As I've mentioned before, contemporary love stories are more difficult to present because they're well recorded, sometimes by people who knew the players intimately, and tend to lack the same fantasy and shine of myths and ancient legends. In this story, I found it impossible to separate the love story from the science which brought the two together.
Marie Salomea Sklodowska.(Curie) was born in Warsaw on November 7, 1867, which, at the time, was within the Kingdom of Poland, a part of the Russian Empire. It's said she spent her younger years as an impoverished teacher and governess. Still, she managed to study at the Warsaw's clandestine Flying University, where she began her scientific training.
To understand her determination you need to know about the educational system at the time. In Poland, under Russian control, only state-sanctioned curriculum could be taught, and that curriculum focused on stamping out Polish culture. In addition, women were not allowed to attend the universities at all [which was not uncommon throughout Europe]. So attaining an education in science took a great deal of effort and commitment on Marie's part.
The Flying University started in Warsaw in 1882. Secret classes for women were held in private homes and taught by rebellious Polish professors and historians. Since these classes were illegal, they frequently changed the location from one home to another. So it became known, among those who knew about it, as the Flying (or Floating) University.
Marie and her sister Bronia [Bronislawa]
Pierre Curie was born in Paris May 15, 1859, and had earned advanced degrees by the time he was eighteen. When he was introduced to Marie, he was an instructor at the School of Physics and Chemistry in Paris. He found some space for Marie to begin her project by taking her on as a student.
CHEMISTRY [And not the scientific kind]
Although the chemistry between Marie and Pierre may not have been love at first sight, as time progressed and they worked together, their mutual passion for science created a bond between them. They were not only
Pierre Curie in 1906 kindred spirits, but they matched each other's mind. At first, they saw each other to discuss projects; then it was because they couldn't bear to be apart.
When Pierre proposed marriage to her, Marie didn't accept because she wanted to return to Poland. Pierre countered and said he would move with her to Poland "even if it meant being reduced to teaching French."
Marie did return to Poland [alone] for summer break. She believed she would be able to work in her field at Krakow University, but was turned down because she was a woman. She returned to Paris and married Pierre on July 26, 1895 in a non-religious ceremony. Marie wore a dark blue outfit instead of a bridal gown, and later used that same outfit to work in her laboratory.
With common interests in science and intellectual parity, they both enjoyed long bicycle trips and traveling abroad. It was a happy marriage. On their honeymoon
All great love stories seem to involve a tragedy at some point.
Marie and Pierre's love story ended in April 1906, when Pierre was stuck by a horse-drawn vehicle and fell under its wheels. One of the wheels rolled over his head, causing his skull to fracture and killing him instantly. Marie was devastated by his death and refused the pension the French government offered her.
A month later, the Physics department of the University of Paris decided to offer the Department Chair, which had been created for Pierre, to Marie. She was the first women to become a professor at the University of Paris.
PASSIONS AMONG THE PIPETTES
Four years after Pierre's death, Marie, now 43, became involved with friend Paul Langevin, a married scientist with four children. They rented an apartment where they could meet secretly. Still, rumors circulated. Langevin had been a student of Pierre's and was five years younger than Marie.
Langevin's wife knew he was a womanizer. Apparently the marriage was not a happy one and, it was rumored, she had once hit him over the head with a bottle in an argument over his lack of fidelity. Generally, the woman just accepted it, but for some reason, she was infuriated about Marie. She discovered their hideaway, had someone break in and steal Marie's love letters, which Madam Langevin then threatened to expose to the press.
The press jumped on the story, painting Marie as a seductress and saying the affair started before Pierre died, which wasn't true at all. Nonetheless, her name was denigrated and the Nobel Committee asked her to stay in France and not come to Sweden. She countered with a statement that discovering two elements had nothing to do with her personal life, and she went anyway.
Two duels resulted from the public brouhaha. One was fought between by editors of rival newspapers, over the merits of Madam Langevin's charges. They fought with swords, and when one was injured, they called it off and reconciled.
The second duel was between Langevin himself and a journalist who had called him a "boor and coward." Langevin challenged and insisted on pistols, but it came to naught and there was no blood shed. Still the damage was done to Marie's reputation, and the French held her in contempt until WWI when she dedicated her work to develop x-rays for medical purposes.
Marie and Pierre are a couple to be admired. According to www.experienceproject.com "They were two geniuses destined for each other. The Curies enabled one another to achieve greatness. They were totally dedicated to their work. They lived with very little and that did them just fine. Their love had a life of its own that gave so much to others. They took nothing for themselves and gave the world its first cancer treatment, its first ex-ray units, and three Nobel Prizes.
In the end, Marie's dedication to work cost her her life. She died of leukemia in 1934, at the age of 67, from the prolonged exposure to radiation.