagined, he realizes she has an
insatiable thirst for knowledge. She, too, becomes filled with the wonders of the universe.
Le Gentil asks Celeste to marry him, to which she agrees. When he admits that he is returning to
India because his first attempt to record the transit of Venus was unsuccessful, she begs him not
to leave. He convinces her that they are ‘fixed’ by God in an orbit that, no matter how far he
wanders, she will always draw him back. Celeste agrees to wait again for his return, but insists
that he must come back immediately after the transit. She is not prepared to compete with the
Act III begins five years later, with Margot finding Le Gentil sitting despondent and alone in the
sitting room where everything is covered in sheets. During the intervening years, Le Gentil has
been assumed dead. His mother is now senile and lives with relatives. But Margot assures Le
Gentil that Celeste still is not married and will arrive shortly. Le Gentil tells Margot his journey
was very difficult and it was hard to make it home.
Celeste now enters the sitting room. Le Gentil is struck by her beauty but senses something
different about her. He is unsuccessful in reconciling with her even as he tells her of the inner
struggle he has had. She refuses to listen to him and announces she is going to have a child and,
once the baby is born, will move with Margot to New France. Le Gentil is hurt and angry and
demands to meet the father.
Margot has to mediate the fight that erupts between Celeste and Le Gentil. He offers to marry
her, telling her he loves her and will not be turned away by ‘one fateful indiscretion.’ Celeste
denies it was an indiscretion. In grieving for Le Gentil in his absence, she turned to the one
person who knew and cared for him almost as much as did she. As her grief diminishes in time,
she realizes she has fallen in love with the man. Le Gentil realizes Celeste is referring to
Desmarais, but begs her to reconsider her position. Celeste refuses, telling him that she did love
him once but doesn’t now and never will again. She leaves.
Le Gentil is stunned. Even at the worst of times, even after failing to chart the second transit, Le
Gentil believed he would never lose Celeste. He tells about the strange circumstances that
prevented his charting the second transit – an unseasonable storm that blew in and obscured his
view of the sky. Unable to find the words to console him, Margot leaves and Le Gentil is alone in
the ruins of his home.