Serendipity: The Curie mobbing

“Anyone who does not number among these reptiles is certainly happy that we have such personages among us as you.”

One autumn afternoon in 1911 Marie Curie returned home to find an angry mob gathering outside shouting threats at her. Apparently she had now become “a foreign Jewish homewrecker” for having an affair with a married and separated colleague, four years after Pierre’s death, which the press had caught on (if you wonder, she wasn’t even Jewish).

Some days later Curie received her second Nobel prize. The “scandal” was still more important to some, for instance to the mob and to fellow nobelist Svante Arrhenius, who (unsuccesfully) urged her to skip the prize ceremony.

Between these two events a fan of Curie’s work sent her a short letter of support; the letter was apparently a suave equivalent of a today’s “haters gonna hate” sticker. The fan was Al Einstein and the letter can be read here.

4 thoughts on “Serendipity: The Curie mobbing

  1. This event is shown (the details are changed, I assume for dramatic purposes) in an episode of Genius: Einstein, where Albert actively supports her.
    It is also very interesting that in a previous episode the relation of Marie and Pierre Curie is shown in contrast to Einstein’s relation with his wife Mileva: In a stunning scene (I think this is called ‘parallel montage’ in cinema/ tv) we see Pierre, having just received the letter from Sweden informing him that he is to be awarded the Nobel prize, sending an answering letter informing them that he refuses the prize unless it is also awarded to his wife, Marie. At the same time, we see how A. Einstein fails to give due credit (mostly publicly, but also privately) to Mileva for the great amount of support and help she provided him in his research. His own son in a later episode tells him that he never understood why Einstein gave due credit and support to every other person, but failed to do so to his own wife.

    1. I think that Einstein’s case is more nuanced than how it was presented several decades ago (an angel) and recently (a demon)… And although Mileva went through a lot, it’s unfair to M.Curie to even start comparing their contribution in scientific terms, like that scene seems to do. That being said, I didn’t know about Pierre C. refusing unless etc, I’ll look into it!

      1. Clarification: In the series, Einstein is not presented as a demon – far from it. But it is shown that:
        * he has a strong sense of justice/fairness and supports actively persons he feels/sees are treated unfairly
        * he loves Mileva very much
        * but somehow he fails to give her the scientific credit she deserves
        Watch the series, I think it is a great one and it shows a lot of things and not in a shallow way. It may be shown again on ERT soon, where I saw it last winter.

        1. The more I hear about this series the more tempting it becomes! It will be watched at the right moment : )
          Note: By “angel/demon” I refered to Einstein’s love life (not life in general), whose public perception shifted drastically over the last few decades.

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