Skip to main content

Full text of "Madame Curie"

See other formats


MADAME CURIE 

BY 

EVE CURIE 

TRANSLATED BY VINCENT SHEEAN 




WILLIAM HEINEMANN LTD 

LONDON :: TORONTO 



FIRST PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 1938 
REPRINTED FEBRUARY, APRIL, JUNE 1938 

CHEAP EDITION (8*. (>d.) OCTOBER 1938 

REPRINTED NOVEMBER, DECEMBER 1938 

FEBRUARY, SEPTEMBER 1939 

JANUARY 1940 

JANUARY, MAY, JUNE, NOVEMBER 1941 

MARCH, AUGUST, DECEMBER 1942 

APRIL 1943, OCTOBER 1947 



MANUFACTURED IN THE NETHERLANDS 



INTRODUCTION 

THE LIFE OF MARIE CURIE contains prodigies in such number 
that one would like to tell her story like a legend. 

She was a woman; she belonged to an oppressed nation; she 
was poor; she was beautiful. A powerful vocation summoned her 
from her motherland, Poland, to study in Paris, where she lived 
through years of poverty and solitude. There she met a man 
whose genius was akin to hers. She married him; their happiness 
was unique. By the most desperate and arid effort they dLcovered 
n magic element, radium. This discovery not only gave birth to 
a new science and a new philosophy: it provided mankind with 
the means of treating a dreadful disease. 

At the moment when the fame of the two scientists and bene- 
factors was spreading through the world, grief overtook Marie: 
her husband, her wonderful companion, was taken from her by 
death in an instant. But in spite of distress and physical illness, 
she continued alone the work that had been begun with him and 
brilliantly developed the science they hud created together. 

The rest of her life resolves itself into a kind of perpetual giving. 
To the war wounded she gave her devotion and her health. Later 
on she gave her advice, her wisdom and all the hours of her time 
to her pupils, to future scientists who came to her from all parts 
of the world. 

When her mission was accomplished she died exhausted, having 
refused wealth and endured her honours with indifference. 

It would have been a crime to add the slightest ornament to 
this story, so like a myth. I have not related a single anecdote of 
which I am not sure. I have not deformed a single e >sential phrase 
or so much as invented the colour of a dress. The facts are as 
stated; the quoted word.; \vcre actually pronounced. 

I am indebted to my Pul!;-h family, charming and cultivated, 
and above all to my mother's eldest sister, Mme Dluska, who was 
her dearest friend, for precious letters and direct evidence on the 



vi INTRODUCTION 

youth of the scientist. From the personal papers and short bio- 
graphical notes left by Marie Curie, from innumerable official 
documents, the narratives and letters of French and Polish friends 
whom I cannot thank enough, and from the recollections of my 
sister Irene Joli'ot-Curie, of my brother-in-law, Frederic Joliot 
and my own, I have been able to evoke her more recent years. 

I hope that the reader may constantly feel, across the ephemeral 
movement of one existence, what in Marie Curie was even more 
rare than her work or her life: the immovable structure of a 
character; the stubborn effort of an intelligence; the free immola- 
tion of a being that could give all and take nothing, could even 
receive nothing; and above all the quality of a soul in which 
neither fame nor adversity could change the exceptional purity. 

Because she had that soul, without the slightest sacrifice Marie 
Curie rejected money, comfort and the thousand advantages that 
genuinely great men may obtain from immense fame. She suffered 
from the part the world wished her to play; her nature was so 
susceptible and exacting that among all the attitudes suggested 
by fame she could choose none: neither familiarity nor mechanical 
friendliness, deliberate austerity nor showy modesty. 

She did not know how to be famous. 

My mother was thirty-seven years old when I was born. When 
I was big enough to know her well, she was already an ageing 
woman who had passed the summit of renown. And yet it is the 
celebrated scientist who is strangest to me probably because the 
idea that she was a "celebrated scientist" did not occupy the mind 
of Marie Curie. It seems to me, rather, that I have always lived 
near the poor student, haunted by dreams, who was Marya 
Sklodovska long before I came into the world. 

And to this young girl Marie Curie still bore a resemblance 
on the day of her death. A hard and long and dazzling career 
had not succeeded in making her greater or less, in sanctifying or 
debasing her. She was on that last day just as gentle, stubborn, 
timid and curious about all things as in the days of her obscure 
beginnings. 

It was impossible to inflict on her, without sacrilege, the 
pompous obsequies which governments give their great men. 



INTRODUCTION vii 

In a country graveyard, among summer flowers, she had the 
simplest and quietest burial, as if the life just ended had been like 
that of a thousand others. 

I should have liked the gifts of a writer to tell of this eternal 
student of whom Einstein said: "Marie Curie is, of all celebrated 
beings, the only one whom fame has not corrupted" passing 
like a stranger across her own life, intact, natural and very nearly 
unaware of her astonishing destiny. 

EVE CURIE. 



CONTENTS 
PART ONE 

CHAPTER PAGE 

I. MANYA 3 

II. DARK DATS l6 

III. ADOLESCENCE 28 

IV. VOCATION 45 
V. GOVERNESS 58 

VI. THE LONG WAIT 68 

VII. THE ESCAPE 79 

PART TWO 

VIII. PARIS 9] 

IX. FORTY ROUBLES A MONTH 103 

X. PIERRE CURIE 117 

XI. A YOUNG COUPLE 136 

XII. THE DISCOVERY OF RADIUM I5C 

XIII. FOUR YEARS IN A SHED 162 

XIV. A HARD LIPK 174 

xv. A DOCTOR'S THESIS 188 

XVI. THE ENEMY 2Q1 

XVII. EVERY DAY 21 8 

XVIII. APRIL 19, 1906 238 

PART THREE 

XIX. ALONE 257 

XX. SUCCESSES AND ORDEALS 267 

XXI. WAR 28l 

XXII. PEACE HOLIDAYS AT LARCOUEST 300 

XXIII. AMERICA 313 

XXIV. FULL BLOOM 328 
XXV. ON THE ILE SAINT-LOUIS 340 

XXVI. THE LABORATORY 351 

XXVII. THE END OF THE MISSION 365 

APPENDIX 375 

INDEX 38* 

viii 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

MARIE CURIE Frontispiece 

MME SKLODOVSKA, MARIE CURIE* S MOTHER 

THE SKLODOVSKI CHILDREN between 

THE HOUSE IN WHICH MARIE CURIE, THEN MANYA 

SKLODOVSKA, TAUGHT AS A GOVERNESS 38 9 

M. SKLODOVSKI AND HIS THREE DAUGHTERS 
THE TWO POSITIVISTS 
THE DIPLOMA OF THE SECOND NOBEL PRIZE AWARD 

MADE TO MME CURIE IN 1911 between 

A PAGE FROM MANYA SKLODOVSKA*S PRIVATE NOTE- pages 

BOOK, WRITTEN IN 1885 IO2~3 

THE CURIE FAMILY 

PIERRE CURIE, AS HE APPEARED LECTURING TO HIS 
CLASSES IN 1906 

TWO VIEWS OF THE SHED AT THE SCHOOL OF PHYSICS 
ON THE RUE LHOMOND WHERE RADIUM WAS DIS- 
COVERED between 

PAGES FROM MARIE CURIE*S WORK BOOKS, 1897-1898 pages 

HENRI BECQUERKL, THE FIRST SCIENTIST TO OBSERVE 1 66-7 

THE PHENOMENON OF RADIOACTIVITY 

PIERRE AND MARIE CURIE WITH THE BICYCLES ON 
WHICH THEY ROAMED THE ROADS OF FRANCE 
TOGETHER 

MARIE AND PIERRE CURIE WITH THEIR DAUGHTER, 
IRENE, IN 1904 

MARIE CURIE AND PIERRE CURIE AND THEIR DAUGHTER 
IRVINE, IN THE GARDEN OF THE HOUSE ON BOULE 
VARD KKLLF.RMANN, 1904 230-! 

MARIE CURIE AND HER TWO DAUGHTERS, EVE AND 
IRENE, IN 1908 

MARIE CURIE IN HER LABORATORY, 1912 

MARIE CURIE WITH HER TWO SISTERS, MME SZALAY AND 
MMK DLUSKA, AND HER BROTHER M. SKLODOVSKI, 

PHOTOGRAPHED IN WARSAW IN 1912 between 

MME CURIE IN HER LABORATORY IN 1912 

MARIE CURIE AT THE WHEEL OF THE FAMOUS RENAULT 294-5 

CAR CONVERTED INTO A RADIOLOGICAL UNIT 
MARIE CURIE'S FAVOURITE PORTRAIT OF HER HUSBAND 

ix 



ILLUSTRATIONS 



THE RADIUM INSTITUTE AT WARSAW 

THE RADIUM INSTITUTE AT PARIS 

MME CURIE, IRENE CURIE AND PUPILS FROM THE 

AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY CORPS, AT THE INSTI- 
TUTE OF RADIUM IN PARIS 
MARIE CURIE WITH DEAN PEG RAM, DEAN OF THE SCHOOL 

OF ENGINEERING AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, 192! 
MARIE CURIE DISCUSSING A SCIENTIFIC PROBLEM AT 

PITTSBURGH DURING HER AMERICAN TOUR 
MARIE CURIE AND PRESIDENT HARDING DURING HER 

TOUR OF THE UNIT KD STATES IN 1921 
MME CURIE IN HER OFFICE AT THE RADIUM INSTITUTE 

IN PARIS, 1925 
A GROUP PHOTOGRAPH MADE AT THE INSTITUTE OF 

RADIUM IN PARIS 

MME CURIE AND HER DAUGHTER, IRENE, 1925 
MARIE CURIE IN 1931, THREE YEARS BEFORE HER 

DEATH 
THE CURIE FAMILY TOMB, IN THE CEMETERY AT SCEAUX 



between 
pages 



between 
pages 
358-9 




PART ONE 



CHAPTER I 



Manya 



DEEP silence invaded the school building in Novolipki Street on 
Sundays. Beneath the stone pediment, carved in Russian letters 
with the words < 1 .igh School for Boys," the principal door was 
bolted and the columned vestibule looked like an abandoned 
temple. Life had retired from the single storey of the long, low 
structure, from its light-filled rooms where the desks of black wood 
were aligned, scratched by pen-knives and cut with initials. No- 
thing could be heard but the bells of the Church of the Virgin, 
ringing for vespers, and, now and then, coming from the street, 
the rattle of a cart or the lazily trotting horse of a droshky. Behind 
the railing which bordered the court-yard the school's four lilac 
trees bloomed, dusty and meagre, and passers-by in their Sunday 
best turned with surprise to catch a breath of the sugary scent. It 
was hot, even though May was hardly ended. In Warsaw the sun 
is as tyrannous and intense as the frost. 

But something had disturbed this sabbatical peace. From the 
left wing of the building, on the ground floor, where dwelt 
M. Vladislav Sklodovski, professor of physics and under-inspector 
of the school, there came the muffled echo of mysterious activity. 
It sounded like hammer-strokes, without order or cadence; then 
the rumble of a structure falling to pieces, saluted by sharp yells;, 
then blows again. And brief orders shouted in Polish: 

"Hela, I've run out of munitions!" 

"The tower, Joseph! Aim at the towcrl" 

"Manya, get out of the wayl" 

"Why? I'm bringing you some cubes!" 

3 



4 MADAME CURIE 

"O-oh-oh!" 

A crash, the thunder of wooden blocks across the polished 
floor, and the tower was gone. The noise was doubled; projectiles 
flew, alighted. 

The battlefield was a huge square room with windows giving 
on an inside court-yard of the Gymnasium. Four children's beds 
occupied its corners, and, between them, four children from five 
to nine years of age played their game of war with shrieks and yells. 
The peaceful uncle, a lover of whist and patience, who had given 
the small Sklodovskis a building game for Christmas, had certainly 
not foreseen the use to which his present would be put. For some 
days Joseph, Bronya, Hela and Manya had obediently built castles, 
bridges and churches according to the models they found in the 
big wooden box; but the blocks and beams soon found their true 
destiny: short columns of oak formed an artillery, the small 
squares were bullets, and the young architects had become field- 
marshals. 

Crawling on his belly across the floor, Joseph was gaining 
ground, and moved his cannon methodically forward toward the 
adversary. Even at the height of the battle his healthy child's face, 
with its firm features underneath fair hair, kept the seriousness 
proper to an army commander. He was the eldest and the most 
learned of the four; he was also the only man. Around him were 
girls, nothing but girls, all dressed alike and all wearing, over their 
Sunday clothes, little frilled collars and dark bcribl oned aprons. 

But, to be just, the girls fought well. The eyes of i Jela, Joseph's 
ally, blazed with savage ardour. Hela was macl with rage at her 
six and a half years; she wanted to fling her blocks farther and 
harder; she envied Bronya her eight years Bronya the dimpled 
and dazzling creature whose blonde hair whipped the air as she 
pranced about defending her troops, drawn up between the two 
windows. 

At Bronya's side a tiny aide-de-camp in a fancy apron gathered 
up munitions, galloped from one battalion to another, and busied 
herself mightily, her face aflame, her lips dry from having cried 
and laughed too much. , 

"Manya!" 

The child stopped in full flight and allowed her apron, which 



MANYA 5 

she held clutched to her breast, to fall; a consignment of blocks 
clattered to the floor. 

"What's the matter?" 

Zosia, the eldest of the young Sklodovskis, had just come into 
the room. Although she was not yet twelve she appeared, beside 
her younger brother and sisters, to be a grown person. Her long, 
ash-blonde hair was thrown back to fall loosely on her shoulders, 
She had a lovely, animated face and dreaming eyes of exquisite 
grey. 

"Mother says you've been playing too long. You must stop 
now." 

"But Bronya needs me . . . Fm the one that brings her 
blocks!" 

"Mamma says you're to come now." 

After a moment's hesitation Manya took her sister's hand and 
made a dignified exit. It is hard to fight a war at the age of five, 
and the little girl, at the end of her strength, was not altogether 
unhappy to abandon the battle. From the next room a gentle voice 
was calling her by names like caresses: "Manya . . . Manyusya 
. . my Anciupecio ..." 

In Poland, diminutives and nicknames are very common. The 
Sklodovskis had never called Sophie, their eldest daughter, any- 
thing but "Zosia." "Bronya" had taken the place of Bronislava, 
Helen became "1 lela," and Joseph "Jozio." But none of them had 
received as many nicknames as Marya, the youngest and best-loved 
in the house. "Manya" was her ordinary diminutive, "Manyusya' 1 
a name of aflcction, and "Anciupecio" a comic nickname dating 
from her earliest infancy. 

"My Anciupecio, how mussed your hair is! And how red you 
arel" 

Delicate hands, too pale and too thin, tied the undone ribbons 
of the apron and smoothed the short curls from the stubborn face 
of the future scientist. Little by little, the child relaxed and was 
at peace. 

Manya had an infinite love for her mother. It seemed to her 
that no other creature on earth could be so graceful, so good 
or so wise. 



6 MADAME CURIE 

Mme Sklodovska was the eldest daughter in a family of country 
squires. Her father, Felix Boguski, belonged to that small land- 
owning nobility which has so many representatives in Poland. 
Too poor to live on his own estate, he had to administer the 
property of families more powerful than his own. His marriage 
was romantic: he fell in love with an aristocratic young girl with 
no fortune but of nobler birth than his, and carried her off to a 
secret marriage in spite of the protests of the beauty's parents. 
Years rolled on: the seducer became a timid, shivering old man 
and his beloved a peevish grandmother. . . . 

Of their six children Mme Sklodovska was certainly the most 
balanced and the most intelligent. She received a very good 
education in a private school in Warsaw, and, having decided to 
devote herself to teaching, became a professor in the same school 
and finally director of the institution. When, in 1860, Professor 
Vladislav Sklodovski asked her hand in marriage, he was choosing 
a very accomplished wife. She had no money; but she was well- 
born, she was pious and she was active. She had an assured career 
ahead of her. Moreover, she was a musician: she could play the 
piano and sing the ballads of the day in a ravishing languid voice. 

Last of all, she was very beautiful. An exquisite photograph 
shows her to us at the time of her marriage, with her perfectly 
drawn face; her smooth and heavily plaited hair, the marvellous 
arch of her brows, and the peaceful, secret look of her grey eyes 
lengthened like the eyes of Egypt. 

It was what people called a "very suitable" marriage; the 
Sklodovskis were also part of that minor nobility which the mis- 
fortunes of Poland had ruined. The cradle of the clan, Sklody, was 
an agglomeration of farms about a hundred kilometres north of 
Warsaw. Several families, allied among themselves and originating 
at Sklody, bore the name of Sklodovski: according to a widespread 
custom, the lord of the manor at some time in the past was supposed 
to have bestowed on his tenants the right to adopt his coat of arms. 

The natural vocation of these families was to cultivate the earth; 
but in times of trouble the estates grew poorer and were frittered 
-.way. Though in the eighteenth century the direct ancestor of 
Vladislav Sklodovski possessed several hundred acres and could 
lead a comfortable life, and even his descendants lived like 



MANYA 7 

well-to-do farmers, the same was not true of Joseph, the young 
professor's father. In his desire to improve his own condition and 
to honour the name of which he was so proud, that Sklodovski 
turned toward study; and after a career made dramatic by wars and 
revolutions, he is to be found directing the boys' school in an 
important town, Lublin. He was the first intellectual in the 
family. 

The Boguski and the Sklodovski formed numerous households: 
six children here, seven there. Farmers, school-teachers, a notary, 
a nun. . . . And then a few eccentric shadows appear: one of 
Mme Sklodovska's brothers, Henryk Boguski, was an incurable 
dilettante who believed himself to be gifted for the most perilous 
enterprises of genius. And as for the reckless Zdzislav Sklodovski 
the professor's brother that jolly fellow who was successively 
a lawyer in Petersburg, a soldier in the Polish insurrection, and an 
exile, a Provencal poet and doctor of law at Toulouse, wavered 
perpetually between ruin and riches. 

On both sides of the family hotheads and peaceable characters 
occur at once; men of judgment rub shoulders with knights- 
errant. 

The parents of Marie Curie were among the judicious. Her 
father, following his own father's example, went far in his scientific 
studies at the University of Petersburg, and returned to Warsaw to 
teach mathematics and physics. Her mother successfully conducted 
a school to which the best families of the town sent their daughters. 
During eight years the family Jived at her school in Freta Street, 
on the fi-'St floor. Every morning, as the schoolmaster left the 
conjugal lodging which gave on the court-yard with balconies 
light as garlands from window to window the rooms at the front 
of the house echoed with the chatter of young girls waiting for 
their first class. 

But when, in 1868, Vladislav Sklodovski left the school where 
he had been teaching to become professor and under- inspector at 
the high school in Novolipki "Street, his wife had to adapt herself 
to the new existence. It would have been impossible for her to live 
In the apartment allotted them by her husband's new position, keep 
her place as principal of the girls' school, and at the same time 
bring up the five children She had brought into the world. Not 



8 MADAME CUPJE 

without regret Mme Skiodovska gave up her work at the boarding 
school and left the Freta Street house where, some months before 
(November yth, 1867), she had given birth to Marie Curie, little 
Manya. 

"Now then, Anciupecio, are you asleep?" 

Manya, doubled up on a little hassock at her mother's feet, 
shook her head. 

"No, Mamma. I'm all right." 

Once again Mme Skiodovska ran her light fingers over the 
forehead of her youngest child. That familiar gesture was the 
sweetest Manya knew. As far back as Manya could remember she 
had never been kissed by her mother. She could imagine no 
greater happiness than to crouch near-by, as close as possible to the 
pensive and charming figure, and to feel confusedly, by almost 
imperceptible signs a word, a smile, an affectionate look what 
immense tenderness watched over her young destiny. 

She did not yet understand the cruel origin of these rites and of 
the isolation to which her mother was condemned: Mme Skio- 
dovska was seriously ill. The first signs of tuberculosis had 
appeared when Manya was born, and in the five years since then, 
in spite of care and consultation, the disease had made certain 
progress. But Mme Sldodovska, a courageous Christian, was 
determined that nobody at home should notice her suffering more 
than she could help. Dressed with neatness, ever high-spirited, 
she continued the life of a busy housewife and gave the illusion 
of being well even though she imposed strict rules on herself; she 
would use only dishes reserved for herself, and would never 
embrace her son or her daughters. The little Sklodovskis knew 
very little about her dreadful disease: short attacks of dry coughing, 
which they heard from one room to the next; a desolate shadow 
on their father's face; and the short phrase, "Restore our mother's 
health/' which, for some time past, had been added to their 
evening prayer. . . . 

The young woman rose and gently put aside the childish hands 
that clung to her. 

"Let me go, Manyusya ... I have things to do." 

"May I stay here? I may I read?" 



MANYA 9 

"I wish you would go into the garden instead. It's so beautiful 
to-day!" 

A very special timidity reddened Manya's cheeks when she 
broached the subject of reading: the year before, in the country, 
Bronya, finding it extremely boring to have to learn the whole 
alphabet by herself, had taken it into her head to make her sister an 
experiment in education, to "play teacher" to her. For several 
weeks the little girls had amused themselves by arranging, in what 
was often enough an arbitrary order, their letters cut out of card- 
board. Then, one morning, while Bronya was faltering out a very 
simple reading lesson to her parents, Manya grew impatient, took 
the opened book from her hands, and read aloud the opening 
sentence on the page. At first, flattered by the silence that sur- 
rounded her, she continued this fascinating game, but suddenly 
panic seized her. One look at the stupefied faces of M. and Mme 
Sklodovski, another at Bronya's sulky stare, a few unintelligible 
stammers, an irrepressible sob and instead of the infant prodigy 
there was only a baby of four, crying in a doleful voice through 
her tears: 

*'Beg pardon! Pardon! I didn't do it on purpose. It's not my 
fault it's not Bronya's fault! It's only because it was so easyl" 

Manya had suddenly conceived, with despair, that she might 
perhaps never be forgiven for having learned to read. 

After that memorable session the child had grown familiar with 
her letters; and if she did not make remarkable progress it was 
owing to the adroit diplomacy of her parents, who constantly 
avoided giving books to her. Like prudent pedagogues, they were 
afraid of the precocity of their little girl, and every time she put out 
her hand toward one of the big-lettered albums that abounded in 
the house, a voice suggested: " You'd better play with your blocks. 
. . . Where is your doll? . . . Sing us a song, Manya." Or else, 
as to*day: "I wish you would go into the garden instead." 

Manya cast a speculative eye in the direction of the door through 
which she had entered a while before. The rumble of blocks on 
the floor and the cries that came almost unmuffied through the 
partition proved that she had small chance of finding a walking 
companion there. There was no hope in the direction of the 
kitchen, either: a steady chatter and the crash of poker and 



io MADAME CURIE 

stove-lid announced that the servants were preparing the evening 
meal. 

"I'll look for Zosia." 

"If you like." 

"Zosia . . . Zosial" 

Hand in hand the two sisters went, through the narrow yard 
where, every day, they had played hide-and-seek and blind-man's 
buff. Passing the school buildings they reached a big level garden 
guarded by its gate of worm-eaten wood. 

A faint smell of the earth, of countryside, was exhaled from the 
meagre grass and walled -in trees, 

"Zosia, are we going to Zwola pretty soon?" 

"Not yet not until July. But can you remember Zwola?** 

Manya, with her astonishing memory, could recollect it all: the 
stream in which she and her sisters had paddled for hours at a time 
last Slimmer. . . . The mud-cakes they had secretly kneaded, 
spattering their dresses and aprons with blackish spots, and as 
secretly put out to dry in the sun on a board known only to them- 
selves. . . . The old lime-tree which was sometimes climbed by as 
many as seven or eight conspirators at a time, cousins and friends; 
they used to lift her, too, the "little one" whose arms and legs were 
not long enough. . . . The main branches were padded with 
cabbage leaves, cold and crackling; in other cabbage leaves among 
the smaller branches they cooled their provisions of gooseberries, 
of tender raw carrots, of cherries . . . 

And at Marki, the torrid granary where Joseph used to go to 
learn his multiplication tables, and where they tried to bury Manya 
under the moving grain. . . . And old Father Skrzypovski, who 
made his whip crack so brilliantly when he drove the "break"! 
And Uncle Xavier's horses . . . 

Every year the children had intoxicating holidays in the country. 
The fact was that in this vast family only one branch had become 
city dwellers; the Sklodovskis had numerous relations on the land. 
In each province there were some Sklodovskis and some Boguskis 
who cultivated a little of the, Polish earth, and even though their 
houses were not sumptuous, they all had room enough to take in 
the professor and his family duripg the fine weather. In spite of 
her family's modest revenue, Manya was saved knowledge of the 



MANYA ii 

dull holiday-making of the cheap* 'summer resorts" frequented by 
the inhabitants of Warsaw. In summer this daughter of intellectuals 
became or perhaps became again, in accordance with the deepest 
instinct of her race a hardy little peasant. 

"Let's run. I'll bet 1 can get to the end of the garden before 
you!" Zosia cried, taking her role as "mother" with becoming 
seriousness. 

"I don't want to run. I want you to tell me a story." 

Nobody not even the professor or his wife could tell a story 
like Zosia. Pier imagination added extraordinary touches, like the 
brilliant variations of a virtuoso, to every anecdote or fairy tale. 
She also composed short comedies, which she performed with 
spirit in front of her astonished sisters and brother. Zosia' s gifts 
as author and actress had quite subjugated Manya, who giggled and 
shuddered by turns as she listened to adventures so fantastic that 
their thread was not always easy for a baby of five to follow. 

The girls turned back toward the house. As they drew nearer to 
the high school the elder instinctively slowed down and lowered 
her voice. The story she was making up and declaiming was not 
finished: even so, Zosia cut it short. The children walked silently 
past the windows in the right wing of the school all veiled by the 
same stiff lace curtains. 

Behind those windows lived the person whom the Sklodovski 
family most feared and detested: M. Ivanov, director of the 
Gymnasium, the man who represented, within the walls of that 
school, the government of the Tsar. 

It was a cruel fate, in the year 1872, to be a Pole, a "Russian 
subject," and to belong to that vibrant intelligentsia whose nerves 
were so near the surface; among them revolt was ever brooding, 
and they suffered more painfully than any other class in society 
from the servitude imposed upon them. 

Exactly a century before, greedy sovereigns, the powerful 
neighbours of a greatly weakened State, had decided Poland's ruin. 
Three successive partitions had dismembered it into fragments 
which became officially German, Russian and Austrian. On several 
occasions the Poles rose against their oppressors: they succeeded 
only in strengthening the bonds that held them prisoners. After 



12 MADAME CURIE 

the failure of the heroic revolution of 1831 the Tsar Nicholas 
dictated severe measures of reprisal in Russian Poland. The 
patriots were imprisoned and deported in a body; their property 
was confiscated. . . . 

In 1863 another attempt and another catastrophe: the rebels had 
nothing but spades, scythes and clubs to oppose to the Tsarist 
rifles. Eighteen months of desperate struggle and in the end the 
bodies of the insurgent leaders swung from five gibbets on the 
ramparts of Warsaw. 

Since then everything had been done to enforce the obedience 
of a Poland that refused to die. While the convoys of chained 
rebels made their way toward the snows of Siberia, a flood of 
policemen, professors and minor functionaries was let loose over 
the countryside. Their mission? To keep watch over the Poles, 
to wear down their religion, suppress suspicious books and news- 
papers, and abolish the use of the national language little by little 
in a word, to kill the soul of a people. 

But in the other camp resistance was quick to organise. 
Disastrous experience had proved to the Poles that they had no 
chance of reconquering their liberty by force, at least for the 
moment. Their task was, therefore, to wait and to thwart the 
dangers of those who wait, cowardice and discouragement. 

Ihe battle, therefore, had changed ground. Its heroes were 
no longer those warriors armed with scythes who charged the 
Cossacks and died saying (like the celebrated Louis Narbutt): 
"What happiness to die for my country!" The new heroes were 
the intellectuals, the artists, priests, school-teachers those upon 
whom the mind of the new generation depended. Their courage 
consisted in forcing themselves to be hypocrites, and in supporting 
any humiliation rather than lose the places in which the 1 sar still 
tolerated them and from which they could secretly influence 
Polish youth and guide their compatriots. 

1 hus beneath the affectations of politeness a profound anta- 
gonism existed between conqueror and conquered throughout the 
Polish schools between ^he harassed teachers and the spying 
principals, the Sklodovskis and the Ivanovs. 

The Ivanov who reigned over the school in Novolipki Street 
was particularly detestable. Without pity for the fate of his 



MANYA 13 

subordinates who had been forced to teach the children of their 
own country in the Russian language, he would pass with them from 
honeyed compliments to the coarsest reproof. In his zeal, Ivanov, 
who was an ignorant man, would review the compositions of day 
pupils, looking for the "Polish-isms" which occasionally slipped 
out in the work of little boys. His relations with Professor 
Sklo-lovski had gro\vn singularly cold after the day when the latter, 
in defence of one of his pupils, had calmly replied: 

"M. Ivanov, if that child made a mistake, it was certainly only 
a slip. ... It happens that you, too, write Russian incorrectly 
at times and indeed iirly often. I am convinced that you do 
not do it deliberately, any more than the child does." 

The professor was talking to his wife of this same Ivanov when 
Zosia and Msmya, returning from their walk, slipped into their 
father's study. 

"Do you remember the Mass that the second- year boys had 
celebrated at church last week 'for the granting of their most 
ardent prayer'? They had got up a collection among themselves to 
pay the cost, and they wouldn't tell the priest what this extra- 
ordinary prayer was. Well, little Barzynski confessed the whole 
thing to me yesterday: they had learned that Ivanov's little girl 
had typhoid fever, and in their hatred for the principal, they had a 
Mass said to bring about his child's death! If the poor priest had 
known that, he would be in despair at having taken such a 
responsibility in spite of himself!" 

M. Sklodovski was delighted with the incident; but his wife, a 
more fervent Catholic than he, would not laugh at it. She bent 
over her work, which was singularly rough: with shoemaker's 
knife and awl Afme Sklodovska was making shoes. One of her 
special characteristics was to find no task unworthy of her. Since 
her pregnancies and her illness had obliged her to stay indoors she 
had learned the cobbler's trade, and thereafter the shoes that the 
children wore out so quickly cost no more than the price of the 
leather in them. It was not so easy to get along. . . , 

"This pair is for you, Manyusya. See how fine your feet are 
going to look in them!" 

Manya watched the long hands cutting out a sole and managing 



I 4 MADAME CURIE 

the sticky string. Near-by, her father had just settled himself 
comfortably in his favourite arm-chair. It would have been 
pleasant to climb up on his knees and make a mess of his big necktie, 
knotted with such care; or to pull the nut-brown beard that framed 
his rather heavy face and his kind smile. 

But the talk of the grown-ups was too boring: "Ivanov . . . 
the police ... the Tsar . . . deportation ... a plot . . . 
Siberia . . ." Every day since she had come into the world Manya 
had heard the same phrases to which she obscurely attached some 
sort of fearful significance. By instinct she withdrew from them, 
holding off the moment when she would have to understand. 

Isolating herself in deep childish dreams, the infant turned away 
from her parents and the murmur of their affectionate conversation, 
cut now and then by the sharp noise of the hammer on a nail, the 
squeak of the scissors on leather. With her nose in the air Manya 
wandered about the room and stopped, like a boulevard idler, to 
admire the objects which were especially dear to her. 

This workroom wa; the finest room in the family lodging or at 
any rate the most interesting to Manya. The big French mahogany 
desk, the Restoration arm-chairs covered by an indestructible red 
velvet, filled her with respect. How clean and shining the furniture 
was! One day, when Manya grew older and went to school, she 
would have a place at one end of the long ministerial desk with 
many drawers, Professor Sklodovski's desk around which the 
children assembled in the afternoon to do their work. 

Manya was not attracted by the majestic portrait of a bishop- 
framed in heavy gold and attributed in the family, but only in the 
family, to Titian which decorated the wall at the end. Her 
admiration was reserved for the bright green malachite clock, fat 
and brilliant, which stood on the desk, and for the round table one 
of their cousins had brought from Palermo the year before. Its top 
represented a checkerboard, and each square on it was made of a 
different kind of veined marble. 

The little girl avoided the stand which held a blue cup and saucer 
of Sevres china ornamented by a medallion of Louis XVIIFs 
good-natured face she had been told a thousand times not to 
touch it, and in consequence regarded it with terror and finally 
stopped before the dearest of her treasures. 



MANYA 15 

One, hung on the wall, was a precision barometer mounted in 
oak, with its long gilt pointers glittering against the white dial; 
on certain days the professor regulated and cleaned it minutely in 
front of his attentive children. 

The other was a glass case with several shelves laden with 
surprising and graceful instruments, glass tubes, small scales, 
specimens of minerals and even a gold-leaf electroscope. . . . 
Professor Sklodovski used to take these objects into his class-room, 
but since the government had reduced the hours devoted to science, 
the glass case was always shut. 

Manya could not imagine what these fascinating trinkets were. 
One day, straining on the tips of her toes, she was contemplating 
them with bliss when her father simply told her their name: 
"Phy-sics app-a-ra-tits." 

A funny name. 

She did not forget it she never forgot anything and, as she 
was in high spirits, she sang the words in tune. 



CHAPTER II 



Dark Davs 



"MARYA SKLODOVSKA." 

"Present." 

"Tell us about Stanislas Augustus." 

"Stanislas Augustus Poniatovski was elected King of Poland in 
1764. He was intelligent and very cultivated, the friend of artists 
and writers. Pie understood the defects that were weakening the 
kingdom and tried to remedy the disorders of the State. Unfortu- 
nately, he was a man without courage ..." 

The schoolgirl who stood up in her place in the third row it 
was, near one of the big windows that looked out over the snow- 
covered lawns of the Saxony Garden looked much the same as 
her comrades as she recited her lesson in a clear, assured voice. 
Boarding-school uniform of navy-blue serge with steel buttons 
and a well-starched white collar imprisoned the figure of the ten- 
year-old child. And Anciupecio's short curls, always in disorder, 
where were they now? A tight braid, tied with narrow ribbon, 
pulled the curly hair back behind the tiny, perfect cars and made 
the wilful little face seem almost ordinary. Another braid, thicker 
and darker, had replaced Hela's ringlets. Hela sat at the next desk. 
Strict costume, severe coiffure: that was the rule in Mile Sikorska's 
"private school" 

The teacher in the chair had no frivolous demeanour, either. 
Her black silk corsage x and whalebone collar had never been 
fashionable, and Mile Antonina Tupalska had not the slightest 
pretension to beauty. She had a heavy, brutal, ugly face, which 
nevertheless appealed to the sympathies. Mile Tupalska 

16 



DARK DAYS 17 

currently nicknamed "Tupsia" was not only teacher of arithmetic 
and history, but also exercised the functions of sturdy superin- 
tendent; in that capacity she had been obliged to act with vigour, 
sometimes, against the independent spirit and stubborn character 
of the little Sklodovska. 

However, there was much affectionate kindness in the look she 
bent on Manya. How could she not be proud of this brilliant 
pupil, two years younger than her classmates, who seemed to find 
nothing difficult and was invariably first in ciphering, first in 
history, first in literature, German, French and catechism? 

Silence reigned in the classroom and even something a bit 
more than silence. These history lessons took place in an atmo- 
sphere of passionate fervour. The eyes of twenty-five motionless, 
exalted little patriots and the rough countenance of Tupsia 
reflected their earnest enthusiasm. And, speaking of a sovereign 
dead many years ago, it was with singular fire that Manya stated 
in her chanting voice: 

"Unfortunately he was a man without courage . . ." 

The unattractive schoolmistress and her too serious pupils, to 
whom she was actually teaching the history of Poland in Polish, 
had the mysterious look of accomplices in conspiracy. 

And suddenly, like accomplices, they were all startled into 
silence: the faint clatter of an electric bell had been heard from 
the landing. 

Two long rings, two short ones. 

The signal set up an instant agitation, mute but violent. Tupsia, 
on the alert, hastily gathered up the books spread out on the chair; 
swift hands had piled up the Polish books and papers from the 
desks and dumped them into the aprons of four lively schoolgirls 
who disappeared with their load through the little door that led 
to the dormitory of the boarders. A sound of chairs being moved, 
of desk-lids opened and stealthily closed. . . . The four school- 
girls, breathless, returned to their places. And the door to the 
vestibule opened slowly. 

On the threshold, kced into his fine uniform yellow pantaloons 
and a blue tunic with shiny buttons appeared M. Hornberg, 
inspector of private boarding-schools in the city of Warsaw. He 
was a thick-set fellow, sheared in German fashion; his face was 



18 MADAME CURIE 

plump and his eyes piercing behind their gold-rimmed glasses. 

Without saying a word, the inspector looked at the pupils. And 
near him, apparently unmoved, the director who accompanied 
him, Mile Sikorska, looked at them too but with secret anxiety. 
The delay had been so short to-day. The porter had just had time 
to sound the agreed signal when Hornberg, going ahead of his 
guide, reached the landing and plunged into the classroom. Was 
everything in order? 

Everything was in order. Twenty-five little girls bent over their 
work, thimble on finger, making impeccable buttonholes in 
squares of stuff unravelled at the edges. Scissors and spools of 
thread lay about on the empty desks. And Tupsia, with purple 
face and veins which showed in her forehead, held on the table in 
front of her a volume properly printed in orthodox letters. . . . 

* 'These children have two hours of sewing each week, Mr. 
Inspector," the directress said calmly. 

Hornberg had advanced toward the teacher. 

"You were reading aloud. What is the book, mademoiselle?" 

"Krylov's Fairy Tales. We began them to-day." 

Tupsia had answered with perfect calm. Bit by bit her cheeks 
were regaining their natural colour. 

As if absent-mindedly, Hornberg opened the lid of the nearest 
desk. Nothing. Not a paper, not a book. 

After having carefully finished off the stitch and fastened their 
needles in the cloth, the girls interrupted their sewing. They sat 
motionless with crossed arms, all alike in their dark dresses and 
white collars; and the twenty-five childish faces, suddenly grown 
older, wore a forbidding expression which concealed fear, cunning 
and hatred. 

M. Hornberg, accepting the chair offered him by Mile Tupalska, 
seated himself heavily, 

"Please call on one of these young people." 

In the third row Marya Sklodovska instinctively turned her 
frightened little face toward die window. A prayer rose in her: 
"Please God, make it spmebody else. . . - Not me. . . . Not 
me." 

But she knew very well that the choice would fall upon her. 
She knew that she was almost always chosen for the government 



DARK DAYS 19 

inspector's questioning, since she was the most knowledgeable 
and since she spoke Russian perfectly. 

At the sound of her name she straightened up. She felt very 
warm no, she felt cold. A dreadful shame seized her by the 
throat. 

"Your prayer/' snapped M. Hornberg, whose attitude showed 
his indifference and boredom. 

Manya recited "Our Father" correctly, in a voice without colour 
or expression. One of the subtlest humiliations the Tsar had dis- 
covered was to make the Polish children say their Catholic prayers 
every day in Russian. Thus, while pretending to respect their faith, 
he was able to profane what they reverenced. 

Again silence. 

"Name the Tsars who have reigned over our Holy Russia since 
Catherine II." 

"Catherine II, Paul I, Alexander I, Nicholas I, Alexander II." 

The inspector was satisfied. This child had a good memory. 
And what a marvellous accent! She might have been born in 
St. Petersburg. 

"Tell me the names and titles of the members of the Imperial 
family." 

"Her Majesty the Empress, His Imperial Highness the 
Ccsarevitch Alexander, His Imperial Highness the Grand 
Duke . . ." 

At the end of the enumeration, which was long, Hornberg 
smiled faintly. This was excellent, he thought. The man could 
not see, or did not wish to see, Manya's suffering, her features 
hardened by the effort she made to dissimulate her rebellion. 

"What is the title of the Tsar in the scale of dignities?" 



"And my title what is it?" 

"Vysokorodye." 

The inspector took pleasure in these hierarchic details, more 
, important to his way of thinking than arithmetic or spelling. For 
his own simple pleasure he asked again: 

"Who rules over us?" 

To conceal the fire of their eyes, the directress and the superin- 
tendent stared hard at the registers they held before them. As the 



20 MADAME CURIE 

answer did not come quickly enough, Hornberg, annoyed, asked 
again in louder tones: 

"Who rules over us?" 

"His Majesty Alexander II, Tsar of All the Russias," Manya 
articulated painfully. Her face had gone white. 

The session was over. The functionary rose from his chair, and 
after a brief nod, moved off to the next room, followed by Mile 
Sikorska. 

Then Tupsia raised her head. 

"Come here, my little soul." 

Manya left her place and came up to the schoolmistress, who, 
without saying a word, kissed her on the forehead. And suddenly, 
in the classroom that was coming to life again, the Polish child, 
her nerves at an end, burst into tears. 

"The inspector came to-day! The inspector came!" 

The excited children gave the news to their mothers and their 
nyanyas who were waiting for them when school was over. Groups 
of muffled-up little girls and grown persons thickened by their fur 
coats scattered rapidly on the pavements covered by the year's 
first snow. They spoke in undertones: any idle passer-by, any 
loiterer staring at a show window might perhaps be an informer 
for the police. 

Hela was telling the story of the morning to Mme Michalovska 
Aunt Lucia who had come to meet the two sisters. 

"Hornberg questioned Manya, and she answered very well, but 
then she cried. It seems that the inspector had no criticism to make 
in any class." 

The exuberant Hela whispered and chattered away, but Manya 
walked along beside her aunt silently. Even though several hours 
had passed since her examination by the inspector, the little girl 
was still troubled by it. She hated these sudden panics, these 
humiliating exhibitions in which one had to tell lies, always lies. 
. . . Because of Hornberg's visit she felt the sadness of her life 
more heavily to-clay. Could she even remember having been a 
care-free baby? Successive catastrophes had stricken the Sklo- 
dovski household, and the last four years seemed to Manya like a 
bad dream. - , * 



DARK ' DAYS 21 

First there was the departure of Mme Sklodovska, with Zosia, 
for Nice. It was explained to Manya that "after her cure Mamma 
will be quite well." When the child saw her mother again, a year 
later, she could hardly recognise the ageing woman already marked 
by fate. ... 

Then, in the autumn of 1873, there bad been the dramatic day 
of their return from the holidays. Arriving with his family, M. 
Sklodovski had found an official envelope on his desk: by order 
of the authorities his salary was reduced and his lodging as a 
functionary taken away from him, along with his title of under- 
inspector. It was oiBcial disgrace. Principal Ivanov was avenging 
himself cruelly on a subordinate who was not servile enough. Pie 
had won the brittle. 

Thereafter the Sklodovskis moved several times, to find them- 
selves finally installed in a corner apartment at the crossing of 
Novolipki and Carmelite streets; and their existence, once so 
peaceful and sweet, gradually suffered the changes brought about 
by straitened circumstances. The professor took two or three 
boarders at first then five, eight, ten. lie gave lodging, food and 
private instruction to these young boys, chosen from among his 
pupils. The house was transformed into a noisy barracks and 
intimacy vanished from the family life. 

This arrangement had become necessary not only because of 
M. Sklodovski's lowered position and the sacrifices he had to make 
to pay for his wife's treatment on the Riviera, but being led into 
risky speculation by a wretched brother-in-law who was financing 
a "marvellous'* steam mill the poor man, ordinarily so prudent, 
had lost the thirty thousand roubles which represented his savings; 
and ever after, tormented by regret and troubled for the future, 
he mourned over them; in an excess of scruple he accused himself 
constantly of having made his family poor and deprived his 
daughters of their marriage portions. 

But it was in January 1876, just two years earlier, that Manya 
had made sudden brutal acquaintance with unhappincss. One of 
the boarders had contaminated Bronya and Zosia with typhus. 
What horrible weeks! In one room the mother tried to control her 
spasms of coughing; in another, the two little girls shook and 
moaned with fever. 



zz MADAME CURIE 

One Wednesday the professor came to take Joseph, Hela and 
Manya to their eldest sister for the last time. Zosia, dressed in 
white, was stretched out on the bier, her face bloodless and as if 
smiling, her hands folded, marvellously beautiful in spite of her 
close-cropped head. 

It was Manya's first encounter with death. It was the first 
funeral she ever followed, dressed in a drab little bkck coat, while 
Bronya, convalescent, was weeping into her pillow, and Mmc 
Sklodovska, too weak to go out, dragged herself from window to 
window to pursue with her eyes the coffin of her child as it slowly 
passed down Carmelite Street. 

"We're going to have a little walk, children. I must go and 
buy some apples before the worst of the cold begins." 

The excellent Aunt Lucia led her nieces at a brisk pace across the 
Saxony Garden, nearly deserted on this November afternoon. She 
seized any pretext to press her nieces into taking the air, away from 
the confined quarters where their consumptive mother lay. If the 

contagion touched them ! Hela looked healthy, but Manya 

was so pale and so depressed. 

Leaving the Garden, the trio entered the old quarter of Warsaw, 
in which Manya had been born. Here the streets were much more 
diverting than in the new town. Under great sloping roofs, white- 
covered, the houses in Stare Miasto Square showed their gtey 
fronts covered with a thousand sculptured ornaments: cornices, 
saints' faces, the figures of animals serving as signs for inns or 
shops. 

In the icy air the church bells answered one another on several 
tones. These churches awoke the whole departed childhood of 
Marya Sklodovska. Her baptism had taken place in that of St. 
Mary, her first communion in that of the Dominicans a memor- 
able day, dominated by the oath Manya and her cousin Henrietta 
had sworn not to touch the Host with their teeth. . . . The girls 
came often to St. Paul's Church, to listen to the Sunday sermons 
in German. 

Nove Miasto Square, empty and windswept, was also familiar 
to Manya: her family had lived there for a year after leaving the 
Gymnasium. Every day the child went with her mother and 



DARK DAYS zj 

sisters to the Chapel of Our Lady, a strange and ravishing church 
whose square tower and main body, all stairs of red stone worn 
away by the centuries, twisted crookedly up the crest which over- 
looked the river. 

On a signal from Aunt Lucia the girls went in again to-day. A 
few steps into the shadows beyond the narrow Gothic doorway 
and Manya was on her knees, trembling. It was bitter for her to 
come here without Zosia, who had gone for ever, and without her 
mystic mother, tortured by suffering, on whom God seemed to 
have no pity. 

Once again Manya's prayer rose to the God in which she 
believed. She asked Jesus with passion and despair to grant life 
to the being she loved most in the world. She offered to the Lord 
her own existence: in order to save Mme Sklodovska, she was 
ready to die. Bent down near her, Aunt Lucia and Hela prayed 
in low voices. 

They met again outside the church and began the descent of the 
uneven steps which led down to the water. The Vistula, spreading 
enormously before them, did not seem to be in good humour. Its 
yellowish water swept round the sandbanks which formed pale 
islets in the middle of the river and beat against the irregular shore 
encumbered with floating baths and rafts for washing clothes. The 
long grey paddle-boats on which happy crowds of young people 
used to go in summer lay there motionless and disarmed. The 
river's animation was concentrated about the "galleys" with 
apples. There were two of them: two great pinnaces, narrow and 
pointed, weighted down almost to the water's edge. 

The master, buried in his sheepskins, pushed aside annfuls of 
straw to show his merchandise. Under this soft litter, which 
protected them from the frost, the hard red shining apples made 
a brilliant cargo. There were hundreds, thousands, piled up even 
with the hull. They came from the upper Vistula, from the fine 
town of Kazmierz, and it took them days and days to come down 
this far. 

*'I want to pick out our apples!" Hela cried; and, quickly 
imitated by Manya, she put down her muff and wriggledL her 
schoolgirl's bag from her shoulder. 

Nothing was more sure to enliven the girls than this expedition, 



24 MADAME CURIE 

every bit of which they adored. They took the apples one by one, 
turning them back and forth carefully; those which passed 
inspection were thrown into a big wicker basket. If there were 
any rotten ones, you threw them with all your might into the 
Vistula, and you watched their little round vermilion wreck go 
down. When the basket was full you left the boat, holding in your 
hand a finer apple than any of the others. It was cold and crackly 
under the teeth, and it was exquisite to crunch it while Aunt Lucia 
debated over the payment and pointed out, among the spotty-faced 
urchins who hung about the neighbourhood, those whom she 
judged worthy to carry the precious provision home. 

Five o'clock. After tea the servants cleared the long table in the 
dining-room and lighted the petroleum suspension lamp. The hour 
of work had come. The board pupils grouped themselves by twos 
and threes in the rooms where they lived. The son and daughters of 
the professor remained in the dining-room, transformed into a 
study, and opened their papers and books. After a few minutes 
there arose, from everywhere and nowhere, the obsessing chant 
which for years remained the leitmotiv of life in that house. 

It was always the same children who could not keep from 
drawling aloud their Latin verses, their history dates or the 
statements of their problems. In every corner somebody was 
grumbling, somebody was struggling hard. How difficult every- 
thing was! Many a time the professor was obliged to calm the 
despair of some hopeful scholar who understood a demonstration 
perfectly when it was made in his own language, but who, in spite 
of every effort, was incapable of understanding it in Russian, the 
official language and even more incapable of repeating it. 

Little Manya knew none of this anguish. Her memory was such 
that her comrades, hearing her faultless recitation of a poem they 
had seen her read no more than twice, thought at once of a trick, 
and accused her of learning verses secretly. She finished her tasks 
long before the others, and often, out of natural kindliness or lack 
of something else to do, she would extricate one of her companions 
from the embarrassment and difficulty of a theorem. 

But what she preferred was to install herself with a book at the 
big table, as she did to-night well propped up on her elbows, her 



DARK DAYS 25 

hands on her forehead, her thumbs closing her ears as protection 
from Hela, who had never been able to run through a lesson with- 
out shouting at the top of her voice. The precaution was super- 
fluous, for after a bit the little girl, fascinated by her reading, 
completely lost consciousness of what was happening around her. 

This gift of absorption, the only oddity in a healthy child, 
afforded great amusement to her sisters and friends. A dozen 
times, with the boarders for accomplices, Bronya and Hela had 
organised a terrific hubbub around their avidly reading sister 
without even getting her to raise her eyes. 

To-day they wanted to try something really good; the presence 
of Henrietta Michalovska, Aunt Lucia's daughter, had aroused 
their evil demons. They crept forward on their toes and began to 
build a scaffolding of chairs about the motionless Manya, lost in 
her reading. Two chairs on each side, one behind, two others on 
top of the first three, and one at the summit crowning the edifice. 
. . . They retired in silence, and pretended to work. Then they 
waited. 

They had to wait a long time. The child noticed nothing: 
neither the whispers nor the stifled laughter nor the shadow of 
the chairs above her head. For half an hour she remained like that, 
threatened, without knowing it, by the unstable pyramid. When 
her chapter was finished, she closed her book, lifted her head and 
everything collapsed with the noise of a cataclysm. Chairs danced 
across the floor; Hela shrieked with joy; Bronya and Henrietta 
leaped nimbly into defensive positions, for a counter-attack was 
to be feared. 

But Manya remained unmoved. She did not know how to be 
angry, but neither could she be amused at a trick which had 
frightened her. Her ash-grey eyes expressed the stupor of a sleep- 
walker suddenly jerked out of her dream. She rubbed her left 
shoulder, which a chair had struck a bit roughly, picked up het 
book and took it into the next room. Passing in front of the "big 
girls" she said just two words: 

"That's stupid!" 

A calm verdict, wiih which the "big girls" were not very 
satisfied. 

These moments of total absent-mindedness were perhaps the 



26 MADAME CURIE 

only ones in which Manya found again the wonder-struck quality 
of her earliest childhood. She read, pell-mell, poetry and scholastic 
manuals, adventure stories and technical works borrowed from her 
father's library. 

And thus she put away from her, for brief moments at a time, 
the dark phantoms: she forgot Russian spies and the visits of 
Hornbcrg. She forgot her father's face, crushed by his miserable 
tasks, and the perpetual tumult of the house, and the black dawns 
when, still half asleep, she had to get up from her moleskin divan 
so that the boarders could have their breakfast in the dining-room, 
which was also a dormitory for the Sklodovski children. 

She forgot her terrors: terror of the oppressor, religious terrors, 
terror of illness and death. Instinctively she tried to escape from 
a "climate" too heavy for her. 

They were fleeting respites. As soon as she regained conscious- 
ness everything came back to her at once and first of all the dull, 
constant sadness created in the house by the illness of her mother. 
The patient, once so beautiful, was now hardly more than a shadow. 
And in spite of the comforting words with which the grown-ups 
attempted to deceive her, Manya felt clearly that her ecstatic 
admiration, her great love and the ardour of her prayers would 
not be strong enough to prevent the horrible thing that was 
drawing near. 

Mme Sklodovska, too, thought of the inevitable. She took 
care to* see that the event found her ready without upsetting the 
existence of the house. On May 9th, 1878, she asked the doctor to 
make way for the priest. The priest alone was to know the final 
anguish of her Christian soul, her grief at leaving her beloved 
husband to care for four children, her anxiety for the future of the 
youthful beings she must now abandon, for little Manyusya who 
was only ten. . . , 

In front of her family she allowed herself to show only a face of 
peace, to which the last hours had restored an extreme gracious- 
ness. She died as she had wanted to die, without delirium or 
disorder. Her husband, fcer son and her daughters watched beside 
her bed in the tidy room. And her long, pathetic grey eyes, already 
dulled by death, fixed themselves in turn on each of the five 



DARK DAYS 27 

ravaged faces, as if the dying woman wished to ask their pardon 
for causing them so much pain. 

She found energy enough to say farewell to each one. Weakness 
was slowly overcoming her. The spark of life that remained per- 
mitted only one more gesture and one more speech. The gesture 
was a sign of the cross; seized with a terrible trembling, her hand 
sketched it in the air to bless them all. The words her last she 
murmured in one breath, looking at the husband and children from 
whom she took her leave: "I love you." 

Dressed in black once more, Manya, worn with grief, wandered 
miserably about the apartment in Carmelite Street. She could not 
get used to the fact that Bronya occupied the dead woman's room; 
that only Hela and herself now slept on the moleskin divans; that 
a housekeeper, hastily engaged by the professor, came every day 
to give orders to the servants, decide on the food for the 
boarders, and vaguely oversee the children's dressing. M. 
Sklodovski devoted all his free hours to his orphaned children. 
But he could care for them only in an awkward, touching way 
the care of a man. 

Manya learned that life was cruel. Cruel for the race, cruel for 
the individual. . . . 

Zosia was dead. Mme Sklodovska was dead. Deprived of her 
mother's tenderness and the protection of her eldest sister, the 
child grew older, without once complaining, in partial abandon- 
ment. She was proud but she was not resigned. And when she 
knelt in the Catholic church where she was used to going with her 
mother, she experienced the secret stir of revolt within her. She 
no longer invoked with the same love that God who had unjustly 
inflicted such terrible blows, who had slain what was gay or 
fanciful or sweet around her. 



CHAPTER III 



Adolescence 



THERE appears to be a moment of expansion, a sort of maximum, 
in the history of every family. Mysterious reasons force a genera- 
tion to distinguish itself from others by abundance of gifts, 
magnificent excess of vitality, beauty, success. 

This moment had arrived for the Sklodovski family, in spite of 
the tribute it had just paid to unhappiness. Death, carrying off 
Zosia,had taken a hostage from among five ardent and intelligent 
children. But the others, the four young people born of a con- 
sumptive mother and an intellectual worn out by work, carried an 
invincible force within them. They were to conquer adversity, to 
disdain all obstacles and to become, all four, exceptional human 
beings. 

They were a superb spectacle, this sunny morning in the spring 
of 1882, gathered for breakfast around the t*ible. Hcla was sixteen, 
tall and graceful, incontestably the "beauty of the family." Bronya 
had golden hair and the face of an opened flower; Joseph, the 
eldest, displayed the lines of a Nordic athlete in his student's 
uniform. 

And as for Manya. ... It must be admitted th.it she had taken 
on weight, and that her well-fitted uniform outlined a figure which 
was not exactly thin. Since she was the youngest, she was also, 
for the moment, the least beautiful. But she had an animated and 
pleasing face, and had th9 light, clear eyes and hair and skin of 
Polish women. 

Only the two younger girls wore uniform now: Hek was still 
in blue, like a faithful child of the Sikorska school, but Manya 

28 



ADOLESCENCE 29 

was dressed in maroon, since she had become, at fourteen years of 
age, one of the most brilliant pupils of a government Gymnasium 
the same Gymnasium where Bronya, the eldest of the three 
sisters, had finished her studies last year by winning a gold medal 
and a great deal of glory. 

Bronya was no longer a schoolgirl she was a "young lady." 
Sh^ had taken over the management of the house, replacing the 
housekeepers who had often been unpleasant. She kept the books, 
watched over the boarders those eternal boarders who changed 
only their faces and names and woie her hair up and her skirts 
long like a grown person, with a bustle and a train and a multitude 
of little buttons. 

Joseph had been awarded a gold medal like Bronya's when he 
left the boys' high school. Envied and admired by his sisters, the 
young man was studying at the Faculty of Medicine. How lucky 
they thought him! Already tormented by intellectual ambition, 
the three Sklodovski girls grumbled at the rule forbidding women 
to enter the University of Warsaw; and they listened in rapt 
attention to their brother's stones of student life in the "Tsar's 
University" mediocre though it was where the teachers were 
ambitious Russians and subservient Poles. 

But the conversation never made them lose a mouthful. Bread, 
butter, cream and jam disappeared as if by magic. 

"Joseph, to-night is dancing school and we need you to be our 
escort," said Hcla, mindful of serious things. "Do you think my 
dress will do, Bronya, if it's well ironed?" 

"As you have no other one, it'll have to do," said Bronya 
philosophically. "We'll look it over at three o'clock, when you 
come home." 

"Your dresses arc very pretty," Manya affirmed. 

"Oh, you don't know anything about it. You're too young." 

The quartet was breaking up. Bronya cleared the table, Joseph 
vanished with his papers under his arm, and Hela and Manya made 
oft" for the kitchen helter-skelter. 

"My bread and butter, please. . . . My serdclki. . . . Where 
has the butter got to?" 

In spite of their copious breakfast the young ladies were still 
preoccupied with food. The lunch they were to eat at school at 



3 o MADAME CURIE 

the eleven-o'clock recess went into cloth bags: bread, an apple, 
and a pair of those wonderful Polish sausages called serdelki. 

Manya tied up her lunch and flung her schoolbag over her 
shoulder. 

"Hurry up! You'll be late for your appointment!" 

Hela scoffed, getting ready in her turn. 

"No, no, it's only half-past eight. Good-bye!" 

On the stairs she passed two of her father's boarders who, 
although with less haste than herself, were making their way also 
to school. 

Gymnasium, boarding school, day school ... the youth of 
Manya Sklodovska was completely obsessed by such words. M. 
Sklodovski taught in a Gymnasium, Bronya had just left the Gym- 
nasium, Manya was going to a Gymnasium, Joseph to the uni- 
versity, Hela to Mile Sikorska's boarding school. Even their home 
was, in its way, a sort of school. Manya must have grown to 
imagine the universe as an immense school where there were only 
teachers and pupils and where only one ideal reigned: to learn. 

The boarders had become a little more bearable after the family 
left dreary Carmelite Street and installed itself in Leschen Street. 
The building was charming; the fagade had style, there was a 
tranquil courtyard where grey pigeons cooed, and there were 
balconies hung with Virginia creeper. And the apartment of the 
first floor was spacious enough for the Sklodovskis to have four 
rooms of their own, away from the boys. 

Its broad pavements bordered by substantial houses made 
Leschen Street very "respectable." That is to say, it was guiltless 
of Slavic picturesqueness. On the contrary, in the near-elegance 
of the quarter everything evoked the West, from the Calvinist 
church opposite the house to the columned French building in 
Rymanska Street, evidence of the adoration Napoleon had inspired 
in Poland an adoration which endures to the present time. 

Her bag on her back, Manya hastened to reach the "Blue 
Palace," the residence of the Counts Zamoyski. Avoiding the 
grille and the principal entrance she went through to an oldish 
courtyard guarded by a bronze lion. Then she stopped short; the 
courtyard was empty. 

An affectionate voice hailed her. 



ADOLESCENCE ji 

"Don't run off, Manyusya dear . . . Kazia is coming down.*' 

"Oh, thanks, madatne! Good morning, madamel" 

From one of the windows on the lower floor Mme Przyborovska, 
wife of Count Zamoyski's librarian, her dark hair smoothly drawn 
back under a thick crown of braids, looked with friendly eyes on 
the round-cheeked and lively young Sklodovska who had been 
her daughter's best friend for two years. 

"You must come and have tea with us this afternoon. I'll make 
you some pac^kl and that chocolate ice that you love!" 

"Of course you've got to come to tea!" Kazia cried, bolting 
down the stairs and seizing her friend by the arm. "We must 
hurry, Manya, we're late." 
' "Yes. I was just about to lift the lion's ring!" 

Manya came to pick Kazia up every morning under the porch of 
her house. When Manya found nobody at the meeting- place she 
lifted the heavy ring which the bronze lion bore in his maw and 
turned it back over the animal's nose before going on to school. 
Kazia, seeing the ring, learned that Manya had already been and 
gone, and that she would have to hurry if she wanted to catch up. 

Kazia was very charming; cheerful and high-spirited, she was a 
happy little creature whose excellent parents did their best to spoil 
her. M. and Mme Przyborovski did likewise by Manya, whom 
they treated as one of their own daughters in an effort to make her 
forget that she was motherless. But by many little details in the 
appearance of the two girls in brown dresses it was easy to tell that 
one was a petted child, whose attentive mother brushed her hair 
and tied her ribbons every morning, while the other, at fourteen 
and a half years of age, was growing up in a house where nobody 
had time to bother about her. 

Arm in arm the girls passed along narrow Zabia Street. They 
had not seen each other since tea on the day before, and they had a 
thousand urgent matters to discuss. Their thousand bits of gossip 
nearly all had to do with their Gymnasium in Krakovsky Boule- 
vard a Russian school which, having been destined at first for 
the children of Germans in government service, kept its Germanic 
discipline and traditions. 

It had been a great change, after Mile Sikorska's profoundly 
Polish seminary for young ladies, to become the pupil of an 



3 2 MADAME CURIE 

official institution governed by the Russifying spirit. It was a 
necessary change since the imperial Gymnasia were the only ones 
which bestowed recognised diplomas but Manya and Kazia 
avenged themselves on it by making all manner of fun of their 
teachers from Russia, as well as of the boring Pastor Meding, their 
German teacher, and above all of Mile Mayer, the detested and 
detestable superintendent of studies. 

Mayer, a tiny, dark woman with greasy hair, who wore silent 
spy's slippers, was the declared enemy of Manya Sklodovska. She 
reproached Manya with everything: her stubborn character and 
the "scornful srnile" with which, according to Mayer's story, 
Manya received the most wounding criticism. 

"That Sklodovska! It's no use talking to her it's just like 
throwing peas against a wall!" the superintendent groaned. She 
was particularly annoyed by Manya's curly hair, which she 
declared * 'disordered and ridiculous"; with many a heavy stroke 
of the brush she tried to straighten out the rebellious locks and 
transform the Pole into a Gretchen with tight braids. Useless! 
After a few minutes the light, capricious curls would break out 
again about the young face, and Manya's too innocent gaze was 
fixed with singular insistence upon the superintendent's shining 
braids. 

"I forbid you to look at me like that!" Mayer sputtered. "You 
mustn't look down at me!" 

In a fit of impertinence one day Manya, who was a head taller 
than Mayer, replied: "The fr.ct is that 1 can't do anything else." 

War went on, day after cuy, between the sour old m:;id and the 
fractious pupil. The worst of the storms had taken place the year 
before. Mile Mayer, coming into the classroom unexpectedly, had 
found Manya and Kr.zia dancing with joy among the desks to 
celebrate the assabsination of Tsar Alexander II, whose sudden 
death had just plunged the empire into mourning. ^ 

One of the most melancholy results of political constraint is the 
spontaneous ferocity it develops among the oppressed. Manya and 
Kazia felt such rancours as free human beings -never know. Even 
though they were by nature tender and generous, they lived in 
accordance with a particular morality the slave morality which 
turns hatred into a virtue and obedience into cowardice. 



ADOLESCENCE 33 

By reaction, the adolescents threw themselves with passion into 
whatever they were permitted to love. They reverenced handsome 
young M. Glass, who taught them mathematics, and M. Slosarski, 
professor of natural sciences. They were Poles accomplices. 
Even with regard to the Russians there were shades of feeling. 
What was one to think, for example, of the mysterious M. 
Mikieszin, who, wishing to recompense a pupil who had made 
great progress, silently handed her a copy of the poems of 
Nekrasov, a revolutionary writer? The surprised students per- 
ceived brief movements from the enemy's camp, signals of 
solidarity. In Holy Russia all were not faithful to the Tsar. . . . 

In Manya's class Polish, Jewish, Russian and German girls sat 
side by side without serious disagreement. Their common youth 
and the excitement of school rivalry smoothed out, for the time 
being, their differences of race and thought. To see them help each 
other in their work and play together during recesses one might 
even have believed that they enjoyed perfect mutual understanding. 

But as soon as school was over each one returned to her language, 
her patriotism and her religion. The Polish girls, more arrogant 
than the others because they were the persecuted, went off in tight 
little groups and met one another afterwards at tea parties to which 
it would have been impossible to ask a Russian or a German. 

Their intransigence was not without secret troubles. Everything 
seemed guilty to them, from the involuntary friendship they might 
feel for a foreign girl to the pleasure they experienced in spite of 
themselves at hearing lessons in science or philosophy from the 
mouth of the oppressor at receiving that "official" education 
which they thought worthy of hatred. 

The summer before, Manya had written to Kazia a moving and 
timid confession filled with shame: 

"Do you know, Kazia, in spite of everything, I like school. 
Perhaps you will make fun of me, but nevertheless I must tell you 
that I like it, and even that I love it. 1 can realise that now. Don't 
go imagining that I miss it! Oh no; not at all. But the idea that I 
am going back soon does not depress me, and the two years 1 have 
left to spend there don't seem as dreadful, as painful and long as 
they once did. . . ." 



34 MADAME CURIE 

The Saxony Garden along with Lazienki Park, where she 
passed many of her leisure hours was one of Manya's favourite 
spots in that city which she was to call, for years to come, "my 
beloved little Warsaw." 

Passing the iron grille, Manya and Kazia followed the avenue 
which led to the palace. Up to two months ago they had played the 
ancient game of trailing their rubbers in the large mud-puddles 
along the way: enough, that is, to get them wet up to the edges, 
but not enough to immerse them altogether and dampen their 
shoes. When springtime came, they went back to other games 
which, in spite of their simplicity, caused uproarious amusement. 
Example: the game of "green." 

"My French copy-book is nearly finished," Manya would begin 
in placid tones. "Would you like to come with me to buy a new 
one? I saw some very pretty ones with green covers . . ." 

But Kazia was on guard. At the word "green" she suddenly 
thrust at Manya a little piece of green velvet she had hidden in her 
pocket, and thus avoided paying a forfeit. Manya, vexed, seemed 
to abandon the game and turned the conversation towards the 
history lesson one of their teachers had dictated to them yesterday, 
in which it was mentioned that Poland was a province and the 
Polish language a dialect, and that the Poles had caused the Tsar 
Nicholas I, who loved them so much, to die of grief over their 
ingratitude. . . . 

"Just the same, the poor man was embarrassed when he told 
us such horrors. Did you notice how he looked away, and that 
awful face of his?" 

"Yes. He went absolutely green" Kazia ventured, trying to look 
as if she was thinking of something else. But at once $he saw a 
young chestnut leaf of tender green shaken under her nose. 

Groups of children made mud-pies or chased their hoops. 
Manya and Kazia, choking with laughter over their game, passed 
on beneath the slender columns of the Pakce of Saxony and almost 
ran across the great square. Suddenly Manya cried: 

"But we've passed the iponument We must go back at once!" 

Kazia turned without a word. The giddy pair had just com- 
mitted an unpardonable offence. In the middle of the Saxony 



ADOLESCENCE 35 

Square was a pompous obelisk surrounded by four lions and 
bearing, in orthodox letters, the words: "To the Poles faithful to 
their Sovereign." This tribute from the Tsar to those Poles who 
had betrayed their country and made themselves allies of the 
oppressor was an object of disgust to the patriots, and their 
tradition was to spit every time they passed the monument. If, 
by inadvertence, one failed to observe this custom, one had to go 
back and make good the omission. 

With their duty in this respect duly accomplished, the two girls 
returned to their talk. 

"They're dancing at home this evening," Manya said. "Arc 
you coming to watch them?" 

"Yes. Oh, Manyusya, when shall we have the right to dance, 
too? We're such good waltzers already 1" Kazia complained 
impatiently. 

When? Not until school was over and the girls had "come out." 
They were only allowed to practise among themselves and to learn 
the lancers, the polka, the mazurka and the oberek from the school 
ballet master. Relegated to little chairs at the side, they were also 
present when the young people of a few friendly families gathered 
for dancing lessons once a week in the Sklodovskis' house. 

But before they could expect their turn to come, they must 
pass more months in the Gymnasium which now rose before them 
in the avenue; the great, bald, three-storeyed building stood over 
against the exquisite Chapel of the Visitation, twisted and ornate, 
a fragment of the Italian Renaissance lost among severer edifices. 
Their comrades were already plunging into the archway. There 
was the little blue-eyed Wulf girl, and Anya Rottert, the flat- 
nosed German who was the best in the class after Manya; and 
Iconic Kunicka. . . . 

But what was the matter with Kunicka? Her eyes were swollen 
with tears; and she, who was always so neatly dressed, seemed to 
have had her clothes thrown at her to-day. 

Manya and Kazia ceased smiling and ran toward their 
friend. 

"What's the matter? What has happened to you, Kunicka?" 

Kunicka's delicate face was colourless. The words passed her 
lips with difficulty. 



36 MADAME CURIE 

"It's my brother. ... He was in a plot. ... He was 
denounced. . . . We haven't known where he was for three 
days/' 

Stifled by sobs, she added: 

"They are going to hang him to-morrow." 

The other two girls, horror-struck, surrounded the unlucky one 
with their questions and their support; but the sharp voice of Mile 
Mayer broke in with brief orders: 

"Come, come, young ladies, enough of your chatter. Hurry 
up." 

Stunned with shock, Manya made her way slowly toward her 
place. Just now she had been dreaming of music and dances. 
Now, while the first phrases of a geography lesson to which she 
was not attending rumbled in her ears, she saw the ardent young 
face of the condemned boy and the scaffold, the hangman, the 
rope. . . . 

That night, instead of going to the dancing lesson, six girls of 
fifteen kept silent watch in Leonie Kunicka's narrow room. 
Manya, Hela and Bronya came with Kazia and her sister Ula to 
wait for the dawn with their comrade. 

They mingled their rebellion and their tears. They took 
humble and tender care of their friend, convulsed as she was 
with grief; they bathed her swollen eyes, obliged her to drink 
a little hot tea. The hours passed somehow, so fast, so slow, for 
the six children of whom four still wore their school uniform. 
When the pallor of dawn, accentuating their own pallor, came 
to mark the moment of the end, they fell on their knees and said 
a last prayer, their hands concealing their young faces full of 
terror. 

One gold medal, two gold medals, three gold medals in the 
Sklodovski family. . . . The third was for Manya and marked 
the end of her secondary studies on June izth, 1883. 

In stifling heat the list of rewards was read. Speeches and the 
flourish of trumpets, the congratulations of the teachers; a limp 
shake of the hand from M. Apushtin, grand master of education 
in Russian Poland, answered by a last curtsy from Manya. In 
her black dress of ceremony with a bunch of tea roses pinned at 



ADOLESCENCE 37 

the waist, little Sklodovska said her farewells and swore she would 
write to her friends every week; then, laden with Russian prize 
books which she loudly declared to be "horrible" (as it was her 
last day, what did she risk?), she left the school in Krakovsky 
Boulevard for ever, escorted by her father whom her success had 
overwhelmed with pride. 

Manya had worked very hard and very well. M. Sklodovski 
decided that she was to go to the country for a year before 
choosing her means of livelihood. 

A year's holiday! . . . One might be tempted to imagine the 
child of genius, obsessed by an early vocation, studying scientific 
books in secret. But such was not the case. In the course of the 
mysterious passage called adolescence, while her body was trans- 
formed and her face grow finer, Manya suddenly became kzy. 
Abandoning the school books, she tasted, for the first and last 
time in her life, the intoxication of idleness. 

A rural interlude occurs here in the story of the professor's 
daughter. "I can't believe geometry or algebra ever existed," 
she writes to Kazia. "I have completely forgotten them." She 
was staying far from Warsaw and school, with relations in the 
country who welcomed her for weeks at a time in exchange for 
vague lessons to be given to their children, or for a tiny payment 
of board; and she gave herself up to the sweetness of being alive. 

How care-free she was! How young and happy, suddenly so 
much younger than in the dark days of her childhoodl Between 
an excursion and a nap she barely had energy enough to describe 
her beatitude in letters beginning "My dear little devil" or "Kazia, 
my heart": 



Manya to 

I may say that aside from an hour's French lesson with a lictle 
boy I don't do a thing, positively not a thing for I have even 
abandoned the piece of embroidery that I had started ... I have 
no schedule. I get up sometimes at ten o'clock, sometimes at four 
or five (morning, not evening!). 1 read no serious books, only 
harmless and absurd little novels. . . . Thus, in spite of the 
diploma conferring on me the dignity and maturity of a person 
who has finished her studies, I feel incredibly stupid. Sometimes 



5 8 MADAME CURIE 

I laugh all by myself, and I contemplate my state of total stupidity 
with genuine satisfaction. 

We go out in a band to walk in the woods, we roll hoops, we 
play battledore and shuttlecock (at which I am very bad!), cross- 
tag, the game of Goose, and many equally childish things. There 
have been so many wild strawberries here that one could buy a 
really sufficient amount for a few^mny and by that I mean a big 
plateful heaped high. Alas, the season is overl . . . But I am 
afraid that when I get back my appetite will be unlimited and ray 
voracity alarming. 

We swing a lot, swinging ourselves hard and high; we bathe, 
we go fishing with torches for shrimps. . . . Every Sunday the 
horses are harnessed for the trip in to Mass, and afterward we pay 
a visit to the vicarage. The two priests are clever and very witty, 
and we get enormous amusement from their company. 

I was at Zwola for a few days. There was an actor there, M. 
Kotarbinski, who delighted us. He sang so many songs and 
recited so many verses, concocted so many jokes and picked so 
many gooseberries for us, that on the day of his departure we 
made him a great wreath of poppies, wild pinks and cornflowers; 
and just as the carriage was starting off we flung it at him with 
shouts of "Vivtit! Vivatl M. Kotarbinski!" He put the wreath 
on his head immediately, and it seems that afterward he carried it 
in a suitcase all the way to Warsaw. Ah, how gay life is at Zwola! 
There are always a great miny people, and a freedom, equality and 
independence such as you can hardly imagine. . . . On our 
journey back Lancet barked so much that we didn't know what 
was to become of us. ... 

Lancet played an important part in the lives of the Sklodovskis. 
If he had been properly trained the brown pointer might have 
become a respectable hunting dog. But Manya, her two sisters, 
and Joseph had given him a disastrous upbringing. Cuddled] 
kissed and over-fed, Lancet became an enormous beast whose 
dictatorship weighed on the whole &mily. He spoiled the furni- 
ture, upset vases of flowers, devoured food that was not intended 
for him, leaped upon every guest in sign of welcome, and then tore 
to bits whatever hats or gloves had been imprudently left about 




MMI ski ( )l H A'Nk \ 

\|,mr ( U.ir\ Mollirl 




M SKLf )[)( A'SM AM) I IIS TMKM I- I )A( '( ".1 1 1 1 US 

i loin ,i I'liolour.ipli 'l.iL(M) in M'M) I ',, m Left lii Ri^'lil, M.IUN.I hn.m.i .nnl I Id.i 



ADOLESCENCE ,. 39 

in the hall. So many virtues had earned him the adoration of his 
owners, who disputed the privilege of taking their despot on 
holiday every summer. 

During her year of laziness, during which Manya's intellectual 
ardour seemed to drowse, the young girl was seized by a passion 
which was to last as long as her life: the passion for the country. 
Observing the changes of the seasons, first in one province and 
then in another, she was constantly discovering new beauties in 
that Polish earth over which her family was scattered, At Zwola it 
was peaceable country where nothing arrested the gaze, nothing 
but the round horizon which seemed farther away than anywhere 
else in the world. At Zawieprzyce, where Uncle Xavicr lived, 
there were about fifty thoroughbred horses in the fields around the 
estate a regular stock farm. Dressed in breeches of doubtful 
elegance, borrowed from her cousins, Manya learned to gallop 
and trot beautifully, and became a horse-woman. 

But nothing exceeded her enchantment when she saw the 
Carpathians. Like a true child of the plains she was struck with 
wondering stupor at the snowy glittering summits and the stiff 
black firs. She was never to forget those ascents by footpaths 
carpeted with bilberries, or the mountaineers' cottages where every 
object was a masterpiece of sculptured wood, or the pure and icy 
little lake hemmed in by peaks at the top, with its exquisite name 
"The Eye of the Sea/' 

It was not far from there, on the frontier of Galicia, that Manya 
was to pass the winter in the noisy family of her Uncle Zdzislav, a 
notary at Skalbmierz. The master of the house was a jovial fellow, 
his wife was beautiful, and their three daughters lived for laughter. 
How could Manya be bored in such company? Every week the 
arrival of a new guest or the approach of a feast-day gave the signal 
for a burst of commotion. The grown people dressed game for 
the feast and the young girls made cakes, .or else, in the seclusion 
of their rooms, hastily sewed ribbons on to the motley costumes 
that would serve to disguise them at the next kulig. 

The kulig was by no means only a ball. It was a dizzying, magic 
journey in the full excitement of carnival. Two sleighs went ofl 
in the evening over the snow with Manya Sklodovska and her 
three cousins, masked and dressed as Cracow peasant girls, huddled 



4 o v MADAME CURIE 

under the covers. Young men in picturesque rustic dress escorted 
them on horseback, brandishing torches. Other torches twinkled 
through the fir-trees, and the cold night was filled with rhythm; 
the musicians' sleigh came up, bringing four little Jews from the 
village, mad and charming creatures who for the next two nights 
and days would wring from their fiddles the intoxicating tunes of 
the waltz, the krakoviak and the mazurka, tunes caught up in 
chorus by the whole crowd. The little Jews would play until 
three, five, ten other sleighs, answering thdr call, had found them 
in the night. In spite of jolting and sliding down dizzy slopes of ice 
they never missed a stroke of the bow, and they would lead the 
fantastic night dance in triumph to the first stop. 

The shouting crowd then left the sleighs to pound on the door 
of a sleeping house, where the master duly pretended to be 
surprised. A few minutes later the musicians were perched on a 
table and the ball began, lighted by torches and lanterns while the 
food prepared long in advance emerged on the sideboard. 
Then, at a given signal, the place was emptied; emptied of masques, 
inhabitants, food, horses, sleighs, everything, arid the farandole, 
longer and thicker than before, slid across the forest toward another 
house, and another and still another, acquiring new recruits at each 
stop. The sun rose and set. The fiddlers had just time enough to 
get their breath and to sleep a little in any convenient barn, mixed 
pell-mell with the exhausted dancers. But nevertheless when the 
army of sleighs stopped on the second night, jingling and clanking 
and pawing, in front of the largest house of the neighbourhood, 
where the real ball was to be held, the little Jews attacked their 
first krakoviak with a conquering fortissimo while the others took 
their places for the marvellous iigure dance. 

It was then that a young man dressed in embroidered white 
wool made haste to invite the best of the dancers, a vigorous girl 
of sixteen called Manya Sklodovska, who, in her velvet jacket, 
puffed sleeves of lawn and long ribbons of every colour falling 
from her coronet of young wheat, looked like a mountain kss in 
festival raiment. / 

Naturally Manya shared her enthusiasm with Kazia. 

I have been to a kulig* You can't imagine how delightful it is, 



ADOLESCENCE * 41 

especially when the clothes are beautiful and the boys arc well 
dressed. My costume was very pretty. . . . After this first kulig 
there was another, at which I had a marvellous time. There were 
a great many young men from Cracow, very handsome boys who 
danced so well I It is altogether exceptional to find such good 
dancers. At eight o'clock in the morning we danced the last 
dance a white mazurka. 

A climax had to come to this enchanted leisure. 

In July 1884, just after Manya's return to the apartment in 
Warsaw, a lady came to see M. Sklodovski. It was the Comtcsse 
de Fleury, a Polish woman married to a Frenchman and once a 
pupil of Mme Sklodovska. Since the professor's younger daugh- 
ters had no plans for their holidays, she suggested, why should they 
not come to spend two months at her house in the country? 

This happened on Sunday [Manya wrote to Kazia], and on 
Monday evening we were gone, Mela and I: we had been notified 
by telegraph that the carnage would meet us at the station. We 
have now been at Kempa for several weeks and I ought to give 
you an account of our existence here but as I haven't the courage, 
I shall only say that it is marvellous. Kempa is at the junction of 
the Narev and Biebrza rivers which is to say that there is plenty 
of water for swimming and boating, which delights me. I am 
learning to row I am getting on quite well and the bathing is 
ideal. We do everything that comes into our heads, we sleep 
sometimes at night and sometimes by day, we dance, and we run 
to such follies that sometimes we deserve to be locked up in an 
asylum for the insane. . . . 

Manya hardly exaggerated. A breeze of innocent mr.dncss 
stirred all summer long over that beautiful house set between the 
curves of two smooth, shining rivers. From the window of their 
room the little Sklodovskis could see greenery and water without 
limit, and the gentle banks, bordered with poplar and willow, over 
which the swollen current so often rose to fill the fields with an 
immense sheet of water where the sun was reflected. 

Hela and Manya had quickly taken command of the troop of 



4* MADAME CURIE 

boys and girls who lived at Kcmpa. The masters of the house 
had adopted a most original attitude: when they were together 
they sermonised, censured and pretended to be acting with vigour 
against the excessive spirits of the young; but separately husband 
and wife had both become the secret accomplices of the guilty ones, 
to whom they contributed active co-operation and complete 
indulgence. 

What were they to do to-day, for instance? Go riding? Walk in 
the woods, gather mushrooms or whortleberries? Too tame by 
farl Manya asked Jan Moniuszko, Mme de Fleury's brother, to go 
on an errand to the neighbouring town. In his absence, helped by 
the others, she would succeed in hanging everything the young 
man's room contained from the big rafters in the ceiling: the bed, 
the table, the chairs, his luggage, his clothes and all. Then poor 
Moniuszko would have to struggle, on his return, against his aerial 
furniture in the dark. . . . And what sort of wonderful tea was 
this, prepared for guests of distinction? A tea party from which 
the "children" were excluded? Intolerable! Seizing the moment 
when the visitors were exploring the garden, the "children" 
devoured the pastries and good things, carried off what they could 
not stuff into themselves, placed before the devastated table a 
hastily constructed straw man representing the Count de Fleury 
when he had eaten well, and took flight. . . . 

Where were the delinquents to be found, that day or any other 
day during the summer? Every time they committed a crime they 
vanished like phantoms. When they were supposed to be in their 
rooms they were stretched out on the grass in the depths of the 
park; when they were supposed to be out walking they were in the 
cellar, emptying a basket of big gooseberries stolen from the 
kitchen; and if there seemed to be an unusual amount of order at 
five in die morning, it was because the house was deserted; Manya, 
Hela and their followers had chosen sunrise as the time to bathe 
in the river. There was only one means of collecting them 
together, and that was to announce a celebration, charades or a 
dance. The Comtesse de FJieury employed this means as often as 
possible: in eight weeks she organised three balls, two garden 
patties, excursions and boating trips. 

Her husband and she found their recompense for such liberal 



ADOLESCENCE 43 

hospitality. They had the adoration of the wild young creatures, 
their comradeship and confidence, and the spectacle of their 
marvellous joy a joy which, in its wildest extravagance, remained 
singularly pure. 

They also experienced the surprises prepared for them by the 
young people: for the fourteenth anniversary of their marriage, 
two delegates presented them with an enormous decorative crown 
of vegetables weighing forty pounds and invited them to sit under 
a cleverly draped canopy. In solemn silence the youngest of the 
girls gravely recited a poem written for the occasion. 

The poem was Manya's work. She composed it striding up and 
down her room, in the fire of inspiration. It ended as follows: 

For JY. 'Louis* Day 

We expect a picnic ', 

Ask some boys for us, 

One boy for etich of us 9 

So that, following your example. 

We may climb as soon as possible 

As soon as possible 

Up the sicps of the altar. 

The prayer was not unanswered. The Fleurys immediately 
announced a grand ball. The mistress of the house gave her orders 
for cakes, candles and garlands of flowers, and Manya and Hela 
worked upon their dresses for the night of nights. 

It was not easy for the poor girls to be exquisite: they had only 
two dresses a year, one for dancing and one for ordinary wear, 
made for them by a little daily dressmaker. The two sisters 
reckoned up their combined fortunes and made their decisions, 
Even though the tulle which covered Manya's dress was frayed, 
the foundation of blue satin was still in good condition. They 
must go into the town and buy the cheapest blue tarlatan they 
could find, to take the place of the defaulting tulle; it had to be 
draped on that indestructible foundation. And then, what with a 
ribbon here and a knot there, and some new shoes of russet 
leather, there was nothing left to do but pick flowers from the 
garden for their waists and roses for their hair. 



44 MADAME CURIE 

On St. Louis* night, while the musicians were tuning their 
instruments and Hcla, astonishingly beautiful, was already flutter- 
ing about the festive house, Manya took one last look at herself in 
the glass. All was wcl! the stiff, smart tarlatan, the fresh flowers 
near her face, and those fine new shoes; those shoes which she 
was to throw in a corner at dawn because she had danced too much 
and their soles had ceased to exist. . . . 

Many years later my mother sometimes evoked those happy 
rays for me. I looked at her tired face, worn out by nearly half a 
century of care and immense toil. And I thanked the destiny 
xvhich, before it dictated this woman's austere and inexorable 
summons, had allowed her to follow by sleigh after the wildest 
hdigs, and to use up her shoes of russet leather in one night of 
dancing. 



CHAPTER IV 



Vocation 



I HAVE attempted to show Manya Skiodovska, child and adoles- 
cent, in her studies and at play. She was healthy, honest, sensitive 
and gay. She had a loving heart. She was, as her teachers said, 
"remarkably gifted"; she was a brilliant student. But on the whole 
no startling characteristic distinguished her from the children who 
grew up with her: nothing had yet indicated her genius. 

Here is another portrait: that of the youn^ girl. It is a graver 
one. Some beloved figures had vanished from Manya's life, to be 
kept alive only by her tender memory for years to come. Her 
friendships, too, were changing little by little; the boarding school, 
the high school had ceased to exist as had the bonds of comrade- 
ship, so strong in appearance, which fell away with the daily 
familiarity that had maintained them. Manya's destiny was to 
define itself between two persons whom she valued and admired, 
two beings full of kindness, understanding and honour, who hap- 
pened to be her nearest relations her father and her elder sister. 

Now I should like to show Manya, between these two friends, 
building the future in her sturdy head. But whereas most humans 
do their wishing on a scale altogether disproportionate, how very 
humble even in its apparent audacity was the dream of the girl 
who was to become Marie Curie! 

In September, still giddy from a v/hole year's roaming, Manya 
took the road to Warsav/ again, to the family's new lodging near 
the Gymnasium where she had lived in her childhood. 

The desertion of Leszno Street for Novolipki was justified by 
a notable change in the living conditions of the Skiodovskis. As 

45 



46 MADAME CURIE 

age drew on, the professor, without giving up his teaching at the 
high school, decided to take no more board pupils. Manya and her 
family were installed in a smaller apartment now, more intimate 
and also poorer. The surroundings and the company were made 
for reflection and work. 

Those who met M. Sklodovski for the first time found him 
severe in manner. Thirty years of teaching in secondary schools 
had given the plump little man a certain solemnity, and a thousand 
details of his appearance revealed the perfect government official: 
his dark clothes, always most carefully brushed, his precise gestures 
and his sententious speech. Every action of his life was performed 
with method. If he composed a letter its sentences were logical and 
its handwriting orderly. If he took the children on an excursion 
during the holidays nothing was left to chance. An itinerary 
worked out in advance led them punctually to the places most 
deserving of their attention, and, as they walked, the professor 
commented eloquently upon the charm of a landscape or the 
historic interest of a monument. 

Manya never even noticed these small peculiarities of the 
pedag )guc. She loved her father tenderly: he was her protector, 
her master. And she was not far from believing that he possessed 
universal knowledge. 

It was true that M. Sklodovski knew everything, or nearly 
everything. In what country of Europe nowadays could one find 
an obscure schoolmaster with such erudition? The poor man, 
father of a family, balancing his budget with the greatest difficulty, 
had found leisure to develop his scientific knowledge by going 
through publications which he procured by considerable effort. 
It seemed to him quite natural to keep up with the progress of 
chemistry and physics, just as it was natural to know Greek and 
Latin and to speak English, French and German (as well as, of 
course, Polish and Russian); to translate the finest works of foreign 
authors into his native language in prose or verse; and, in his idle 
moments, to compose poetry which he carefully transcribed into 
his student's notebook wkh the black and green cover: "To my 
friends," "Toast for a marriage," "To my former pupils." . . , 

Every Saturday for years past M. Sklodovski, his son and his 
three daughters had passed the whole evening together in the 



VOCATION 47 

pursuit of literature. They chattered around the steaming tea in 
an otherwise silent house. The old man recited poetry or read 
aloud, and his children listened to him with rapture: the professor 
with his receding hair, his thick, placid face lengthened by a neat 
little grey beard, had a remarkable talent for speech. Saturday 
after Saturday the masterpieces of the past were brought to 
Manya in this way by a familiar voice. In the old days that voice 
had told iiry tales, read stories of travel, or initiated her into 
David Coppi r field * which M. Sklodovski translated into Polish 
without a hitch as he read from the English text. Now, in the 
same voice, a little broken by innumerable hours of teaching in the 
high school, he interpreted for the four attentive young people the 
finest writings of those romantic authors who were the poets of 
servitude and revolt in Poland: Slovackt, Krasinski, Mickiewicz. 
Turning the pages of worn volumes, some of which forbidden 
by the Tsar had been printed secretly, the reader scanned the 
heroic outbursts of Messer Thaddeus or the mournful verses of 
Kordyan. 

Manya was never to forget those evenings. Thanks to her father 
she lived in an intellectual atmosphere of rare quality known to 
few girls of her age. She *was attached by powerful bonds to the 
man who made such touching efforts to render her life interesting 
and attractive. In her anxious affection she could guess the inner 
torments beneath M. Sklodovski's apparent serenity: the sadness 
of a widower who had never consoled himself, the gloom of a 
harassed official condemned to subordinate kinds of work, and the 
remorse of a scrupulous creature who could never forgive himself 
for that risky speculation which had swallowed up his modest 
fortune. 

Sometimes, when his self-control failed, the poor man allowed a 
complaint to escape him. 

"How could I have lost that money? I, who wanted to give you 
all the most brilliant educations, to send you abroad and let you 
travel! I have ruined it all. I have no money and I can't help you 
Before long I shall be on your hands myself. What is to become of 
you?" 

The professor would sigh with anguish and turn toward his 
children, unconsciously asking them for those happy protests and 



4* MADAME CURIE 

assertions by which they were wont to comfort htm. They were 
all grouped beneath the high oil lamp in the little study enlivened 
by affectionately tended green plants. Four stubborn heads, four 
courageous smiles, looked back at him, and in all those shining 
eyes, which ranged from periwinkle-blue to ashen-grey, could be 
seen the same ardour and the same hope: 

"We are young. We are strong. We will succeed." 

M. Sklodovski's terrors are easy to understand. That year, upon 
which their whole future depended, the situation of the young 
people was far from brilliant. 

The problem was simple: the head of the family was barely able 
to pay for rent, food and a servant on his slender salary, which was 
soon to be succeeded by an even slenderer pension. Joseph, 
Bronya, Hela and Manya would have to earn their living. 

The first idea that came to these children of two teachers was 
naturally that of giving lessons. "Medical student will do private 
tutoring." Or (another advertisement): "Lessons in arithmetic, 
geometry, French, by young lady with diploma. Moderate fees." 
The Sklodovskis entered the ranks of the hundreds of young 
intellectuals who were looking for work in Warsaw. 

It was an ungrateful job. Before she was seventeen Manya had 
learned to know the fatigues and humiliations that attended it: the 
long walks across town, in rain and cold; the rcfractorv or la?.y 
pupils; the parents who made one wait for ever in draughty halls 
("Tell Mile Sklodovska to wait; my daughter will be there in a 
quarter of an hour!"), or who, out of sheer giddiness, forgot to 
pay the few roubles they owed one at the end of the month those 
roubles so anxiously expected, that one had counted on having 
that very morning! 

The winter advanced. In Novolipki Street life was dull and 
each day resembled the one before. 

Nothing new at home [Manya wrote]. The plants arc healthy, 
the azaleas are in flower, Lancet sleeps on the carpet. Gucia, the 
seamstress, is making over my dress, which 1 have dyed; it will be 
suitable and very pretty. Bronya's dress is finished and looks very 
nice. I have written to nobody; 1 have so little time, and even less 



VOCATION 49 

money, A person who knew of us through friends came to inquire 
about lessons; Bronya told her a half-rouble an hour, and the 
visitor ran away as if the house had caught fire. . . . 

It might be supposed that Manya was at this time a young lady 
without a dowry, active and sensible, whose only interest was in 
building up her list of pupils. The supposition would be untrue. 
She had bravely accepted the toilsome life of giving private lessons, 
by necessity; but she had another life, passionate and secret. Like 
every Pole of her place and time she was exalted by dreams. 

There was one dream common to all the youths: the dream of 
nationhood. In their projects for the future, the desire to serve 
Poland took precedence of personal ambition, of marriage and of 
love. One would dream of violent struggle and would organise 
conspiracies at the risk of his life; another would dream of action 
by means of controversy; still another would take refuge in mystic 
dreaming for the Catholic religion was also a resource, a force of 
resistance against the Orthodox oppressor. 

The mystic dream no longer dwelt in Manya. By tradition and 
convention she remained a practising Christian, but her faith had 
been shaken by Mme Sklodovska's death; little by little it had now 
evaporated. She had felt the dominion of her pious mother 
profoundly, but for six or seven years she had been living under 
the influence of her father, a lukewarm Catholic, a free thinker 
without acknowledging it. From the devoutness of her childhood 
there remained only vague aspirations, the unconscious wish to 
adore something very high and very great. 

And even though she had among her friends some revolutionary 
patriots, to whom she lent her passport in time of danger, Manya 
did not indulge the alternative dream of taking part in assassina- 
tions, throwing bombs at the Tsar's carriage or at the governor of 
Warsaw. There was a powerful movement just starting, among the 
intelligentsia to which the young girl belonged, to discard and 
forget all vain chimeras sterile regrets and disordered impulses 
toward independence. For them only one thing counted: to work, 
to build up a magnificent intellectual capital for Poland, and to 
develop the education of the poor, whom the authorities deliber- 
ately maintained in darkness. 



50 MADAME CURIE 

The philosophical doctrines of the period gave this national 
progressionism a special direction. For some years past the 
positivism of Comte and Spencer had instigated new ways of 
thinking in Europe. At the same time the work of Pasteur, 
Darwin and Claude Bernard had endowed the exact sciences with 
immense prestige. At Warsaw as elsewhere even more than 
elsewhere intellectual fashion grew away from the romantic 
spirit; it disdained the world of art and sensibility for a while; and 
the young people, inclined by their age to downright judgments, 
suddenly pkced chemistry and biology above literature and 
deserted the writer's cult for that of the scientist. 

In free countries this current of ideas was allowed to develop 
publicly; but such was not the case in Poland, where every 
manifestation of independence of mind was regarded with 
suspicion. The new theories made their way and spread by 
underground routes. 

It was soon after her return to Warsaw that Manya Sklodovska 
allied herself with some ardent positivists. A woman, Mile 
Piasecka, assumed great influence over her. She was a high- 
school teacher of twenty-six or twenty-seven, thin and fair, of an 
appealing ugliness: she was in love with a student named Norblin, 
lately expelled from the university for his political activity, and she 
was passionately interested in the modern doctrines. 

At first timid and untrusting, before long Manya was conquered 
by her friend's bold ideas. Along with her sister Bronya and the 
latter 's good friend Marya Rakovska, she was admitted to sessions 
of the "Floating University"; which is to say, to lessons io 
anatomy, natural history and sociology, given by benevolent 
teachers to young people who wished to extend their culture. The 
sittings took place in secret, at Mile PiasecLa's house or in some 
other private dwelling. The disciples gathered to the number of 
eight or ten at a time and took notes: they passed pamphlets and 
articles from one to the other; at the slightest noise they trembled, 
for if they had been discovered by the police it would have meant 
prison for all of them. ' 

I have a lively memory of that sympathetic atmosphere of social 
and intellectual comradeship [Marie Curie was to write fprty years 



VOCATION 51 

later]. The means of action were poor and the results obtained 
could not be very considerable; and yet I persist in believing that 
the ideas that then guided us are the only ones which can lead to 
true social progress. We cannot hope to build a better world 
without improving the individual. Toward this end, each of us 
must work toward his own highest development, accepting at the 
same time his share of responsibility in the general life of humanity 
our particular duty being to help those to whom we feel we can 
be most useful. 

The aim of the Floating University was not only to carry on the 
instruction of young people just out of the secondary schools. In 
their turn the students were to become educators. Stimulated by 
Mile Piasecka, Manya was to give lessons to women of the poor. 
She began by reading aloud to the employees of a dressmaking 
establishment and got together a little library of books in Polish, 
volume by volume, for the use of the working women. 

How is one to imagine the fervour of this girl of seventeen? 
Her childhood had been passed before mysterious divinities, the 
physics apparatus in her father's study; even before the sciences 
had been made * 'fashionable' ' M. Sklodovski had transmitted his 
passionate curiosity to her. But that world was not enough for 
impetuous Manya; she plunged eagerly into other sections of the 
the world's knowledge; she grasped at Auguste Comte and social 
evolution; she dreamed no longer of mathematics or chemistry 
alone, but wished to reform the established order and enlighten the 
masses of the people. . . . With her advanced ideas and her 
generous soul she was, in the pure sense of the word, a Socialist; 
but at the same time she did not join the group of Socialist students 
which existed in Poland. Her liberty of judgment made her fear 
the party spirit, and her love of country kept her out of Marxian 
internationalism. Before everything and above everything she 
wanted to serve her country. 

She did not yet know that the time would come when she must 
choose between these dreams. She had confounded, in the same 
exaltation, her patriotic feeling, her humanitarian ideas and her 
intellectual aspirations. 

By some miracle she remained charming in the midst of such 



52 MADAME CURIE 

doctrines and such excitements. The strict, high-minded education 
she had received, the example of the modest creatures who had 
watched over her youth, protected her from excess. There was a 
cool and moderate dignity in her nature, an innate gravity that 
accompanied her enthusiasm not to say her passion. We shall 
never see her affect any snobbishness of revolt or bad manners. 
She will never even have the wish to light an innocent cigarette. 

When her tutoring in the town and her clandestine courses in 
anatomy left her some respite she locked herself in her room. But 
the day of the "harmless and absurd little novels" had passed. Now 
she was devouring Dostoevsky and Goncharov and Boleslav 
Pros' The Emancipated ^ in which she found the portrait of her kind, 
of all the little Polish girls who had gone mad for culture. Her 
notebook reflects the inner life of an over-eager young being, 
bewildered by the diversity of her gifts: for ten pages we find 
pencil drawings which painstakingly illustrate La Fontaine's 
fables; then German and Polish poetry, a fragment of Max 
Nordau on "The Conventional Lie"; Krasinski, Slovacki, Heine. 
Three pages from Kenan's Life of JMUS; "Nobody ever made the 
interest of Humanity predominate in his life over worldly vanity 
as He did . . ."; Russian philosophical essays; a passage from 
Louis Blanc, a page of Brandes, and again drawings, flowers, 
animals; then Heine again; and Musset, Sully Prudhomme and 
Fran$ois Coppee, trans lated by Manya into Polish verse. 

For what contradictionsl the "emancipated girl" who in her 
disdain for frivolity had just cut her fair hair almost to the roots, 
sighed in secret and copied verses at great length, charming and 
more than a little dim: 

If I told you, dark one with blue eyes, that I love you, 
Who knows what you would say? 

Manya took good care, one imagines, to keep her stern com- 
rades from knowing that she appreciated Adieu Su^pn or Tbt 
Broken Vate* She barely admitted it to herself. Severely dressed, 
her face made strangely childish by the short curls which, instead 
of accentuating her personality, had transformed her into a little 
girl, she hurried from meeting to meeting, she argued and glowed. 



VOCATION 5J 

If she recited poetry in front of her friends she chose the ex- 
hortations of Asnyk, who was not a great artist but had written 
works inspired by such sympathetic fire that they became the 
Credo of the group: 

Look for the clear light of Truth; 

"Look for unknown new roads . . . 

'Even when marts sight is keener far than now, 

Divine wonder will never fail hint . . . 

Evrry i \cc has i/s own dreams, 

Le<, re, then, the dreams of yesterday; 

Yox fj^e the torch of knowledge^ 

Perform r> mw work among the labours of the centuries 

And hit Id the palace of the future. . . . 

Even when she presented Marya Rakovska with her photograph, 
standing beside Bronya in an affectionate attitude, she did not fail 
to make the gift a sort of profession of faith by writing across the 
picture this definite statement: 

"To an ideal positivist from two positive idealists/' 

Our two "positive idealists" passed many hours together 
attempting to draw up a plan of their future lives. Unfortunately, 
neither Asnyk nor Brcndes could point out a means of obtaining 
higher education for them in a city where the university was closed 
to women; nor could those authors supply a magic formula for 
getting rich quickly on lessons at half a rouble an hour. 

And Manya ? s generous heart grieved. There was the instinct of 
a Newfoundland dog in the child, youngest of her family; she felt 
responsible for her father's future, for the future of her elders. 
Joseph and Hcla, luckily, gave her no cause for worry; the young 
man was going to be a doctor, and the lovely, stormy Hela, 
hesitating between a teacher's profession a*id a career as a singer, 
sang at the top of her voice and acquired diplomas and refused 
offers of marriage all at the same time. 

But Bronyal How could Bronya be helped? Ever since she had 
left school four years ago all the cares of the household had fallen 



54 MADAME CURIE 

upon her. By dint of buying food, inventing menus and presiding 
at the preparation of preserves, she had become a remarkable 
housekeeper and she was in despair at being only that. Manya 
understood the torments of her elder sister, whose great secret 
wish was to go to Paris and study medicine, then to return to 
Poland and practise in the country. The poor girl had saved a 
little money, but it cost so much to go abroad! How many months 
or years would she have to wait? 

Manya was so made that her sister's visible anxiety and dis- 
couragement became her constant preoccupation, in which her 
own ambition was forgotten. She forgot that she, too, fascinated 
by the promised land, had often dreamed of traversing the 
thousands of miles that separated her from the Sorbonne, there to 
quench the thirst for knowledge that was her essential characteristic, 
and of bringing back the precious learning to her work as an 
educator in Warsaw, among her beloved Poles. 

If she took Bronya's career so to heart, it was because finer bonds 
than those of blood attached her to the girl whose exquisite 
affection had given her maternal support since the death of Mme 
Sklodovska. In a very united family these two had chosen to 
prefer each other. Their natures were singularly complementary; 
the elder, bv her experience and her practical sense, overawed 
Manya, who submitted to her all the little problems of daily life; 
the younger, at once more fiery and more timid, was for Bronya a 
marvellous young companion in whom love was enriched by a 
feeling of gratitude, by the vague notion of an indebtedness. 

One day when Bronya was scribbling away at a piece of paper, 
counting how much money she had or rather how much she 
lacked Manya made a direct attack. 

"I have reflected a lot just lately. 1 have also talked to Father. 
And I think I've found out a way." 

A way ?" 

Manya came nearer to her sister; what she had to say and get 
accepted was delicate; she would have to weigh her words with 
prudence* 

"Let's see. With what ydu have saved, how many months could 
you live in Paris?" 

"I have enough to pay my journey and one year's expenses at 



VOCATION 5! 

the Faculty/* Bronya answered quickly. "But the medical course 
lasts five years, you know very well." 

"Yes. But you understand, Bronya, that with lessons at half a 
rouble a time we shall never be able to do it.*' 

"Well?" 

"Well, we could make an alliance. If we keep on struggling 
separately, each on her own account, neither of us can ever get 
away. Whereas on my system you can take the train in the 
autumn in a few months/' 

"Manya, you are mad!" 

"No. To start with, you will spend your own money. After 
that I'll arrange to send you some; Father too. And at the same 
time I'll be piling up money for my own future studies. When you 
are a doctor, it will be my turn to go. And then you will help me." 

Bronya's eyes filled with tears. She felt the greatness of the 
offer; but one point remained obscure in Manya 's programme. 

"I don't understand. You don't hope to make enough money 
for your own support and part of mine and then still more to save, 
do you?" 

"Exactly that," said Manya casually. "That's where my system 
comes in. I am going to get a job as governess in a family. With 
board, lodging and laundry all free, I shall have four hundred 
roubles a year in wages, perhaps more. You see how that will 
settle everything." 

"Manya . . . little Manyusya ..." 

It was not the choice of position that moved Bronya: like a good 
idealist she shared her sister's scorn for social prejudices. No; it 
was the idea that Manya could condemn herself for years to cruel 
waiting in an unattractive profession so that she, Bronya, could 
begin her studies immediately. She resisted. 

"Why should I be the first to go? Why not the other way 
round? You are so gifted probably more gifted than I am. You 
would succeed very quickly. Why should I go?" 

"Oh, Bronya, don't be stupid! Because you are twenty and 
I'm seventeen. Because you've been waiting for hundreds of 
years and I've got lots of time. That's what Father thinks too; 
it is only natural that the elder should go first. When you have 
your practice you can bury me in gold in fact, I count on it. 



56 MADAME CURIE 

We're doing something intelligent at last, something that will 
work . . ." 

One morning in September, i88>, a silent young girl was 
awaiting her turn in the reception room of an employment 
agency. She had put on the severer of her two dresses. Her fair 
curls, which she had allowed to grow again for several months, 
were pinned in place more or less firmly under her black hat. 
A governess even a positivist! ought not to wear her hrJr 
short: a governess had to be correct, commonplace, and look like 
everybody else. . . . 

The door opened. A thin woman with a discouraged face 
passed through the vestibule and gave Manya a farewell gesture 
as she went out. A colleague. They had fallen into tolk a while 
ago, seated side by side on the cane-bottomed chaits which formed 
the only furniture in the place, and they had wished each other 
good luck. 

Manya got up. She felt timid suddenly. Her hand tightened 
mechanically over a thin bundle of papers and letters. In the next 
room a fat lady was seated behind a tiny desk. 

"What is your business, mademoiselle?" 

"I am looking for a place as governess.'* 

"You have references?" 

"Yes. I have already given lessons. Here are some recommen- 
dations from the parents of my pupils. Here is my diploma." 

The directress of the agency examined Manya's documents with 
a professional eye. Her attention was caught; she raised her head 
and considered the girl with a little more interest. 

"You have a perfect command of German, Russian, French, 
Polish and English?" 

"Yes, madame. English not so well as the others. . . . But I 
can teach the material required on the oflicial school lists. 1 left 
my high school with the gold medal." 

"Ah! And how much money do you require?" 

'Tour hundred roubles a year, and my living." 

"Four hundred," the lady repeated without expression. "Who 
are your parents?" 

"My father is a teacher in the secondary schools." 



VOCATION 57 

"Very wen. I shall make the usual inquiries. I may have 
something for you. But how old are you, by the way?" 

"Seventeen/* said Manya; then she blushed and added very 
quickly, with an encouraging smile: "But I shall be eighteen 
soon." 

The lady drew up the applicant's form in an impeccable 
"English" script: 

Marya Sklodovska, goc,d references y capable ', wants place as governess. 
Salary: four hundred roubles ay ear. 

She returned Manya's papers. 

"Thank you, mademoiselle. I shall write to you if anything 
turns up." 



CHAPTER V 



Governess 



"DEAR Henrietta," Manya wrote to her cousin Michalovska oc 
December roth, 1885, "since we separated my existence has been 

that of a prisoner. As you know, I found a place with the B 's, 

a family of lawyers. I shouldn't like my worst enemy to live in 
such a hell. In the end , my relations with Mme B had become 
so icy that J could not endure it any longer and told her so. Since 
she was exactly as enthusiastic about me as I was about her, we 
understood each other marvellously well. 

"It was one of those rich houses where they speak French when 
there is company a chimney-sweeper's kind of French where 
they don't pay their bills for six months, and where they fling 
money out of the window even though they economist pettily on 
oil for the lamps. They have five servants. They pose as liberals 
and, in reality, they are sunk in the darkest stupidity. And last of 
all, although they speak in the most sugary tones, slander and 
scandal rage through their talk slander which leaves not a rag on 
anybody. ... I learned to know the human race a little better by 
being there. I learned that the characters described in novels really 
do exist, and that one must not enter into contact with people who 
have been demoralised by wealth." 

The picture is without indulgence. Coming from a creature so 
devoid of malice, it suggests how naive and full of illusions was 
Manya. In placing herself with a well-to-do Polish family chosen 
by hazard she had had the hope of finding pleasant children and 
anderstanding parents. She was ready to attach herself and to love* 
Her disappointment was severe. 

5 



GOVERNESS 59 

The letters the young governess was to write make us feel, 
indirectly, the distinction of the environment she had been obliged 
to leave. In her circle of intellectuals Manya had met people of 
small ability, but she had scarcely ever seen any of low or calculat- 
ing spirit, any without honour. She had never heard an ugly or 
vulgar word at home. Family quarrels or spiteful chatter would 
have inspired horror in the Sklodovski household. Every time the 
girl met with stupidity, pettiness or vulgarity, we can perceive her 
astonishment and revolt. 

Strange paradox: the high quality of Manya's youthful com- 
panions and their lively intelligence may be taken as explaining the 
secret of a haunting enigma. How was it that nobody discovered 
the extraordinary vocation, the genius, of this young girl? Why 
had she not been sent to study in Paris, instead of being allowed to 
seek employment as a governess? 

Living among exceptional beings, with three young people who 
carried off diplomas and medals, who were brilliant, ambitious and 
ardent for work like herself, the future Marie Curie did not seem 
remarkable. In an intellectually narrow circle, surprising gifts are 
soon shown; they provoke astonishment and comment; but here, 
under the same roof, Joseph, Bronya, Hela and Manya were all 
growing up, rivalling one another in aptitude for knowledge. 
Thus it came about that nobody neither the old nor the young 
recognised in one of these children the signs of a great mind; 
nobody was touched by its first radiations. There was no suspicion 
that Manya might be of a different essence from her brother and 
sisters, and she had no idea of it herself. 

When she compared herself to her relatives her modesty 
approached humility. But in the middle-class families to which 
her new profession introduced her there was no disguising her 
superiority. This was evident even to Manya' s own eyes, and she 
became aware of it with some pleasure. The girl counted the 
privileges of birth and wealth as nothing; envy was never to touch 
her; but she was proud of her origin and of the training she had 
received. Through the judgments which we shall see her pass 
upon her employees there pierces the point of scorn and of an 
innocent pride. 

Philosophical instruction on the human race, or uoon "people 



60 MADAME CURIE 

demoralised by wealth," was not the only sort Manya received 
from her first experience. She learned that the plan, once explained 
to Bronya needed serious revision. 

Manya had hoped, by taking a place in Warsaw, to earn 
respectable sums of money without condemning herself to painful 
exile. To remain in the city was a mitigation of the sentence: it 
meant staying near home and being able to go every day and talk 
for a bit with her father. It meant keeping up contact with her 
friends of the Floating University and being able perhaps to 
attend a few evening courses. 

But those who have the taste for sacrifice within them cannot 
stop at half-immolations. The lot the young girl had chosen was 
still not arid enough: she could not earn enough money, and 
above all she spent too much. Her salary, frittered away in little 
daily purchases, left her with insignificant savings at the end of the 
month. She had yet to prepare herself to subsidise Bronya, who 
had gone to Paris with Marya Rakovska and was living in poverty 
in the Latin Quarter. And then, too, M. Sklodovski's retirement 
was drawing near. Soon the old man would need help. What was 
she to do? 

Manya did not hesitate for long. She had heard of a good post 
as governess in the country two or three weeks ago. No sooner said 
than done. She would accept the distant province, the leap into the 
unknown. It would be years of separation from those she loved, total 
isolation. What did that matter? The salary was good, and in that 
forgotten village the expenses were reduced practically to nothing. 

"And I love the open air so much!" Manya told herself. "Why 
didn't I think of it sooner?" 

She informed her cousin of her decision: 

I shall not be free long, for I have decided, after some hesitation, 
to accept a place in the country to-morrow to begin in January. It 
is in the Government of Plock, and pays five hundred roubles a 
year dating from the first of January. It is the same post that was 
suggested to me some time ago, which I let slip. The family are 
not satisfied with their governess and now they are asking for me. 
It is quite possible, for that matter, that I shall please them no better 
than the other one. 



GOVERNESS 61 

The first of January, 1886, the day of her departure for the 
journey in the dreary cold, was to remain one of the cruellest dates 
of Manya's existence. She had bravely said good-bye to her 
father. She had repeated her new address for him: 

Mile Marya Sklodovska, 

In Care of M. and Mme Z.> 

Szczuki, 

Near Przasnysz. 

She had climbed into the railway carnage. For one more 
moment she could see the stocky outline of the professor, for one 
more moment she smiled. Then suddenly, as she sat down on the 
bench in the carriage, she felt the pressure of solitude. Alone 
she was all alone, for the first time in her life. 

The girl of eighteen was abruptly seized by panic. In the train 
which was carrying her heavily toward a strange house and family 
Manya shivered with shyness and terror. Supposing her new 
employers were like the old ones? Suppose M. Sklodovski were to 
fall ill in her absence? Would she ever see him again? Had she not 
done a thoroughly foolish thing? Torturing questions assailed the 
girl as she crouched near the window of the compartment looking 
out through her tears she dried them with her hand, but they 
always came back at vast plains hushed beneath the snow in the 
filling day. 

Three hours in the train were followed by four hours in a sleigh 
over very straight roads in the majestic silence of winter night. 
M. and Mme Z., estate administrators, farmed part of the lands of 
the Princes Czartoryski, one hundred kilometres north of Warsaw. 
When she arrived at the door of their house on an icy night Manya, 
broken with fatigue, could barely see, as in a dream, the great 
stature of the master of the household, his wife's dim face, and the 
intense stares of the children fixed upon her with sparkling 
curiosity. 

The governess was received with hot tea and friendly words. 
Then, going up to the first floor, Mme Z. showed Mayna her room 
and left her there in the company of her poor luggage. 



61 MADAME CURIE 

Matya to her cousin Henrietta, February $rJ 9 1886: 

I have now been with M. and Mme Z. for one month; so I have 
had time to acclimatise myself in the new post. Up to now all has 
gone well. The Z.s arc excellent people. I have made friends with 
their eldest daughter, Bronka, which contributes to the pleasant- 
ness of my life. As for my pupil, Andzia, who will soon be ten, 
she is an obedient child, but very disorderly and spoiled. Still, one 
can't require perfection. . . . 

In this part of the country nobody works; people think only of 
amusing themselves; and since we in this house keep a little apart 
from the general dance, we are the talk of the countryside. One 
week after my arrival they were already speaking of me unfavour- 
ably because, as I didn't know anybody, 1 refused to go to a ball at 
Karvacz, the gossip centre of the region. I was not sorry, for M. 
and Mme Z. came back from that ball at one o'clock the next 
afternoon. I was glad to have escaped such a test of endurance, 
especially as I am not feeling at all strong just now. 

There was a ball here on Twelfth Night. I Was treated to the 
sight of a certain number of guests worthy of the caricaturist's 
pencil, and enjoyed myself hugely. The young people here are 
most uninteresting. Some of the girls are so many geese who never 
open their mouths, the others are highly provocative. It appears 
that there are some others, more intelligent. But up to now my 
Bronka (Mile Z.) seems to me a rare pearl both in her good sense 
and in her understanding of life. 

I have seven hours of work a day: four with Andzia, three with 
Bronka. This is rather a lot, but it doesn't matter. My room is 
upstairs. It is big, quiet and agreeable. There is a whole collection 
of children in the Z. family: three sons in Warsaw (one at the 
university, two in boarding schools). In the house there are 
Bronka (eighteen years old), Andzia (ten), Stas who is three, and 
Maryshna, a little girl of six months. Stas is very funny. His 
nyanya told him God was everywhere. And he, with his little face 
agonised, asked: "Is He going to catch me? Will He bite me?" 
He amuses us all enormously. 

Manya interrupted her letter, put her pen down on the writing- 
desk she had installed near the long window, and braving the cold 



GOVERNESS 6) 

in her woollen dress, went out on the balcony. The view offered 
her there still had the gift of making her kugh. Wasn't it comic to 
set out for an isolated country house, imagining rural landscapes in 
advance, with prairies and forests , and then, on opening the 
casement of her room for the first time, to perceive a tall, aggressive 
factory chimney which, shutting off and dirtying the sky, spat 
opaque plumes of black smoke? 

There was not a field or a coppice for miles around: nothing but 
sugar beet and again sugar beet, filling the great monotonous plain. 
In the autumn these pale earthy beetroots, piled up in bullock 
carts, slowly converged on the factory to be made into sugar. The 
peasants sowed, hoed and reaped for the factory. The huts of the 
little village of Krasiniec were crowded near these dreary red brick 
buildings. And the river itself was the slave of the factory, entering 
limpid and departing soiled, its surface charged with a dark, sticky 
scum. 

Monsieur Z., an agriculturist of repute, familiar with new 
techniques, controlled the farming of two hundred acres of beet- 
root. He was a wealthy man: he owned a great part of the shares in 
the sugar factory. And in his house, as in the others, the factory 
was the object of preoccupation. 

There was nothing on the grand scale about this. The factory, 
however absorbing it seemed, was only an enterprise of average 
importance like dozens of others in the provinces. The Szczuki 
estate was small: two hundred acres, in that country of vast estates, 
are nothing. The Z.s were well off but not rich. And although 
their house was more attractive than the neighbouring farms, it 
would be impossible, with the best will in the world, to call it a 
chateau. It was a rather old-fashioned villa, one of those great low 
buildings with sloped roofs overhanging walls of dull stucco, 
pergolas covered with Virginia creeper and verandas all glassed in 
and full of draughts. 

One concession only was made to beauty: the pleasure garden, 
which became \ cry x pretty in summer with its lawn, its shrubbery 
and its croquet ground sheltered by a row of well-cut ash* 
trees. On the other side of the house there was an orchard, 
and farther on the four red roofs of the barns, stables and cattle 
sheds where forty horses and sixty cows were lodged. Beyond 



64 MADAME CURIE 

that, as far as the horizon, was nothing but loam for beetroot. 

"Well, I haven't done so badly/' Manya told herself as she shut 
the window. "The factory isn't beautiful, certainly. But just the 
same it's because of it that this provincial hole is a little more 
animated than some others. People often come from Warsaw and 
others go there. There arc engineers and directors at tiie sugar 
factory; that is pleasant enough. One can borrow books and 
reviews there. Mme Z. has a bad temper; but she is not at ail a bad 
woman. If she doesn't always treat me, the governess, with tact, 
that's no doubt because she was once a governess herself, and 
fortune came to her a bit too quickly. Her husband is charming, 
her elder daughter is an angel, her children are tolerable. I ought 
to think myself very lucky." 

After warming her hands before the immense stove in shining 
porcelain which filled one of the alcoves of the room from iloor to 
ceiling, Manya went back to her correspondence until such time 
as an imperious call, "Mademoiselle Marya!" might inform her, 
through walls and doors, that her employers had need of her. 

A governess all alone might be expected to write many letters, if 
only to receive answers with news from the town. As the weeks 
and months went by, at regular intervals Manya gave her relatives 
an account of the various events of her existence, in which humble 
tasks alternated with hours of fc 'company" and pleasures which 
were part of her work. She wrote to her father, to Joseph and to 
Hela; to her dear Bronya; to Kazia Przyborovska, her school 
friend. To her cousin Henrietta, who was now married and living 
m Lvov but had remained a fierce positivist, she freely confided 
some graver reflections: her discouragement and her hope: 

Manya to Henrietta, April ^th, 1886: 

I am living as it is customary to live in my position. I give my 
lessons and 1 read a little, but it isn't easy, for the arrival of new 
guests constantly upsets the normal employment of my time. 
Sometimes this irritates me a great deal, since my Andfcia is one of 
those children who profit enthusiastically by every interruption of 
work, and there is no way of bringing her back to reason after- 
wards. To-day we had another scene because she did not want to 
get up at the usual hour. In the end I was obliged to take her 



GOVERNESS 65 

calmly by the hand and pull her out of bed. I was boiling inside* 
You can't imagine what such little things do to me: such a piece of 
nonsense can make me ill for several hours. But I had to get the 
better of her. . . . 

. . . Conversation in company? Gossip and then more gossip. 
The only subjects of discussion are the neighbours, dances and 
parties. So far as dancing is concerned, you could look far before 
you would find better dancers than the young girls of this region. 
They all dance perfectly, lliey are not bad creatures, for that 
matter, and certain ones are even intelligent, but their education 
has done nothing to develop their minds, and the stupid, incessant 
parties here have ended by frittering their wits aw?y. As for the 
young men, there are few nice ones who are even a bit intelligent. 
. . . For the girls and boys alike, such words as "positivism" or 
"the kbour question" are objects of aversion supposing they 
have ever heard the words, which is unusual. The Z. household is 
relatively cultivated. M. Z. is an old-fashioned man, but full of 
good sense, sympathetic and reasonable. His wife is rather 
difficult to live with, but when one knows how to take her she is 
quite nice. I think she likes me well enough. 

If you could only see my exemplary conduct I I go to church 
every Sunday and holiday, without ever pleading a headache or a 
cold to get out of it. 1 hardly ever speak of higher education for 
women. In a general way 1 observe, in my talk, the decorum 
suitable to my position. 

At Easter 1 am going to Warsaw for a few days. Everything 
inside me so leaps with joy at the thought that 1 have difficulty 
restraining wild ciics of happiness. . . . 

It was all very well for ironic Manya to describe her "exemplary 
conduct," but there was a daring and original character in her 
which couW not long tolerate the conventional life. The "positive 
idealist" was always there, eager to be useful, to fight. 

One day when she met some little peasants in the muddy road, 
boys and girls miserably dressed, with bold faces under their 
hempen hair, Manya conceived a plan. \X*hy should she not put 
into practice, in this small world of Szczuki, those progressive 
ideas which were so dear to her? Last year she had dreamed of 



66 MADAME CURIE 

"enlightening the people." Here was an excellent opportunity. 
The village children were for the most part illiterate. If any of 
them had been to school at any time, they had only learned the 
Russian alphabet there. How fine it would be to create a secret 
course in Polish, to awaken these young brains to the beauty of the 
national language and history! 

The governess submitted her idea to Mile Z. ? who was im- 
mediately taken with it and decided to assist. 

"Think it over carefully," said Manya, to calm her enthusiasm. 
"You know that if we are denounced we shall be sent to Siberia." 

But nothing is more contagious than courage: in the eyes of 
Bronka Z., Manya saw ardour and resolution. There was only the 
authorisation of the head of the family to be obtained, and they 
could begin their discreet propaganda in the peasant huts. 

Manya to Henrietta, September $rd, 1886: 

... I could have had a holiday this summer, but I didn't know 
where to go, so I stayed at Szczuki. I did not want to spend the 
money to go to the Carpathians. I have many hours of lessons with 
Andzia, I read with Bronka, and I work an hour a day with the son 
of a workman here, whom I am preparing for school. Besides this, 
Bronka and I give lessons to some peasant children for two hours a 
day. Jt is a class, really, for we have ten pupils. They work with a 
very good will, but just the oame our task is sometimes difficult. 
What consoles me is that the results get better gradually, or even 
quite quickly. Thus I have pretty full days and I also teach myself 
a little or a lot, working alone. . . . 

Manya to Hinrietta> December, 1 886: 

. , . The number of my peasant pupils is now eighteen. 
Naturally they don't all come together, as I couldn't manage it, 
but even as it is they take two hours a day. On Wednesdays and 
Saturdays I am with them a little longer as many as five hours 
consecutively. Of course this is only possible because my room is 
on the firot floor and has a separate entrance on the stairway to the 
court-yard thus, since this work doesn't keep me from my 
obligations to the Z.s, I disturb nobody. Great joys and great 
consolations come to me from these little children. . . . 



GOVERNESS 67 

Thus it was not enough for Manya to listen to Andzia droning 
out her lessons, to work with Bronka and to keep Julek who was 
back from Warsaw and had been turned over to her from going 
to sleep over his books. When all that was done, the dauntless girl 
went up to her room and waited until a noise of boots on the stairs, 
mingling with the shuffle of bare feet, announced the arrival of her 
disciples. She had borrowed a pine table and some chairs so that 
they could practise their writing comfortably. She had taken 
enough from her savings to buy them some copybooks and the 
pens which the numbed little fingers managed with such difficulty. 
When seven or eight young peasants were installed in the big 
room with chalked walls, Manya and Bronka Z. were barely able 
to maintain order and rescue the unhappy pupils who, sniffling 
and snorting with anguish, could not spell a difficult word. 

These sons and daughters of servants, farmers and factory 
workers, who pressed round Manya's dark dress and fair hair, 
were not always well washed. They did not smell nice. Some of 
them were inattentive and sullen. But in most of their bright eyes 
appeared a naive and violent desire to accomplish, some day, those 
fabulous acts: reading and writing. And when this humble end 
was achieved, when the big black letters on white paper suddenly 
took on meaning, the young girl's heart contracted at the noisy, 
prideful triumph of the children and the wondering admiration of 
their illiterate parents who sometimes stationed themselves at the 
end of the room to watch the lessons. She thought of all this good 
will wasted, and of the gifts that perhaps lay hidden in these 
baulked and defrauded creatures. Before their sea of ignorance she 
felt disarmed and feeble. 



CHAPTER VI 



The Long Wait 



THE little peasants never suspected that "Mile Marya" often 
meditated darkly upon her own ignorance. They did not know 
that their young teacher's dream was to become a pupil again, and 
that she would like to be learning instead of teaching. 

To think that at this very minute, when Manya at her window 
was once more contemplating the carts that brought beetroot to 
the factory, there were thousands and thousands of young people 
in Berlin, Vienna, Petersburg and London who were listening to 
lessons and lectures, who were working in laboratories, museums 
and hospitals! To think, above all, that inside the famous Sor- 
bonne they were teaching biology, mathematics, sociology, 
chemistry and physics! 

Marya Sklodovska wanted to study in France more than in any 
other country. The prestige of France dazzled her. In Berlin and 
Petersburg the oppressors of Poland reigned; but in France liberty 
was cherished, all feelings and all beliefs were respected, and there 
was a welcome for the unhappy and the hunted, no matter whence 
they came. Was it true, was it even possible, that some day she 
might take the train for Paris that this great happiness might be 
given her? 

She had lost all hope of it. The first twelve months of a stifling 
provincial life had undermined the illusions of a girl who, in spite 
of her intellectual passions and her dreams, was by no means given 
to the pursuit of phantoms. When she stopped to consider, Manya 
saw before her a clear situation which was apparently without 
issue. In Warsaw there was her father, who would soon have need 

68 



THE LONG WAIT 69 

of her. In Paris there was Bronya, who nust be helped for years 
more before she could earn a penny. And on the estate of Szczuki 
there was herself, Manya Sklodovska, governess. The project of 
amassing a capital, which once had seemed practical to her, now 
made her smile. It was a childish plan. One does not escape from a 
place like Szczuki. 

It is fine to see, in the despondency of this creature of genius, 
that she was not invulnerable that, far from preserving an in- 
human confidence, she suffered and grew discouraged like any 
other girl of nineteen. It is fine to see her contradict herself and, in 
the very moment when she claims to have renounced everything, 
struggle with ferocious heroism against her own burial. It was 
indeed an all-powerful instinct that made her sit every night at her 
desk, reading volumes of sociology and physics borrowed from 
the factory library, or perfecting her knowledge of mathematics by 
correspondence with her father. 

The task was so ungrateful that it is astonishing to see Manya 
persevere in it. All alone in that country house, she was without 
direction or advice. She felt her way, almost by sheer chance, 
through the mazes of the knowledge she wanted to acquire, as 
summarily explained to her by out-of-Jate handbooks. In her 
moments of dismay she resembled her little peasants when they 
despaired of ever learning to read and threw their alphabets away; 
but nevertheless, with a peasant's stubbornness, she pursued her 
effort. 

Literature interested me as much as sociology and science [she 
was to write forty years later]. Still, during these years of work, as I 
tried gradually to discover my true preferences, I finally turned 
toward mathematics and physics. 

These solitary studies were? encompassed with difficulty. The 
scientific education I had received at school was very incomplete 
much inferior to the programme for the baccalaureate in France. 
I tried to complete it in my own way, with the help of books got 
together by sheer chance. The method was not efficacious, but I 
acquired the habit of independent work and 1 learned a certain 
number of things which were to be useful to me later. . . . 



70 MADAME CURIE 

She described one of these days in a letter from SsczukL 

Manya to Henrietta, December, 1886: 

. . . With all I have to do, there are days when I am occupied 
from eight to half-past eleven and from two to half-past seven 
without a moment's rest. From half-past eleven to two there are a 
walk and lunch. After tea, I read with Andzia if she has been good, 
and if not we talk, or else I take my sewing, which by the way I 
also have by me during the lessons. At nine in the evening I take 
my books and go to work, if something unexpected does not 
prevent it ... I have even acquired the habit of getting up at six 
so that I work more but I can't always do it. A very nice old 
man, Andzia's godfather, is staying here just now, and Mme Z. 
asked me to ask him to teach me how to play checkers to amuse 
him. I also have to make a fourth at cards, and that drags me away 
from my books. 

At the moment I am reading: 

(1) Daniel's Physics, of which I have finished the first volume; 

(2) Spencer's Sociology, in French; 

(3) Paul Bers* Lessons on Anatomy and Physiology y in Russian. 

I read several things at a time: the consecutive study of a single 
subject would wear out my poor little head, which is already much 
overworked. When I feel myself quite unable to read with profit, I 
work problems of algebra or trigonometry, which allow no lapses 
of attention and get me back into the right road. 

My poor Bronya writes from Paris that they are giving her a lot 
of difficulty with her examinations, that she is working hard, and 
that her health is causing a certain amount of worry. 

. . . My plans for the future? I have none, or rather they arc so 
commonplace and simple that they arc not worth talking about. 
I mean to get through as well as I can, and when I can do no more, 
say farewell to this base world. The loss will be small, and regret 
for me will be short as short as for so many others. 

These arc my only plans now. Some people pretend that in 
spite of everything I am'obliged to pass through the kind of fever 
called love. This absolutely does not enter into my plans. If I 
ever had any others, they have gone up in smoke; I have buried 
them; locked them up; sealed and forgotten them for you know 



THE LONG WAIT 71 

that walls are always stronger than the heads which try to demolish 
them. . . . 

These vague thoughts of suicide, this disappointed and sceptical 
sentence about love, call for explanation. 

The explanation is simple and very ordinary. It could be called 
"the romance of a poor young girl." Numerous sentimental 
novels have recounted stories exactly like it. 

The beginning of the story is that Manya Sklodovska had grown 
pretty. She did not yet possess the exquisite unreality revealed by 
her portraits of a few years later; but the chubby adolescent had 
changed into a fresh, graceful girl, with lovely skin and hair, fine 
wrists and slender ankles. Although her face was neither regular 
nor perfect, it attracted attention by the wilful curve of the mouth 
and by her ash grey eyes, sunk deep under her brows, and made 
bigger by the surprising intensity of her gaze. 

When the eldest son of M. and Mme Z., Casimir, came back 
from Warsaw to Szczuki for his holidays, he found in the house a 
governess who could dance marvellously, row and skate; who was 
witty and had nice manners; who could make up verses as easily as 
she rode a horse or drove a carriage; who was different how 
totally, mysteriously different! from all the young ladies of his 
acquaintance. He fell in love with her. And Manya, Manya who 
hid a vulnerable heart beneath her revolutionary doctrines, was 
enamoured of him, the handsome, agreeable student. 

She was not yet nineteen. He was only a little older. They made 
their plans to marry. . . . 

There seemed to be nothing against this union. It was true that 
Manya was, at Szczuki, only "Mile Marya," the children's gover- 
ness. But everybody there regarded her with affection: Monsieur 
Z. took long walks with her across the fields, Mme Z. mothered 
hor and Bronka adored her. The Z s had always treated her with 
particular courtesy: on several occasions they had invited her 
father, brother and sisters to stay with them. On her birthday they 
gave her flowers and presents. 

It was therefore without too much apprehension, indeed almost 
with confidence, that Casimir Z. asked his parents if they approved 
of his engagement. 



72 MADAME CURIE 

The Gnawer was not slow in coming. Father fell into a rage, 
Mother almost fainted. He, Casimir, their favourite child, to 
marry this girl who hadn't a penny, who was obliged to work "in 
other people's houses"? He who could marry the richest and best- 
born girl of the neighbourhood to-morrow? 1 lad he gone mad? 

In one instant the social barriers went up, insurmountable, in a 
house where it had been a point of pride to treat Manya as a friend. 
The fact that the girl was of good family, that she was cultivated, 
brilliant and of irreproachable reputation, the fact that her father 
was honourably known in Warsaw none of this counted against 
six implacable little words: one docs not marry a governess. 

Apostrophised, shaken and preached at, the student felt his 
resolutions melt within him. lie had little character. He was 
afrajd of reproaches and anger. And Manya, lacerated by the scorn 
of creatures inferior to herself, withdrew into awkward coldness 
and a nervous silence. She had made up her mind; she would 
never again give a thought to the vanished idyll. 

But love is like ambition: a decree of death will not kill it. 

Manya could not take the step cruel but clear of leaving 
Szczuki. She did not want to worry her father; and above all she 
could not afford the luxury of giving up such a good post; now 
that Bronya's savings were a mere memory it was she, Manya, who 
had to help her father pay her elder sister's expenses at the Faculty 
of Medicine. She sent her sister fifteen roubles every month and 
sometimes twenty nearly half her salary. \Vhere could she iind 
another such salary? There had been no direct explanation 
between the Z.s and herself, no painful discussion. It was better to 
swallow her pride and stay at Szczuki, as if nothing had happened. 

Life resumed its way thereafter just as it had been before. Manya 
gave her lessons, scolded Andzia, shook Juleh who was put to 
sleep by the slightest intellectual work and continued her work 
among the little peasants. She studied chemistry as always, making 
fun of herself and shrugging her shoulders at her own useless 
perseverance. She played, draughts and rhyming games, went to 
dances, took walks in the open air. . . . 

In winter [she was to write later], the vast snow-covered plains 



THE LONG WAIT 73 

were not without charm, and we made long trips in the sleigh. At 
times we could hardly make out the road. 

"Don't lose the trail!" I cried to the driver. He answered: "We 
are in the exact middle of it," or "Don't be afraid 1" and then we 
turned over. Such catastrophes only added to the gaiety of our 
excursions. 

... I remember also the marvellous snowhouse we built one 
year when the snow was very high in the field. We could sit down 
in it and from there contemplate the immense white expanse, 
tinted with rose. . . . 

Unhappy in love, disappointed in her intellectual dream and 
materially very hard up for by the time she had helped this one 
and that there was nothing left Manya attempted to forget her 
fate, the rut in which she felt herself stuck for ever. She turned 
toward her family, not to ask their help and not even to express her 
bitterness: in each of her letters she poured out advice and offered 
her support. She wanted them to have full lives. 

Manya to Joseph, March 9^, 1887: 

... I think that if you borrowed a few hundred roubles you 
could remain in Warsaw instead of burying yourself in the 
provinces. First of all, my dear little brother, don't be angry if I 
write something stupid; remember that I am telling you sincerely 
what I think, as we have always agreed. . . . You see, darling, 
everybody says that to work in a small town would prevent you 
from developing your culture and doing research. You would be 
thrust into a hole and would have no career at all. Without a 
pharmacy, without a hospital or books, one gets very dull, in spite 
of the best resolutions. And if that happened to you, darling, you 
will not be surprised to hear that I should suffer enormously, for 
now that I have lost the hope of ever becoming anybody, all my 
ambition has been transferred to Bronya and you. You two, at 
least, must direct your lives according to your gifts. These gifts 
which, without any doubt, do exist in our family must not dis- 
appear; they must come out through one of us. The more regret I 
have for myself the more hope I have for you. . . . 

Perhaps you will make fun of me, or else shrug your shoulders at 



74 MADAME CURIE 

such a lecture. I am not in the habit of speaking or writing to you 
in such a tone. But this comes from the depths of my heart and I 
have thought it for a long time, since you first began your studies. 
And think, too, what a joy it will be for Father to have you near 
him! He loves you so much he loves you more than all of the rest 
of us. Imagine, if Hela married M. B. and you went away from 
Warsaw, what would become of our poor father all alone! He 
would be very sad. Whereas this way you would live together, and 
it would be perfect. Only, just in the spirit of economy, don't 
forget to save a little corner for the rest of us in case we should 
come back. 

Many a to Henrietta [who bad just given birth to a dead cbild\. April 
4tb, 1887: 

. . . What suffering it must be for a mother to go through so 
many trials for nothing! If one could only say, with Christian 
resignation: "God willed it and His will be done!" half of the 
terrible bitterness would be gone. Alas, that consolation is not for 
everybody. I see how happy are the people who admit such 
explanations. But, strangely enough, the more I recognise how 
lucky they are the less 1 can understand their faith, and the less I 
feel capable of sharing their happiness. 

. . . Forgive me these philosophical reflections: they are caused 
by your complaint against the backward and conservative spirit of 
the town where you live. Do not judge it too hardly, for social and 
political conservatism usually comes from religious conservatism, 
and the latter is a happiness even though for us it has become 
incomprehensible. So far as I am concerned, I should never 
voluntarily contribute toward anybody's loss of faith. Let every- 
body keep his own faith, so long as it is sincere. Only hypocrisy 
irritates me and it is as wide-spread as true faith is rare. ... I 
hate hypocrisy. But I respect sincere religious feelings when I 
meet them, even if they go with a limited state of mind. . . . 

Many a to Jtsepb, May zotb, 1887: 

... I still don't know if my pupil, Andzia, is going to take hef 
examinations, but I am in torment over them already. Her 
attentiveness and memory are so uncertain. ... It is the same 



THE LONG WAIT 75 

thing with Julck. To try teaching them is truly to build on sand, 
because when they learn one thing they have already forgotten 
what one taught them the day before. At times this is a sort of 
torture. Also I am very much afraid for myself: it seems to me all 
the time that T am getting terribly stupid the days pass so quickly 
and I make no noticeable progress. Even with the village children 
I had to interrupt my lessons because of the Masses of the month of 
Mary. StilL it seems to me that I don't require a great deal to be 
content: I only want to get the conviction that I am being of some 
use. . . . 

Later on she says of Hela, whose engagement to marry had just 
been broken: 

I can imagine how Hela's self-respect must have suffered. 
Truly, it gives one a good opinion of men! If they don't want to 
marry poor young girls, let them go to the devil ! Nobody is 
asking them for anything. But why do they offend by troubling 
the peace of an innocent creature? 

... If something consoling could only come through you! I 
often ask myself how your business is going, and if you don't 
regret having remained in Warsaw. To tell the truth, 1 oughtn't 
to torment myself over it, as you will certainly come out all right: 
I firmly believe that. There are always more petty annoyances 
with the bab.u* but I, even 1, keep a sort of hope that 1 shall not 
disappear completely into nothingness. . . , 

Many a to Henrietta^ December iofb, 1887: 

. . . Don't believe the report of my approaching marriage; it is 
unfounded. This tale has been spread about the countryside and 
even at Warsaw; and though this is not my fault, 1 am afraid ii may 
bring me trouble. My plans for the future are modest indeed: my 
dream, for the moment, is to have a corner of my own where 1 
can live with my father. The poor man misses me a lot; he would 
like to have me at home; he longs for me! To get my independence 
again, and a place to live, I would give half my life. 'Ihercfore, if 
the thing is at all possible, I shall leave Szojuki which can't be 
*Babas : In Polish, a mocking word for women. 



7 C MADAME CURIE 

clone, in ^ny case, for some time 1 shall install myself in Warsaw, 
take a post as teacher in a girls' school and make up the rest of the 
money 1 need by giving lessons. It is all 1 want. Life does net 
deserve to be worried over. . . . 



Manja to Joseph, March i8/Z\ 

Dear little Jozio, I am going to stick the last stamp T possess on 
this letter, and since 1 have litci jlJy not a penny not one! 1 shall 
probably not write to you again until the holidays, unless by some 
charcc a stamp should fall into my lunds. 

The real purpose of this letter was to wish you a happy birthday, 
but if I am late it is only because of the lack of money and stamps 
which afilicts me dreadfully and I've never yet learned to ask for 
them. 

. . . My darling Jozio, if you only knew how I sigh and long to 
go to Warsaw for only a few days! 1 say nothing of my clothes, 
which are worn out and need care but my soul, too, is worn out. 
Ah, if I could cxtiact myself for just a few days from this icy 
atmosphere of criticism, from the perpetual guard over my own 
words, the expression in my face, my gestures! ... I need that as 
one needs a cool bath on a torrid day. I have many reasons, 
besides, for wanting such a change. 

It has been a long time since Bronya wrote to me. No doubt she, 
too, has no stamp. . . . If you can manage to sacrifice one, I beg 
you to write to me. Write to me, well and long, everything that 
happens at home; for in Father's and Hela's letters there are 
nothing but laments, and I ask myself if everything really is so bad; 
and I am in torment; and to these worries there are added quantities 
of worries I have here, of which I could speak but 1 don't want 
to. If I only didn't have to think of Bronya I should present my 
resignation to the Z.s this very instant and look for another post, 
even though this one is so well paid. 

Many a to her friend Ka^ia [who hadjttst announced her engagement, and 
with whom Many a was soon going to stay for a few days]. October 25 /A, 
1888: 

. . . Nothing you could ever confide in me could ever seem 
excessive or ridiculous. How could I, your chosen little, sister, not 



THE LONG WAIT 77 

take to heart everything that concerns you, as if it were my own? 

As for me, I am very gay and often I hide my deep lack of 
gaiety under laughter. This is something I learned to do when I 
found out that crcatuivs who feel as keenly as 1 do, and are unable 
to change this characteristic of their nature, have to dissimulate it 
at least as much as possible. But do you think it is eilicicio-js, or 
good for anything? Not at all ! Most often the vivacity of my 
temperament runs away with me gradually, and then well, one 
says things that one regrets, and with more ardour than is necessary. 

I write with some bitterness, Kazia, but you see. . . . You tell 
me you have just lived through the happiest week of your life; and 
I, during these holidays, have been through such weeks as you will 
never know. There were some very hard days, and the only thing 
that softens the memory of them is that in spite of everything I 
came through it all honestly, with my head high. (As you sec, I 
have not yet renounced, in life, that carriage which brought me 
Mile Mayer's hatred of old.) 

. . . You will say, Kazia, that I am growing sentimental. Don't 
be afraid. I shall not fill into a sin so foreign to my nature only, I 
have become very nervous recently. Some people have done all 
they could to bring this about. Nevertheless I shall be as gay and 
free as ever when 1 come to you. What a lot of things we have to 
say to each othcrl I shall bring along some chains for our mouths, 
as otherwise we should never get to bed until dawn. Will your 
mother give us lemonade and chocolate ices as she used to do? 

Mutya to Jwph, October, 1888: 

1 look sadly at my calendar: this day has cost me five stamps, not 
counting letter paper. Thus I shall soon have nothing to say to 
you! 

Think of it: I am learning chemistry from a book. You can 
imagine how little I get out of that, but what can 1 do, as I have no 
place to make experiments or do practical work? 

Bronya has sent me a little album from Paris. It is^v 



Many a to llcnrktta > Ncwmbt r 2 5 /, 1 8 8 8 : 
I have fallen into black melancholy because our daily 
panions are dreadful west winds, 




7k MADAME CURIE 

flood and mud. To-day the sky is a little more clement, but the 
wind roars in the chimney. There isn't a trace of ice, and the skates 
hang sadly in the cupboard. You arc probably unaware th it in our 
provincial hole the frost and the advantages it brings us are at least 
as important as a discussion between conservatives and pro* 
gressives in your Galicia. . . . Don't conclude from this that 
your stories bore me: on the contrary, it is a real satisfacton for me 
to learn that there exist some regions and some geographic areas in 
which people move and even think. While you are living at the 
centre of the movement, my existence strangely resembles that of 
one of those slugs which haunt the dirty water of our river. 
Luckily I hope to get out of this lethargy soon. 

I wonder if, when you 'see me, you will judge that the years I 
have just passed among humans have done me good or not. Every- 
body says that I have changed a great deal, physically and spiritu- 
ally, during my stay at Sxczuki. This is not surprising. I was 
barely eighteen when I came here, and what have I not been 
through! There have been moments which I shall certainly count 
among the most cruel of my life ... I feel everything very 
violently, with a physical violence, and then I give myself a shaking, 
the vigour of my nature conquers, and it seems to me that I am 
coming out of a nightmare. . . . First principle: never to let one's 
self be beaten down by persons or by events. 

1 count the hours and days that separate me from the holidays 
i id my departure to my own people. There is also the need of new 
Lnpressions; the need of change, of movement and life, which 
seizes me sometimes with such force that I want to fling myself into 
the greatest follies, if only to keep my life from being eternally the 
same. Fortunately, 1 have so much work to do that these attacks 
seize me pretty rarely. It is my last year here; and I must therefore 
wot 1; all the harder, so that the children's examinations will go 
well 



CHAPTER VII 



The Escape 



THREE years had passed since "Mile Marya'' Became a governess. 
Three montonous years they were: much work and no money, 
some few little pleasures, one grief But now, by small im- 
perceptible stages, the tragic immobility of the young girl's 
existence was beginning to stir. In Paris, in Warsaw and at 
Szczuki certain events, small in appearance, modified the play of 
the mysterious game in which Manya's lot was decided. 

M. Sklodovski, having obtained his pension, started out in 
search of lucrative employment. He wanted to try to help his 
daughters. In April, 1888, he accepted the most arduous and un- 
grateful of posts: the directorship of a reform school at Studzieniec, 
not far from Warsaw. The atmosphere, the surroundings, every- 
thing was unpleasant there everything but the comparatively 
high salary, from which the good nun instantly set aside a monthly 
sum for Bronya. 

The first thing Bronya did was to direct Manya not to send her 
any more money. The second was to ask her father to hold eight 
roubles out of the forty roubles he g,ive her every month eight 
roubles destined to repay, little by little, the sums she had received 
from her little sister. I ; rom that moment Manya's fortune, starting 
from zero, began to increase. 

The medical student's letters brought other news from Paris. 
She was working. She was passing her examinations with success. 
And she was in love: in love with a Pole, Casimir Dluski, her 
comrade in study, brilliant with charm and good qualities, whose 
only awkward peculiarity was that he was forbidden to live in 

79 



80 MADAME CURIE 

Russian Jpoiand and was threatened \vith deportation to Siberia if 
he returned there. 

At Szczuki, Manya's task was approaching its end. After St. 
John's Day in 1889 the Z.s would no longer need her services. 
Naturally, she would have to find another place. The youn;; 
governess already had one in view, with some rich industrialists of 
Warsaw, the F.s. It would be a change, at any rate the change 
that Manya called for so eagerly. 

Many a to Ka^ia, March i $tl\ i 889: 

In five weeks it will be Easter. . . . For me it is a very im- 
portant date, as my future will be decided then. Besides the post 
with the F.s, I am offered another. J am hesitating between the 
two and don't know what to do. 

... I think only of Easter! My head is so full of plans that it 
seems aflame. I don't know what is to become of me. You see, 
your Manya will be, to the end of her days, a flighty-head of 
flighty- heads. . . . 

Good-bye to Szczuki and the beet fields! With friendly smiles 
a bit too friendly on both sides Manya took her leave of the Z.s. 
Liberated, she reached Warsaw and breathed the air of her native 
town with delight. Then she was off again, on the train to Zoppot, 
a dismal Baltic beach where she would join her new employers. 



Manya to Ka^ia^ ]uly i4//>, 1889: 

. . . My journey went off all right, in spite of my tragic 
presentiments. . . . Nobody robbed me, or even tried to; 1 did 
not take the wrong train at any of my five changes, and 1 ate up all 
my serdelki: only the rolls and the caramels were too much for me. 
Along the way I had benevolent protectors who made everything 
easy for me. For fear that they would carry their amiability so far 
as to eat my provisions, I didn't show them my serdelki. 

M. and Mme F. were waiting at the station for me. They are 
very nice, and I have been attracted to the children. Everything 
will therefore be all right as indeed it must be. 

Life was not very amusing in the Schultz Hotel at that summer 



THE ESCAPE 8 1 

resort wncre, Manya wrote, "one sees the same people all the time, 
around the Kurhaus, where they speak only of dresses and other 
equally interesting things. It is cold, everybody stays at home: 
Mme F., her husband, her mother and they are in such temper 
that I should like to hide in a mouscholc, if I could/' 

But soon afterward employers, children and governess returned 
to Warsaw, where they installed themselves for the winter. 

1 he year to come was to be a comparatively pleasing interval for 
the young girl Mme F. was very beautiful, very elegant, very rich. 
She had furs art! jewels. 1 here were some dresses by Worth in her 
wardrobe, and her portrait in evening dress hung in the salon. 
During this time Manya became acquainted, as a spectator, with 
the frivolous and charming things wealth can olTer a spoiled 
woman things that she was never to possess. First and last 
meeting with luxury! It was made agreeable by Mme F.'s gracious- 
ness; that lady, attracted by the "exquisite Mile Sklodovska," sang 
Manya's praises and required her to be present at all the tea parties, 
all the dances. 

Suddenly, one day, the thunderbolt: the postman brought a 
letter from Paris. It was a hurried letter on squared paper, which 
IVonya had scribbled between two sessions in the operating 
theatre; therein the generous girl offered Manya hospitality in her 
new home for the coming year. 

Brmya to Manya, March, 1890: 

... If everything goes as we hope, I shall surely be able to 
marry when the holidays begin. My fiance will be a doctor by 
then, and I shall have only my last examination to pass. We shall 
stay another year in Paris, during which time I shall finish my 
examinations, and then we shall come buck to Poland. I see 
nothing in our plans that is not reasonable. Tell me if you think 
I am not right. Remember that I am twenty-four which is 
nothing but he is thirty-four, which is more serious. It would be 
absurd to wait any longer. 

. . And now, you my little Manya: you must make something 
of your life sometime. If you can get together a few hundred 
roubles this year you can come to Paris next year and live with us, 
where you will find board and lodging. It is absolutely necessary 



82 MADAME CURIE 

to have a few hundred roubles for your fees at the Sorbonne. The 
first year you will live with us. For the second and third, when we 
arc no longer there, I swear Father will help you in spite of the 
devil. You must take this decision; you have been waiting too 
long. 1 guarantee that in two years you will have your master's 
degree. Think about it, get the money together, put it in a safe 
place, and don't lend it. Perhaps it would be better to change it into 
francs right away, for the exchange is good just now, and later it 
might fall. . . . 

One might think that the enthusiastic Manya would have 
answered her sister at once to say that she was exultant with 
happiness and was coming; but not at all. Years of exile and 
loneliness, instead of souring this extraordinary gitL had made her 
over-scrupulous. Her sacrificial demon could make her capable of 
deliberately missing her destiny. Because she had promised to 
live with her father; because she wanted to help her sister I Icla and 
her brother Joseph, Manya no longer wished to go. And this is 
how she answered Bronya's invitation: 

Mary a to Rronya, March iz/b, 1 890 \Jnw \\ J crsi u ]: 
Dear Bronya, 1 have been stupid, 1 am stupid and I shall remain 
stupid all the days of my life, or rather, to translate into the current 
style: 1 have never been, am not and shall never be lucky. I 
dreamed of Paris as of redemption, but the hope of going there 
left me a long time ago. And now that the possibility is offered 
me, 1 do not know what to do, ... I am afraid to speak of it to 
Father: I believe our plan of living together next year is close to his 
heart, and he clings to it; I want to give him a little happiness in his 
old age. On the other hand, rny heart breaks when I think of 
ruining my abilities, which must have been worth, anyhow, some- 
thing. 1 here is also the fact that J promised Hela to take her back 
home in a year, and to find her a post in Warsaw. You have no 
idea how sorry I felt for her! She will always be the minor child of 
the family, and 1 feel it i^ my duty to watch over her the poor 
little thing needs it so. ... 

But you, Bronya, 1 beg of you, take charge of Joseph's interests 
with all your energy, and, even if it seems to you that it is not your 



THE ESCAPE 83 

part to solicit help from that Mme S., who can extricate him, 
conquer the feeling. After all, the Bible says literally: "Knock and 
it shall be opened to you." Even if you are forced to sacrifice a 
little of your self-esteem, what does that matter? An affectionate 
request can offend nobody. How well I should know how to 
write that letter! You must explain to the lady that there is no 
question of a large sum, only of a few hundred roubles, so that 
Joseph can live in Warsaw and study and practise; that his future 
depends on it; that without this help such wonderful abilities will 
be ruincJ. . . . Tn ? word, you must write all that, and at length; 
for, darling Broojczka, if you simply ask her to lend the money, 
she will not tiike the business to heart: that is not the way to 
succeed. And even if you have the feeling of being a nuisance, 
what of it? What's the difference, so long as the end is achieved? 
And besides, is it such a big request? Aren't people often greater 
nuisances than that? With this help Joseph can become useful to 
society, whereas if he leaves for the provinces he is lost. 

I bore you with Jlcla, Joseph and Father, and with my own 
wrecked future. My heart is so black, so sad, that I feel how wrong 
I am to speak of all this to you and to poison your happiness, for 
you are the only one of us all who has had what they call luck. 
Forgive me, but, you see, so many things hurt me that it is hard 
for me to finish this letter gaily. 

1 embrace you tenderly. The next time I shall write more 
cheerfully and at greater length but to-day I am exceptionally 
unhappy in this world. Think of me with tenderness perhaps 
I shall be able to feel it even here. 

Bronya insisted, argued. Unfortunately, she lacked the decisive 
argument: she was too poor to pay the travelling expenses of her 
young sister and to put her authoritatively into the train. Finally 
it was decided that when Manya had finished her engagement with 
Mme F. she would remain still another year in Warsaw. She would 
live with her father, recently freed from his work at Studzieniec; 
she would complete her savings by giving lessons; and thereafter 
she would go. 

After the torpor of the provinces and the agitated gaieties of 
the F.'s, Manya returned to the climate that was dear to her: a 
lodging of her own, the presence of old Professor Sklodovski 



L MADAME CURIE 

and conversations interesting enough to stimulate her mind. The 
Floating University again opened its mysterious doors to her. And 
incomparable pleasure, major event! Manya, for the first time 
in her life, penetrated into a laboratory. 

It was at 66 Krakovsky Boulevard, at the end of a court-yard 
planted with lilacs: a tiny building on one floor receiving light from 
Lilliputian windows. One of Manya's cousins, Joseph Boguski^ 
there directed what was pompously called "The Museum of 
Industry and Agriculture." This title, wilfully pretentious and 
vague, was only a front to present to the Russian authorities. A 
museum would not arouse suspicion. Nothing prevented the 
teaching of science to young Poles behind the windows of a 
museum. 

I had little time for work in this laboratory [Marie Curie was to 
write]. I could generally get there only in the evening after dinner, 
or on Sunday, and 1 was left to myself. 1 tried to reproduce various 
experiments described in the treatises on physics or chemistry, and 
the results were sometimes unexpected. From time to time a little 
unhoped-for success would come to encourage me, and at other 
times I sank into despair because of the accidents or failures due 
to my inexperience. But on the whole, even though I learned, to 
my cost, that progress in such matters is neither rapid nor easy, 
I developed my taste for experimental research during these first 
trials. 

Coming home late at night, regretfully leaving electrometers, 
test-tubes and accurate balances, Manya undressed and lay down on 
her narrow bed. But she could not sleep. An exaltation different 
from all those she had known kept her from sleep. 1 ler vocation, 
for so long uncertain, had flashed into life. She was summoned to 
obey a secret order. She was suddenly in a hurry, whipped onward. 
When she took the test-tubes of the Museum of Industry and 
Agriculture into her fine; clever hands Manya returned, as if by 
magic, to the absorbing memories of her childhood, to her father's 
physics apparatus, motionless in its glass case, with which, in the 
old days, she had always wanted to play. She had taken up the 
thread of her life again. 

Though her nights were feverish her days were peaceful in 



THE ESCAPE 85 

appearance. Manya concealed the furious impatience that possessed 
her. She wished her father to be happy and at peace during these 
last months of intimacy. She busied herself with her brother's 
marriage; she looked for a position for Hela. And then, too, 
perhaps a more selfish care kept her from fixing the date of her 
departure: she thought she still loved Casimir Z. Even though she 
felt herself driven toward Paris by an imperious power, she could 
not contemplate an exile of several years without anguish. 

In September 1891, while Manya was on holiday at Zakopane 
in the Carpathians, where she was to meet Casimir Z., M. 
Sklodovski explained the situation to Bronya: 

Manya had to stay at Zakopane and will not return until the 
1 5th, because of a bad cough and influenza which, the local doctor 
says, might drag along all winter if she does not get rid of it there. 
1 he little rascal! It must be partly her fault, as she has always made 
fun of all precautions and has never deigned to adapt her raiment 
to the atmospheric conditions. She has written me that she was 
very gloomy; 1 am afraid her grief, and the uncertainty of her 
situation, may undermine her. Moreover, she has a secret about 
her future, of which she is to speak to me at length, but only on 
her return. To tell the truth, I can well imagine what it has to do 
with, and I don't myself know whether I should be glad or sorry. 
If my foresight is accurate, the same disappointments, coming 
from the same persons who have already caused them to her, are 
awaiting Manya. And yet if it is a question of building a life 
according to her own feeling, and of making two people happy, 
that is worth the trouble of facing them, perhaps. But the fact 
is that 1 know nothing. . . . 

Your invitation to Paris, which fell upon her in such unexpected 
fashion, has given her a fever and added to her disorder. 1 feel the 
power with which she wills to approach that source of science, 
towards which she aspires so much. But the present conditions 
are less favourable, and, above all, if Manya does not come back 
to me completely cured, I should oppose her departure, because 
of the hard conditions she would find herself in during the winter 
in Paris without speaking of all the rest of it, and without even 
taking account of the fact that it would be very painful to me to 



86 MADAME CURIE 

separate from her, for this last consideration is obviously secon- 
dary. I wrote to her yesterday, and tried to raise her spirits. If she 
remained in Warsaw, even if she could find no lessons, I should 
certainly have a bit of bread for her and for myself for a year. 

I learned with great joy that your Casimir is doing well. How 
funny it would be if each of you had a Casimir! 

Dear M. Sklodovski! In his heart of hearts he had no desire to 
see his Manya, his favourite, depart for the adventure of the great 
world. He would vaguely have preferred something to keep her 
in Poland: a marriage with Casimir Z., for instance. 

But at Zakopane, between two walks in the mountains, an 
explanation took place between the two young people. As the 
student confided his hesitations and fears to her for the hundredth 
time, Manya, unable to bear any more, pronounced the sentence 
that burned her bridges: 

"If you can't sec a way to clear up our situation, it is not for 
me to teach it to you." 

During this long but somewhat tepid idyll Manya showed her- 
self, as Professor Sklodovski was to say later, "proud and haughty." 

The girl had broken the feeble link that still held her. She 
stopped trying to control her hurry. She counted up all the hard 
years of boiling patience through which she had just lived. It was 
eight years since she had left the Gymnasium, six years since she 
had gone out as a governess. She was no longer the adolescent 
who saw her whole life before her. In a few weeks she would be 
twenty-four. 

Suddenly she cried out: she called to Bronya for help. 

Manya to Bronya, September z$rd, 1891: 

. . . Now, Bronya, I ask you for a definite answer. Decide if 
you can really take me in at your house, for I can come now. 1 have 
enough to pay all my expenses. If, therefore, without depriving 
yourself of a gre<it deal, you could give me my food, write to me 
and say so. It would be a, great happiness, as that would restore 
me spiritually after the cruel trials 1 have been through this 
summer, which will have an influence on my whole life but, on 
the other hand, I do not wish to impose myself on you. 



THE ESCAPE 87 

Since you are expecting a child, perhaps I might be useful to you. 
In any case, write and let me know. If my coming is just p< ssible, 
tell me, and tell me what entrance examinations I must pass, and 
what is the latest date at which I can register as a student. I am so 
nervous at the prospect of my departure that I can't speak of any- 
thing else until I get your answer. I beg of you, then, write to me 
at once, and I send all my love to both of you. You can put me up 
anywhere; I shall not bother you; I promise that I shall not be a 
bore or create disorder. I implore you to answer me, but very 
frankly. 

If Bronya did not reply by telegram it was because telegrams 
were a ruinous luxury. If Manya did not fling herself into the first 
train it was because she had to organise the great departure first, 
with parsimonious economy. She spread out on the table all the 
roubles she possessed, and to them her father, at the last moment, 
added a little sum which for him was an important one. And she 
began her calculations. 

So much for the passport, so much for the railway. It would 
be sheer flightiness to take a third-class ticket from Warsaw 
to Paris the cheapest way in Russia and France. There 
existed in Germany thank God! railway carriages of the 
fourth class, without compartments, almost as bare as freight 
cars: a bench on each of the four sides and an empty space 
in the middle where, seated on a folding chair, one was not 
badly off. 

Practical Bronya's recommendation was not forgotten: to take 
along everything necessary to life, so as to have no unforeseen 
expenses in Paris. Manya's mattress, her bedclothes, her sheets and 
towels, would leave long in advance, by freight. Her linen, made 
of strong cloth, her clothes, her shoes and her two hats were 
collected on a couch near which unique and gorgeous purchase! 
gaped the big wooden trunk, brown and bulging, very rustic 
but very solid, on which the girl had lovingly had painted her 
initials in broad black letters: M.S. 

With the mattress gone and the trunk registered, there remained 
all sorts of awkward packets for the traveller, her companions on 
the journey: food and drink for three days on the train, the folding 



88 MADAME CURIE 

chair for tne German carriage, books, a little bag of caramels, a 
quilt. . . . 

It was only after she had lodged these burdens in the net of the 
compartment and reserved her place on the narrow, hard bench 
that Manya stepped down to the platform again. How young she 
looked in her big threadbare coat, with her fresh cheeks and grey 
eyes which sparkled to-day with unwonted fever! 

Suddenly moved, tormented again by scruples, she kissed her 
father and overwhelmed him with tender, timid words which were 
almost excuses: 

"I shall not be away long. . . . Two years, three years at the 
longest. As soon as I have finished my studies, and passed a few 
examinations, I'll come back, and we shall live together and never 
be separated again. . . . isn't that right?" 

"Yes, my little Manyusya," the professor murmured in a rather 
hoarse voice, clnsping the girl in his arms. "Come back quickly. 
Work hard. Good luck!" 

In the night pierced with whistles and the clank of old iron the 
fourth-class carriage was passing across Germany. Crouched down 
on her folding chair, her legs mufHcd up, her luggage which she 
carefully counted from time to time piled close around her, 
Manya tasted her divine joy. She mused upon the past, upon this 
magic departure for which she had waited so long. She tried to 
imagine the future. In her humility she thought that she would 
soon be back again in her native town, that she would find a snug 
little place as teacher there. . . . 

She was far, very far, from thinking that when she entered this 
train she had at last chosen between obscurity and a blazing light, 
between the pettiness of equal days and an immense life. 



PART TWO 



CHAPTER VIII 



Pans 



THK finest quarters of Paris were not those between La Villette 
and the Sorbonne, and the journey was neither rapid nor comfort- 
able. From the Rue d'Allemagne,* where Bronya. and her husband 
lived, a double-decked omnibus drawn by three horses, and 
equipped with a little corkscrew staircase by which one mounted 
to the dizzy "imperial" on top, led to the Gare de FEst. From 
the Garc de 1'Est to the Rue des Ecoles there was another omni- 
bus. 

Naturally it was on to the "imperial," exposed to all weathers 
so much more economical and amusing! that Manya climbed, 
holding the old portfolio of worn leather which she had already 
carried to the Floating University. The young girl craned her neck 
and stared eagerly from her perch on this moving observatory, 
where the winter wind hardened her cheeks. What did she care 
nbout the commonplaccncss of the interminable Rue Lafayette or 
the dismal succession of shops on the Boulevard Sebastopol? 
Ihcse little shops, these stripped elm-trees, this crowd, this smell 
of dust all this was Paris: Paris at last. 

How young one felt in Paris, how powerful, trembling and 
swelling with hope! And, for a little Polish girl, what a wonderful 
feeling of liberation! 

At the moment when Manya, dullrd by the tiresome journey, 
descended from the train to the smoky platform of the Gare du 
Nord, the familiar grip of servitude was suddenly loosened, her 
shoulders straightened, her lungs and heart felt at ease. For the 

* Now the Avenue Jcan-Jaurcs. 

01 



9 * MADAME CURIE 

first time she was breathing the air of a free country, and in her 
enthusiasm everything seemed miraculous: miraculous that the 
passers-by who loitered along the pavement spoke the language 
they wanted to speak, miraculous that the book-sellers sold works 
from the whole world without restraint. . . . Before and above 
everything else, it was miraculous that these straight avenues, 
inclined in a gentle slope toward the heart of the city, were 
leading her, Manya Sklodovskn, to the wide-open doors of a 
university.* And what a university! The most famous; the one 
described centuries ago as "an abridgement of the Universe"; the 
very one of which Luther had said: "Tt is in Paris that we find 
the most celebrated and most excellent of schools: it is called 
the Sorbonne." The adventure was lit for a fairy tale. This slow, 
icy, disorderly omnibus was the enchanted carriage which took 
the poor fair princess from her modest lodging to the palace of 
her dreams. 

The carriage crossed the Seine and everything around Manya 
became delightful: the two arms of the misty river, the majestic 
islands* full of grace, the monuments, the squares, and clown there, 
on the left, the towers of Notre-Dame. . . . To get up the 
Boulevard Saint-Michel the horses slowed down to a walking 
pace, it was there there she had arrived! 

The student seized her portfolio and gathered up the folds of 
her heavy woollen skirt. In her haste she carelessly bumped into 
one of her neighbours, and excused herself timidly, in hesitating 
French. Then, having leaped down the steps from the "imperial," 
bhe was in the street, with intense face, running toward the iron 
gate of the palace. 

Ihis palace of wisdom offered a rather unexpected picture in 
1891: the Corbonne, which had been under reconstruction for six 
years, resembled some great python changing its skin. Behind 
the long new fagacle, still quite uhitc, the worn buildings of 
Richelieu's day rubbed shoulders with builders' shanties resound- 
ing with the noise of the pick and shovel. This general hubbub 
put a picturesque disorder into student life. The courses migrated 
from one hall to another as the work advanced. Some temporary 
laboratories had to be installed in the unused old houses of the 
Rue Saint-Jacques. But what did such things matter? This year, 



PARIS 93 

as in other years, you could read on the white poster stuck on the 
wall near the porter's lodge: 

FRENCH REPUBLIC 

FACULTY OF SCIENCES FIRST QUARTER 

COURSES WILL BEGIN AT THE SORBONNK ON NOVEMBER 3, 1891. 

The magic, sparkling words! 

With the small amount of money she had saved, rouble by 
rouble, the girl had won the right to listen to such lessons, among 
the innumerable ones listed in the complicated schedule on the 
poster, as it would plense her to choose. She had her place in 
the experimental laboratories, where, guided and advised, she 
could handle apparatus without fumbling and succeed in roine 
simple experiments. Manya was now oh, delight! a student in 
the Faculty of Science. 

In fact she was no longer called Manya, or even Marya: on 
her registration card she had written, in the French style, "Marie 
Sklodovska." But as her fellow-students could not succeed in 
pronouncing the barbarous syllables of "Sklodovska," and the 
little Polish girl gave nobody the right to call her Marie, she kept 
a sort of mysterious anonymity. Often in the echoing galleries 
young men would encounter this shy and stubborn- faced girl with 
soft, light hair, who dressed with an austere and poverty-stricken 
distinction, and would turn to each other in surprise, asking: 
"Who is it?" But the answer, if there were one, was vague. 
"It's a foreigner with an impossible name. She is always in the 
first row at the physics courses. Doesn't talk much." The boys' 
eyes would follow her graceful outline as it disappeared down 
the corridor, and then they would conclude: "Fine hair!" The 
ash-blonde hair and the little Slavic head were, for a long time 
to come, the only identification the students at the Sorbonne had 
for their timid comrade. 

But young men were what interested this 
moment. She was entirely fascinated by certain jjrave ' ; 
from whom she wished to extract their seg^ts, ijamed "f 




94 MADAME CURIE 

of superior instruction.'* According to the honourable rule of the 
period, they gave their courses dressed in white ties and evening 
clothes eternally spotted with chalk. Marie lived in contemplation 
of these solemn garments and grey beards. 

On the day before yesterday it was M. Lippmann's course, so 
weighty and logical. Yesterday she had heard M. Bouty, whose 
extraordinary simian head concealed treasures of science. Marie 
would have liked to hear all the lessons and know all the twenty- 
three professors whose names were inscribed on the white poster. 
It seemed to her that she could never appease the great thirst 
within her. 

Unforeseen obstacles had suddenly raised themselves before 
her during the first weeks. She had thought that she knew 
French perfectly; she had been wrong. Some entire sentences, 
when said too rapidly, escaped her. She thought she had had 
su&cient scientific preparation to pursue the courses of the uni- 
versity. But her solitary work in the country, in the governess's 
room at "Szczuki, near Przasnysz," the knowledge she had 
acquired by correspondence with M. Sklodovski, and the experi- 
ments attempted by hook or crook in the Museum of Industry 
and Agriculture, did not take the place of the solid baccalaureate 
training of the Paris schools. In mathematics and physics Marie 
discovered enormous holes in her "culture." How she would 
have to work to win the enviable, magnificent title, which she 
coveted every instant: Master of Science!* 

Paul Appell was lecturing to-day: clarity of exposition and 
picturesque style. Marie was one of the iirst to arrive; in the 
graded amphitheatre, stingily lighted by the December day, she 
had chosen her place down near the chair. She methodically 
arranged her penholder and the grey-covered copybook in which 
she would take notes before long in her fine regular writing. She 
became absorbed in advance, concentrating her attention, without 
even hearing the mounting roar of chatter which the professor's 
entrance brutally interrupted. 

How surprising was the tense silence which certain masters 
knew how to create without a word! Appell was speaking now. 
Stoop-shouldered young men with Jinc faces worn by intellectual 
* Liccnciee es Sciences. 



PARIS 95 

work wrote down the equations which the professor's hand traced 
on the blackboard. There were none but the most passionate 
students. Make way for mathematics! 

In his stiff tail coat, with his square beard, Appell was a superb 
figure. He developed the exposition in his calm voice, weighted 
by his slight Alsatian accent, which articulated each syllable so 
well. His demonstrations were always so clear and elegant that 
they seemed to juggle perils away and put the world at his mercy. 
Powerful and tranquil, he ventured into the most tenuous regions 
of knowledge, he pb.ycd with numbers, with the stars; and as 
he was not afraid of imagery he pronounced in the most natural 
tones, accompanying the words with the easy gesture of a great 
property owner: 

" J take the sun, and I throw it . . ." 

The Polish girl on her bench smiled with ecstasy. Under her 
great swelling forehead her grey eyes, so pale, were illuminated 
with happiness. How could anybody find science dry? Was there 
anything more enthralling than the unchangeable rules which 
governed the universe, or more marvellous than the human 
intelligence which could discover them? How empty all novels 
seemed, and how fairy tales lacked imagination alongside these 
extraordinary phenomena, related among themselves by har- 
monious principles this order in apparent disorder! An impulse 
comparable only to love sprang up from the soul of the girl toward 
the infinite of knowledge, toward things and their laws. 

"1 take the sun, and 1 throw it . . ." 

It was worth while struggling and suffering far away during all 
these years to hear that little phrase pronounced by the peaceful 
and majestic scientist. 

Marie was perfectly happy. 

Casimir Dlnski \ ftrotya's husband] to bisjather-in-law, M. Sklodovskt 
92 rue d'Allcmagne. 
Consulting hours from one to three. 
Free consultations Mondays and Thursdays from 7 to 8. 

DEAR AND HONOURED SIR, 

, . . Everything is going very well with us. Mademoiselle 



96 MADAME CURIE 

Marie is working seriously; she passes nearly all her time at the 
Sorbonne and we meet only at the evening mc.il. She is a very 
independent young person, and in spite of the formal power of 
attorney by which you placed her under my protection, she not 
only shows me no respect or obedience, but docs not care about 
my authority and my seriousness at all. 1 hope to reduce her to 
reason, but up to now my ped.igogic.il talents have not proved 
etVicacious. In spite of all this we understand each other very well 
and live in the most perfect agreement. 

I await Bronya's arrival with impatience. My young lady 
does not seem to be in a hurry to get home, where her presence 
would nevertheless be very useful and where she is much in 
demand. 

I may add that Mile Marie is perfectly well and looks it. 

With all my respect. 

Such were the first tidings Dr. Dluski gave of his little sister- 
in-law, whom he had installed in the Rue d'Allemugne in the 
absence of Bronya, detained for a few weeks in Poland. It need 
hardly be said that Marie had received a charming welcome from 
this sarcastic young man. Among all the Polish exiles who kept 
life and soul together in Paris, Bronya hiul quite simply chosen 
the rm st handsome, the most brilliant and the wittiest. And what 
devouring activity! Casimir Dluski had been a student at Peters- 
burg. Olessa and \X 7 arsaw. Obliged to flee from Russia because 
he was suspected of complicity in the assassination of Alexander II, 
he became a revolution iry publicist in Geneva, than a student 
at the School of Political Science in Paris, then medical student 
and finally a doctor. He had a rich family somewhere in Poland; 
and in France, in the files of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a 
lamentable document inspired by the reports of the Tsar's police 
a document which would always keep him from obtaining his 
naturalisation and settling in Paris. 

On her return to their lodging Bronya was greeted by the 
acclamations of her husband and her sister. As Casimir's letter 
indicated, the experienced housekeeper was urgently required to 
take over the management of the house. A few hours after her 
arirval order reigned again, as if by miracle, in the little flat on 



PARIS 97 

the second floor, with its big balcony giving on the trees of the 
Rue d'Allemagne. The cooking became full of taste again, the 
dust disappeared, and flowers bought in the market ornamented 
the vases. Bronya had a genius for organisation. 

It was she who had had the idea of leaving the centre of Paris 
to take lodging near the park of Buttes-Chaumont in La Villette. 
Having borrowed a little money, she made mysterious visits to 
the auction rooms, and one fine morning the flat was found to be 
equipped with gracefully curved Venetian furniture, an upright 
piano, some prettily draped curtains. The atmosphere was made. 
With the same ingenuity the young wife arranged the employment 
of everybody's time. At certain hours the doctor's oilice 
belonged to Casimir, who there received his first clients from 
among the butchers at the slaughter-houses; at other times 
Bronya used it for her first consultations in women's diseases. 
The couple worked hard, hurrying from house to house to visit 
their patients. 

But when evening came and the lamps were lighted they threw 
their worries aside. Casimir Dluski loved amusements. 1 he most 
painful effort or the most complete poverty could not make him 
lose his animation and wit. After long, laborious days he would 
organise an evening at the theatre in the cheapest seats; or if 
money was lacking he would sit down at the piano, for he played 
marvellously well. As time passed, friends would rfng at the 
door young couples from the Polish colony, who knew that 
"one could always go to the Dluskis'." Bronya disappeared and 
appeared again. 1 he tea was steaming, and there appeared on 
the table, between the syrup and the fresh water, some cakes which 
the doctor- wife had just had time to make, that very afternoon, 
between two consultations. 

One evening when Marie, bent over a book in her little room 
at the end of the apartment, was preparing to work in solitude 
for part of the night, her brother-in-law made an irruption. 

ifc \our coat and hut, quick! 1 have free tickets, and we're all 
three goi-ig to a concert." 

"But . . ." 

"No 'buts'I It's the Polish pianist I told you about. There are 
very few scats taken, and we've absolutely got to help the poor 



98 MADAME CURIE 

boy out by filling the hall. IVc already recruited a whole crowd, 
and we'll applaud until our hands crack, so it'll seem to be a 
success anyhow, . . . And if you only knew how well he plays!" 

It was impossible to resist the compelling force of Dluski, the 
big dark-bearded devil whose black eyes were electric with gaiety. 
Marie closed her book. The door of the apartment slammed; the 
three young people tumbled down the stairs and ran as fast as 
they could to catch their omnibus, just pulling up with the trot 
of its heavy horses. 

A little later, seated in the Salle Erard which was three- 
quarters empty Marie saw a long, thin young man appear on 
the platform, his hair in a halo of red and copper colours, full of 
flames, about his extraordinary face. He sat down at the black 
piano. Under his subtle fingers Liszt, Schumann and Chopin came 
to life. Ilis face was imperious and noble, his inspired eyes looked 
far away. . . . The girl listened with intoxication to this strange 
performer who, in his threadbare coat, before the almost, deserted 
rows of seats, seemed, not at all a poor artist making his first 
appearance but an emperor or a god. 

The musician was to come to the Rue d'Allcmagne sometimes 
in the evenings, accompanied by the exquisite young woman, 
Mme Gorska, whom he had fallen in love with and was afterwards 
to marry. He spoke without bitterness of his miserable life, of 
his disappointments, of his struggles. Bronya and Marie recalled 
with Mme Gorska the distant period when she, then aged sixteen, 
had accompanied their mother Mme Sklodovska on a journey 
to take the cure. "When she came back to Warsaw," Bronya 
remembered, laughing, "Mamma said she would never dare 
take you to a watering-place again, because you were too 
beautiful!" 

Seized by a hunger for music, the young man with the fiery 
mane would interrupt all talk to strike some chords. Then, by a 
stroke of magic, the poor upright piano at the Dluskis* instantly 
turned into a sublime instrument. 

That pianist was half-srtarved and charming. He was in love, 
nervous, happy, unhappy. He was to be a virtuoso of genius 
and, one day, prime minister of a Poland reconstructed and set 
free. 



PARIS 99 

His name was Ignacc Paderewski. 

Marie flung herself ardently into whatever her new existence 
offered. She worked as if in a fever. She also discovered the joys 
of comradeship, of that solidarity which university work creates. 
But, still too shy to make friends with the French, she took refuge 
among her compatriots: two mathematicians, Miles Kraskovska 
and Dydynska, Dr. Motz, the biologist Danysz, Stanislav Szalay, 
wfk> was to enter the Sklodovski family later by marrying Mela, 
the young Wojciechovski a future president of the Polish 
Republic became her friends in that colony which formed a little 
island of free Poland in the Latin Quarter. 

These poor students organised Christmas suppers for which 
benevolent cooks prepared the special Warsaw dishes: burning 
barsyc^, the colour of amaranth, cabbage with mushrooms, stuffed 
pike, cakes with poppy-seed, a little vodka and floods of tea. 
Theatrical performances took place in which Polish amateur actors 
interpreted comedy and drama. The programme of these evenings 
printed in Polish, of course was illuminated by symbolic 
pictures: at the top, in a snow-covered plain, was a hut; lower 
down a garret where a dreaming boy bent over his books. A 
Father Christmas, too, who poured scientific manuals down the 
chimney into a laboratory. In the foreground an empty purse, 
nibbled at by rats 

Marie participated in these revels. She had not the leisure to 
learn parts and play them, but at a patriotic party given by the 
sculptor \Yas2inkovski it was she who was chosen to incarnate 
the chief character in the living pictures: "Poland breaking her 
bonds." 

The severe little student became an unknown woman that 
night: dressed in a tunic in antique style she wore long veils 
in the national colours draped round her, and her loosened hair 
fell on her shoulders. In folds of pomegranate cloth, with her 
transparent skin, her blonde hair and her resolute face with its 
Slavic check-bones, she presented to these exiles the picture of 
their race. 

It may be seen that neither Marie nor her sister had left \X r arsaw, 
in spite of exile and distance. By instinct they had chosen to live 



ioo MADAME CURIE 

in the Rue d'Allemagne, on the edge of the great city into which 
they still did not dare penetrate, near the Gate du Nord and the 
trains which had brought them to France. Their fatherland was 
with them, holding them by a thousand bonds of which the 
letters they exchanged with their father were not the weakest. 
These well-brought-up and dcfcrenti.il young ladies, who still 
wrote to M. Sklodovski in the third person* and ended each letter 
by "1 kiss my little father's hands," gave the old man long accounts 
of their picturesque lives and charged him with all sorts of c/m- 
misoions. It never occurred to them that one could buy tea any- 
where but in Warsaw, or that in case of strict necessity it might be 
possible to find a reasonably priced pressing iron in France. . . . 

Brorrya to M. Sklodovski: 

. . . I should be very grateful to my dear little father if he could 
send me two pounds of ordinary tea, at two roubles twenty. Aside 
from that we don't need a thing; nor does Manya. 

We are very well. Manya looks very well and it seems to me 
that the laborious life she leads does not tire her at all. . . . 

Af . Sklodovski to Bronya: 

Dear Bronya, I am very glad the pressing iron is all right. I 
had to choose it myself, and 1 feared that it was not altogether what 
you wanted. I didn't know who to get to make this purchase, any 
more than the others. Even though they were within the feminine 
domain, I had to busy myself with them. 

Naturally, Marie gave her father an account of the evening at 
the sculptor's studio, and of her personal triumph as Polonia. But 
this time the professor was not enthusiastic: 

Af. Sklodovski to Marie, Jmuary ^ist, 1892: 

Dear Manya, your last letter saddened me. I deplore your taking 
such active part in the organisation of this theatrical representation. 
Even though it be a thing done in all innocence, it attracts atten- 
tion to its organisers, and you certainly know that there are persons 
in Paris who inspect your behaviour with the greatest care, who 

* In Polish the the polite or formal mode of address is IP the third person- 



PARIS 10 1 

taKe note of the names of those who are in the foretront and who 
send information about them here, to be used as might be useful. 
This can be the source of very great annoyance, and even forbid 
such persons access to certain professions. Thus, those who wish 
to earn their bread in Warsaw in the future without being exposed 
to various dangers will find it to their interest to keep quiet, in a 
retreat where they may remain unknown. Events such as concerts, 
balls, etc., are described by certain correspondents for newspapers, 
who mention names. It would be a great grief to me if your name 
were mentioned one day. This is why, in my previous letters, I 
have made a few criticisms, and have begged you to keep to 
yourself as much as possible. . . , 

Was it M. Sklodovski's firm authority or was it rather Manya's 
good sense that rebelled against such sterile agitation? The girl 
very soon observed that these harmless diversions kept her from 
working in peace. She drew away from them. She had not come 
to France to figure in living pictures, and every minute she did not 
consecrate to study was a minute lost. 

Another problem presented itself. In the Rue d'Allemagne, life 
was charming and sweet; but Marie could not find perfect concen- 
tration there. She could not stop Casimir from playing the pLmo, 
receiving friends, or coming into her room while she was solving a 
difficult equation; she could not stop the young doctor's patients 
from breaking into the house. At night she was abruptly wakened 
by the ring of the bell and the footsteps of messengers who came 
to get Bronya for the confinement of some butcher's wife. 

Above all, it was terribly inconvenient to live in La Villette: one 
hour's journey to the Sorbonne! And the price of two omnibus 
fares was, in the long run, exorbitant. After a family council of 
war, it was decided that Marie should go to live in the Latin 
Quarter, near the university, the laboratories and the libraries. The 
Dluskis insisted on lending the girl the few francs that her moving 
would cost, and on the next morning Marie started her campaign, 
visiting attics to let. 

It was not without regret that she left the little flat in the 
neighbourhood of the slaughter-house, lost in prosaic surround- 
ings but filled as it was with tenderness, courage and good temper. 



loz MADAME CURIE 

Between Marie and Casimir Dluski a fraternal affection Had been 
formed which was to last out their lives. Between Marie and 
Bronya a magnificent romance had been unfolding for years past: 
the romance of sacrifice and devotion, of mutual help. 

Weighed down by her pregnancy, Bronya supervised the 
packing of her younger sister's poor belongings, which were piled 
up on a handcart for the short journey. And, taking the famous 
omnibus once again, passing from ''imperial" to "imperial," 
Casimir and his young wife solemnly accompanied the "little one" 
as far as her student's lodging. 




Mil I\\M |'l K|||\ MS 
.MN,. iM.I IM..I.N.I <U. U L., l-v. 




'I I II ( I'RII I AMin 

Sl.in.liiiu- Air l,,M|iu', ..ml iViir Tunr Sr,il-,| I IMMI Mother, 
Mmr < urn-, .iixl I ,.I!HM I )i Tu^ ,,- ( MIH- 



\,,,,,-,r.-.| 1 .-, hum- I-. I If < I- in I' 




CHAPTER IX 



Forty Koubks a Month 



YES, Marie's existence had still further to be despoiled and made 
bare. The few months she had lived in the Rue d'Allemagne had 
been a stage in acclimatisation. Now the girl sank slowly into 
solitude. The beings she rubbed shoulders with existed for her no 
more than the walls she touched in passing, and conversation 
hardly cut in upon the silence in which she enveloped her hours. 
For more than three solid years she was to lead a life devoted to 
study alone: a life in conformity with her dreams, a "perfect" life in 
the sense in which that of the monk or the missionary is perfect. 

Her life had to be of monastic simplicity in any case: for since 
Marie had voluntarily deprived herself of the board and lodging 
she had had at the Dluskis', she had to meet her expenses herself. 
And her income made up by her own savings, divided into slices, 
and the small sums her father could send her resolved itself into 
forty roubles a month. 

1 low could a woman, a foreigner, live decently in Paris in 1891 
with forty roubles a month, tbrw jrtincs a day, paying for her own 
room, meals, clothes, paper and books, as well as her fees at the 
university? Such was the problejn the young student had urgently 
to solve. But Marie never failed to find the solution of a problem. 

Miinya to her brother Joseph, March iy//;, 1892: 

You have no doubt learned from Father that I decided to live 
nearer to the schools, as it had become necessary for several 
reasons, above ail for the present quarter. The plan is now realised: 
1 am writing to you, in fact, from my new lodging, 3 Rue Flatters. 

103 



104 MADAME CURIE 

It is a lime room, very suitable, and also very cheap. In * quarter 
of an hour I can be in the chemistry laboratory, in twenty minutes 
at the Sorbonne. Naturally, without the Dluskis* help 1 should 
never have been able to arrange things like this. 

I am working a thousand times as hard as at the beginning of rny 
stay: in the Rue d'Allemagne my little brother-in-law had the habit 
of disturbing me endlessly. He absolutely could not endure having 
me do anything but engage in agreeable chatter with him when I 
. was at home. I had to declare war on him on this subject. After 
a few days Bronya and he began to feel badly about me, and they 
came to see me. We drank tea, bachelor fashion, and then we went 
downstairs to see the S.s, who also live here. 

Is your wife taking care of Father, as she promised me? Let her 
take care, just the same, not to cut me out altogether at home! 
Father is beginning to speak of her a little too tenderly, and I am 
afraid that he will be forgetting me soon. . . . 

Marie was not the only student who lived on a hundred francs a 
month in the Latin Quarter: most of her Polish comrades were as 
poor as she was. Some lived by threes or fours in the same lodging 
and took their meals together; others, who lived alone, devoted 
several hours a day to housekeeping, cooking and sewing, and by 
sheer ingenuity ate as much as they wanted, shod and clothed 
themselves in greater or lesser elegance. This was the method 
adopted earlier by Bronya, whose talents as a prize cook had been 
celebrated among her comrades. 

Marie disdained to follow such wise examples: she was too fond 
of her tranquillity to share her lodging with a friend or two and too 
haunted by work to bother about her own comfort. Kvcn if she 
had wished to do so, for that matter, she would have been in- 
capable of it: the girl who had been a governess in strange families 
at seventeen, giving seven or eight hours of lessons a day, had 
never found time or occasion for learning how to keep house. 
Everything that Bronya had learned when i>he was mistress of her 
father's house was unknown to Marie. And rumour had it, in the 
Polish colony, that "Mademoiselle Sklodovska doesn't know what 
you use to make soup."' 

She did not know, and she did not want to know. Why should 



FORTY ROUBLES A MONTH 105 

she pass a morning initiating herself into the mysteries of a broth* 
when she might have been learning several pages of physics or 
making an interesting analysis in the laboratory? 

By deliberate intention she had suppressed diversions from her 
schedule, as well as friendly meetings and contact with human 
beings. In the same way she decided that material life had no 
importance; that it did not exist. And, fortified by this principle, 
she made for herself a Spartan existence, strange and inhuman. 

Rue Flatters, Boulevard Port-Royal, Rue des Feuillantines. . . . 
All the rooms Marie was to inhabit were alike in discomfort and 
cheapness of rent. The first was situated in a poorly furnished 
house where students, doctors and officers of the neighbouring 
garrison lived. Later on the girl, in search of absolute calm, was 
to take an attic like a servant's room at the top of a middle-class 
house. For fifteen or twenty francs a month she found a tiny nook 
which was lit from a loop-hole giving directly on the slope of the 
roof. Through this skylight appeared a small square of the sky. 
There was no heat, no lighting, no water. 

Marie furnished this place with all the objects she possessed: an 
iron folding bed, the mattress she had brought from Poland, a 
stove, a white wooden table, a kitchen chair, a wash-basin; a 
petroleum oil lamp, covered by a twopenny shade; a pitcher which 
she had to fill at the tap on the landing; an alcohol heater about as 
big as a saucer, which was to cook her meals for the next three 
years; two plates, a knife, a fork, a spoon, a cup, a stewpan; and 
finally a kettle and three glasses into which, according to Polish 
custom, the student would pour tea when the Dluskis came to see 
her. On the occasions very rare at present when Marie 
received visitors, the rights of hospitality were asserted: the girl 
lighted the little stove, whose zigzag pipe described complicated 
angles in the room, and for a seat she pulled out of its corner the 
bulging brown trunk which served her as wardrobe and chest of 
drawers. 

No service, of course: even one hour of cleaning a day would 
have overweighted the expense side of the budget. Transportation 
costs were suppressed: Marie went to the Sorbonne on foot in all 
weathers. Coal was kept down to a minimum: one or two sacks 
of "lumps" for the winter, which the girl bought from tte 



lot MADAME CURIE 

merchant on the corner and hoisted up the steep stairs herself to 
the sixth floor, bucketful by bucketful, stopping at each floor to 
breathe. Lights were at a minimum: as soon as night fell, the 
student took refuge in that blessed asylum called the Library of 
Sainte-Genevieve, where the gas was lighted and it was warm. 
Seated at one of the big rectangular tables with her head in her 
hands, a poor Polish girl could work until they closed the doors at 
ten o'clock. From then on all that was needed was enough oil to 
keep the light going in her room until two in the morning. Then, 
with her eyes reddened by fatigue, Marie left her books and threw 
herself on the bed. 

7 he only thing she knew how to do, in the humble practical 
domain, was to sew a memory of the * 'manual training" at the 
Sikorski boarding school and of the long days in Sxczuki when 
the governess, as she supervised the children's study, took up her 
sewing. ... It would be rash to conclude from this that the exile 
ever, by chance, bought a bit of stuif at a low price and made 
herself a new blouse. She seems to have sworn, on the contrary, 
never to give up her Warsaw dresses, and wore them, shiny, old- 
fashioned and threadbare, for e\xr. But she took great care of her 
clothes, cleaned them and mended them. She also condescended 
to wash her linen in a basin when she was tot) tired to work and 
needed relaxation. 

Marie did not admit that she could be cold or hungry. Jn order 
not to buy coal and through sheer carelessness too she often 
neglected to light the little stove with the twisted pipe, and wrote 
figures and equations without noticing that her fingers were getting 
numb and her shoulders shaking. Hot soup or a bit of meat would 
have comforted her; but JV'a/ie did not know how to make soup. 
Marie could not spend a franc and lose half an hour to cook herself 
a chop. She hardly ever entered the butcher's shop, much less the 
restaurant: it was too dear. For weeks at a time she ate nothing but 
buttered bread and tea. When she wanted to eat, she went into a 
creamery in the Latin Quarter and ate two eggs, or else bought 
herself a piece of chocolate or some fruit. 

On this diet the fresh, Solid girl who had left Warsaw a few 
months before rapidly grew anxmic. Often, as she was getting up 
from het table, her head would go round. She had just time 



FORTY ROUBLES A MONTH 107 

to get to her bed when she would lose consciousness. Coming 
back to herself, she would ask why she had fainted; she would 
think herself ill and disdain her illness as she did everything else. 
It never occurred to her that she was dropping with weakness 
and that her only disease was that of starvation. 

Naturally, she did not boast of this superb organisation of 
existence to the Dluskis. Every time she went to see them she 
replied in monosyllables to their questions on her progress as a 
cook, or on her daily menus. If her brother-in-law said she did 
not look well, she affirmed that she was overworked which was, 
in fact, in her eyes, the only reason for her fatigue. And then, 
dismissing such worries with a gesture of indiiTcrence, she would 
begin to play with her niece, Bronya's baby, for whom she had 
great affection. 

But one dny, when Marie fainted in front of one of her comrades, 
the latter hurried to the Rue d'Allemagnc to warn the pair of young 
doctors. Two hours later Casimir was leaping up the six flights of 
stairs to the attic where the girl, a little pale, was already studying 
to-morrow's lesson. He examined his sistcr-in law. He examined 
even more carefully the clean plates, the empty stc \vpan, and the 
whole room, in which he could discover only one comestible, a 
packet of tea. All at once he understood and the questioning 
began. 

"What have you eaten to-day?" 

"To-day? I don't know. I lunched a while ago." 

"What did you eat?" Casimir's voice took her up implacably. 

"Some cherries and . . . and all sorts of things." 

In the end Marie was obliged to confess: since the evening 
before she had nibbled at a bundle of radishes and half a pound of 
cherries. She had worked until three that morning and had slept 
four hours. Then she had gone to the Sorbonnc. On her return 
she had finished the radishes. Then she had fainted. 

The doctor made no long speeches, lie was furious furious 
against Marie, whose ash grey eyes looked at him with profound 
fatigue and innocent mirth, furious at himself, for he accused 
himself of not watching attentively enough over 4 'the little one" 
who had been confided to him by M. Sklodovski \Vithout 
listening to his sister-in-law's protests he handed her her hat and 



ic* MADAME CURIE 

coat, ana ordered her to take the books and papers she would need 
for the coming week. Then, silent, dissatisfied, unhappy, he 
carried her off to La Villette; from the threshold of the flat he 
hailed Bronya, who clashed for the kitchen. 

Twenty minutes passed, and Marie swallowed, mouthful by 
mouthful, the medicines ordered for her by Casimir: an enormous 
underdone beefsteak and a plateful of crackling fried potatoes. As 
if by a miracle, the colour came back to her cheeks. On the same 
evening Bronya herself came at eleven o'clock to put the li^ht out 
in the narrow room where she had set up a bed for her sister. For 
several days Marie, well fed and cared for, "took the cure" and 
regained her strength. Then, obsessed by the approaching 
examinations, she returned to her attic, promising to be reasonable 
in the future. 

And the next day she began again to live on airl 

Work! . . . Work! Plunged altogether into study, intoxicated 
by her progress, Marie felt herself equal to learning everything 
mankind had ever discovered. She attended courses in mathe- 
matics, physics and chemistry. Manual technique and the minute 
precision of scientific experiment became familiar to her, little by 
little; soon she was to have the joy of being charged by Professor 
Lippmann with researches of no great importance, which never- 
theless permitted her to show her deftness and the originality of 
her mind. In the physics laboratory of the Sorbonne, a high and 
wide room queerly ornamented by two little staircases which led to 
an interior gallery, Marie Sklodovska timidly tried her strength. 

She had a passionate love for that atmosphere of attention and 
silence, the "climate" of the laboratory, which she was to prefer 
to any other up to her last day. She was on her feet, always on her 
feet, in front of an oak table supporting precision instruments, or 
else in front of the chemical hood where some material infusion 
bubbled away, worried at by the fierce blow-pipe. .She was hardly 
to be distinguished, in her big smock of wrinkled linen, from the 
thoughtful young men whp bent beside her over other blowpipes 
and other instruments. Like them, she respected the concentration 
of the place. She made no noise, she pronounced no useless word. 

One master's degree was not enough: Marie decided to obtain 



FORTY ROUBLES A MONTH 109 

two: one in physics and one in mathematics. Her plans, Once so 
humble, increased and grew richer so rapidly that she had not the 
time and above all not the audacity to confide them to M. 
Sklodovski, who, as she knew, impatiently awaited her return to 
Poland. As usual, the excellent man offered his help. But it could 
be felt that he was vaguely worried at having hatched this in- 
dependent creature who had taken to flying with her own wings 
after so many years of submission and sacrifice. 

M. Sklodovski to Rronya, March 5/, 1893: 

. . . Your last letter mentions for the first time that Manya 
intends to take her examinations for the master's. She has never 
spoken to me about it in her letters, even though 1 have questioned 
her on the subject. Write me exactly when these examinations will 
take place, at what date Manya can hope to pass them, what arc the 
fees for them and how much the diploma will cost. I must think of 
all this in advance so as to be able to send some money to Manya, 
and on this my personal plans will depend. 

... I intend to keep the lodging 1 now occupy for next year: 
for myself and for Manya if she comes back it is perfectly 
suitable. . . . Little by little Manya will work up a list of pupils, 
and in any case I am ready to share what 1 have with her. We shall 
manage without trouble. . . . 

Marie, however shy she might be, could not avoid meeting 
human beings every day. Some of the students were cordial and 
friendly with her. Foreign women were highly regarded at the 
Sorbonnc. These poor girls, generally gifted, coming from far 
away to the university which the Goncourts called "the nursing 
mother of study," inspired sympathy among young Frenchmen. 
The Polish girl was tamed. She discovered that her companions, 
who were "grinds" for the most part, esteemed her and wished to 
show her kindness sometimes more than kindness. Marie must 
have been very pretty: her friend, Mile Dydynska, a charming and 
somewhat over -excited young woman who had appointed herself 
as bodyguard, one day threatened to beat off a group of too eager 
admirers with her umbrella. 

Allowing Mile Dydynska to repel advances which left her 



no MADAME CURIE 

indifferent, the girl drew nearer to men who did not pay court to 
her and with whom she could talk about her work. Between a 
physics lesson and a laboratory hour she would chatter with Paul 
Painlcve, who was already a professor; with Charles Maurain or 
jean Pcrrin future leaders of French science. These were distant 
comradeships. Marie had no time to give to friendship or to love. 
She loved mathematics and physics. 

Her brain was so precise, her intelligence so marvellously clear, 
that no Slavic disorder intruded to corrupt her effort. She was 
supported by a will of iron, by a maniacal taste for perfection, and 
by an incredible stubbornness. Systematically, patiently, she 
attained each of the ends she had set for herself: she passed first in 
the master's examination in physics in 1893* and second in the 
master's in mathematics in 1894 f 

She had decided to learn the French language perfectly, as it was 
indispensable to her; and instead of cooing incorrect, sing-song 
sentences for years, as many Poles do, she learned her spelling and 
syntax wjth infallible sureness, and hounded down the very last 
traces of her accent. Only a very slight rolling of the "r" was to 
remain ever afterward as one of the graces of her rather muted 
voice, so sweet and charming. 

\Vith her forty roubles 2 month she succeeded in living, and 
even, by depriving herself of the indispensable, achieved some- 
times a certain amount of luxury: an evening at the theatre, a 
journey to the suburbs, \vhcncc she brought back floweis picked 
in the woods to glow for several days on her table. The little 
peasant of other days was not dead; lost in the great city, she 
lay in wait for the birth of the leaves, and as soon as she had a little 
time and money she hurried to the woods. 

hLirie to M. Sklodovski, April i6//6, 1893: 

The other Sunday 1 went to Le Raincy, near Paris, in a pretty 
and agreeable neighbourhood. The lilacs and the fruit trees, even 
the apples, were in full bloom and the air wns filled with the scent 
of flowers. 

Jn Paris the trees get green as early as the beginning of April. 

* Licenciec cs Sciences physiques. 

t Liccncitc es Sciences iriuthiniatiijucs. 



FORTY ROUBLES A MONTH in 

Now the leaves have sprung out and the chestnuts are blooming. 
It is as hot as in summer: everything is green. In my room it is 
beginning to be torrid. Luckily in July, when I shall be working 
for my examinations, I shall not be here any more, for I have taken 
the lodging only to the eighth of July. 

The nearer the examinations come, the more I am afraid of not 
being ready. At the worst, 1 shall v/ait until November, but that 
will make me lose my summer, which doesn't appeal to me. For 
that matter, we must wait and see. . . . 

July: Fever, haste, agonising trials, crashing mornings when, 
shut in with thirty students in the examination hall, Marie was so 
nervous that the It tters danced before her eyes and she could not 
even read the f.ittful paper for several minutes, with its statement 
of the problem and the "questions on the course." When the 
composition was turned in, there came chys of waiting until the 
solemn moment of publication of the results. Marie slipped in 
among the contestants and their families, crowded into the 
amphitheatre where the names of the elect would be read aloud, in 
order of merit. Pushed and shoved about as she was, she waited 
for the entrance of the examiner. And in a sudden silence she 
hc.ird him pronounce iirst of all her own name: AL.rte Sklsd-Tikii. 

Nobody was to guess her emotion. She tore herself away from 
the congratulations of her comrades, escaped from the crowd and 
made off. The time for holidays had come now for the departure 
to Poland and home. 

Such homecomings among the poor Poles had their rites, which 
Marie scrupulously observed. She moved her furniture bed, 
stove and utensils into safety with a compatriot rich enough to 
keep her Paris lodging during the summer months. She took 
leave of her garret: before quitting it for ever, she cleaned it 
thoroughly. She said good-bye to the concierge, whom she would 
not see again, and bought some provisions for her journey. 
Having counted up what she had left, she went into a big shop and 
did what she had not done for a year: she looked tor trinkets, for 
scarves. . . . 

It was accounted a shame to return to one's native land with 
money in the pocket. Grand style, supreme elegance, custom, 



IIL MADAME CURIE 

required one to spend literally everything on presents tor one's 
family and get into the train at the Gare du Nord without a sou. 
Was this not a wise course? Two thousand kilometres away, at the 
other end of the rails, there were M. Sklodovski and Joseph and 
Hela, a familiar roof to sleep under, as much food as one could eat,- 
and a seamstress who, for a few^r&ry, could cut out and sew linen 
and big woollen dresses: the dresses which Marie would wear 
when she came back to the Sorbonne again in November. 

She was to reappear there cheerful and a bit too fat, having been 
stuffed with food for three months in all the houses of all the 
Sklodovskis in Poland, indigant as they were at her thinness. And 
again she faced a scholastic year in which she would work, learn, 
prepare an examination, grow thin. 

But each time autumn returned the same anxiety assailed Marie: 
how could she go back to Paris? Where was she to find money? 
Forty roubles at a time her savings were being exhausted; and 
she thought with shame of the little p'easures her father deprived 
himself of to come to her help. In 1893 the situation seemed 
desperate and the girl was on the point of giving up the journey 
when a miracle took place. That same Mile Dydynska who had 
defended her with an umbrella the year before now extended even 
more opportune protection. Certain that Marie was destined to a 
great future, she moved heaven and earth in Warsaw to have the 
Alexandrovitch Scholarship assigned to her a scholarship for 
students of merit who wished to pursue their efforts abroad. 

Six hundred roublesl Enough to live on for fifteen months! 
Marie, who knew so well how to ask favours for other people, 
would never have thought of soliciting this help, and above all 
could never have had the boldness to make the necessary ap- 
proaches. Dazzled and enchanted, she took flight for France. 

Marie to her brother Joseph, September 1 5 /A, 1 893 : 

... I have already rented my room, on the sixth floor in a clean 
and decent street whicn suit$ me very well. Tell Father .that in that 
place where I was going to take a room there was nothing free, and 
that I am very satisfied with this room: it has a window that shuts 
tight, and when I have arranged it properly it should not be cold 



FOKTY ROUBLES A MONTH 113 

bete, especially as the floor is of wood and not tiles. Compared to 
my last year's room it is a veritable palace. It costs one hundred 
and eighty francs a year, and is therefore sixty francs cheaper than 
the one Father spoke to me about. 

I hardly need say that I am delighted to be back in Paris. It was 
very hard for me to separate again from Father, but I could see that 
he was well, very lively, and that he could do without me 
especially as you are living in Warsaw. And as for me, it is my 
whole life that is at stake. It seemed to me, therefore, that I could 
stay on here without having remorse on my conscience. 

Just now I am studying mathematics unceasingly, so as to be up 
to date when the courses begin. I have three mornings a week 
taken by lessons with one of my French comrades who is preparing 
for the examination I have just passed. Tell Father that I am 
getting used to this work, that it does not tire me as much as 
before, and that I do not intend to abandon it. 

To-day I begin the installation of my little corner for this year 
very poorly, but what am I to do? I have to do everything myself; 
otherwise it's all too dear. I must get my furniture into shape or 
rather what I pompously call my furniture, for the whole thing 
isn't worth more than twenty francs. 

I shall write soon to Joseph Boguski and ask him for information 
about his laboratory. My future occupation depends on this. 

Marie to her brother , March 1 8/i, 1 894: 

... It is difficult for me to tell you about my life in detail; it is 
so monotonous and, in fact, so uninteresting. Nevertheless I have 
no feeling of uniformity and I regret only one thing, which 
is that the days are so short and that they pass so quickly. One 
never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains 
to be done, and if one didn't like the work it would be very 
discouraging. 

I want you to pass your doctor's thesis. ... It seems that life 
is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have per- 
severance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe 
that we arc gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever 
cost, must be attained. Perhaps everything will turn out very well, 
at the moment when we least expect it. . , . 



ii4 MADAME CURIE 

The Alexandrovitch Scholarship was providential. With 
passionate avarice Marie tried to string out her six hundred 
roubles, so as to remain a little longer in the paradise of lecture halls 
and laboratories. Some years later, with the same passionate 
avarice, she was to save six hundred roubles out of her first 
earnings a technical study ordered from her by the Society for 
the Encouragement of National Industry and was to take them 
to the secretary of the Alexandrovitch Foundation, stupefied 
though he was at a restitution without precedent in the annals of 
the committee. Marie had accepted this scholarship as testimony 
of confidence in her, a debt of honour. In her uncompromising 
soul she would have adjudged herself dishonest if she had kept for 
one unnecessary moment the money which now could serve as 
lifebuoy to another poor young girl. 

Re-reading a little poem of my mother's, written in Polish, on 
this time of her life, and remembering the accounts of it that she 
sometimes gave me, with many a smile and humorous remark, 
looking at the only portrait of herself which she dearly cherished: 
the small photograph of a student girl with daring eyes and 
determined chin, I have felt that she never ceased to prefer these 
hard, fervent days to all others. 

Ah! how harshly the youth of the student passes > 

While all around her y with passions ever fresh ', 

Other youths search eagerly for easy pleasures! 

And yet in solitude 

She lives ', obscure and blessed ', 

For in her cell she finds the ardour 

That makes her heart immense. 

But the blessed time is effaced. 

She must have the land of Science 

Togo out and struggle for her bread 

On the grey roads of life. 

Often and oftett then,, her weary spirit 

Re > turns beneath the roofs 

To the corner ever dear to her heart 



FORTY ROUBLES A MONTH 115 

\Vhcre siknt labour dwelled 

And where a world of memory has rested. 

No doubt Marie knew other joys later. But even in her hours of 
infinite tenderness, even in the hour of triumph and fame, the 
eternal student was never so content with herself, so proud, as in 
the poverty and fire of this integral effort. She was proud of her 
poverty; proud of living alone and independent in a foreign city. 
Working beneath the lamp in her poor room of an evening she 
felt that her destiny, still insignificant, mysteriously related itself 
to the high existences she most admired and that she became the 
humble unknown companion of those great scientists of the past, 
who were, like her, shut into their ill-lighted cells, like her 
detached from their time, and, like her, spurred their minds to 
pass beyond the sum of acquired knowledge. 

Yes, these four heroic years were, not the happiest of Marie 
Curie's life, but the most perfect in her eyes, the nearest to those 
summits of the human mission toward which her gaze had been 
trained. When one is young and solitary and swallowed up in 
study, one can "not have enough to live on" and yet live to the 
fullest. An immense enthusiasm gave this girl of twenty-six the 
power to ignore the trials and privations she endured: to magnify 
her sordid existence into magic. Later on, love, maternity, the 
worries of a wife and mother, the complexities of crushingly hard 
work, were to restore the visionary to real life. But in the en- 
chanted moment when she was poorer than she was ever to be 
again, she was as reckless as a child. She floated lightly in another 
world, that which her thought was to regard always as the only 
pure and true one. 

Each day could not be altogether excellent in an adventure like 
this. There were unforeseen accidents which suddenly upset every- 
thing and seemed irremediable: a fatigue impossible to surmount, a 
short illness requiring care. Still other, and terrifying catastrophes: 
the one pair of shoes, with leaky soles, gave out finally, and the 
purchase of new shoes became necessary. This meant a budget 
upside down for weeks, and the enormous expense had to be made 
up at all costs, on meals or on oil for the lamp. 

Or else the winter was longer than usual and the sixth-floor 



xx6 MADAME CURIE 

garret was icy. It was so cold that Marie could no longer sleep; she 
shivered and chattered with it. Her supply of coal was exhausted. 
. . . But what of that? Could a Polish girl be conquered by a 
Parisian winter? Marie lighted her lamp again and looked about 
her. * She opened the fat trunk and gathered together all the 
garments she possessed. She put on all she could, then, having 
slipped into bed, she piled the rest, her other dress, her linen, on 
top of the single coverlet. But it was still too cold. Marie stretched 
out her arm, pulled the one chair over to her, raised it and piled it, 
too, on top of the amassed garments, giving herself some sort of 
illusion of weight and heat. 

All she had to do now was to wait for sleep, without moving, 
so as to preserve the scaffolding of which she was the living base. 
Meanwhile, a layer of ice was slowly forming in the water pitcher. 



CHAPTER X 



Pierre Curie 



MARIE had ruled love and marriage out of her life's programme. 

There was nothing extremely original in that. The poor girl, 
disappointed and humiliated in the failure of her first idyll, swore 
to love no mere; still more, the Slavic student, exalted by in- 
tellectual ambitions, easily decided to renounce the things that 
make the servitude, happiness and unhappiness of other women, in 
order to follow her vocation. In all ages women who burn to 
become great painters or great musicians have disdained the norm, 
love and motherhood. Most often they are converted to family 
life when their dreams of glory come to nothing; or else, when they 
do make careers, it is in fact at the sacrifice of their sentimental life. 

Marie had built for herself a secret universe of implacable 
rigour, dominated by the passion for science. Family affection and 
the attachment to an oppressed fatherland also had their place in 
it: but this was all. Nothing else counted, nothing else existed. 
Thus had she decreed, the beautiful creature of twenty-six who 
lived alone in Paris and met young men every day at the Sorbonnc 
and in the laboratory. 

Marie was obsessed by her dreams, harassed by poverty, over- 
driven by intensive work. She did not know leisure and its 
dangers. Her pride and timidity protected her, as did her distrust: 
ever since the Z.s had rejected her as a daughter-in-law she had had 
the vague conviction that poor girls found no devotion or tender- 
n ss among men. Stiffened by fine theories and bitter reflections, 
she clung fiercely to her independence. 

No, it is not surprising that a Polish girl of genius, isolated by 

"7 



ii8 MADAME CURIE 

her arid existence, should have preserved herself for her work. 
But it is surprising, indeed wonderful, that a scientist of genius, a 
Frenchman, should have kept himself for that Polish girl, should 
have unconsciously waited for her. It is wonderful that at the time 
when Marie, still almost a child in the narrow apartment of 
Novolipki Street, dreamed of coming to study some day at the 
Sorbonne, Pierre Curie, returning home from that same Sorbonne, 
where he was already making important discoveries in physics, 
should have written down in his diary these melancholy lines: 

. . . Woman loves life for the living of it far more than we do: 
women of genius are rare. Thus, when we, driven by some mystic 
love, wish to enter upon some anti-natural path, when we give all 
our thoughts to some work which estranges us from the humanity 
nearest us, we have to struggle against women. The mother wants 
the love of her child above all things, even if it should make an 
imbecile of him. The mistress also wishes to possess her lover, and 
would find it quite natural to sacrifice the rarest genius in the 
world for an hour of love. The struggle almost always is unequal, 
for women have the good side of it: it is in the name of life and 
nature that they try to bring us back. . . . 

Years had passed. Pierre Curie, devoting body and soul to 
scientific research, had married none of the insignificant or nice 
little girls who had come his way. He was thirty- five years old. 
He loved nobody. 

When he was idly running through his diary, abandoned Jong 
ago, and re-read the notes once made in ink that was already 
growing pale, a few words full of regret and dull nostalgia caught 
his attention: 

"... women of genius are rare ..." 

When I came in, Pierre Curie was standing in the window recess 
near a door leading to the balcony. He seemed very young to me, 
although he was then aged thirty-five. I was struck by the ex- 
pression of his clear gaze^and by a slight appearance of carelessness 
in his lofty stature. His rather slow, reflective words, his simplicity, 



PIERRE CURIE 119 

and his smile, at once grave and young, inspired confidence. A con 
versation began between us and became friendly; its object was some 
questions of science upon which I was happy to ask his opinion. 

Such were the words Marie was to use to describe their first 
meeting, which took place at the beginning of 1 894. 

A Pole, M. Kovalski, professor of physics in the University of 
Fribourg, was visiting Paris with his young wife, whom Marie had 
mjt at Szczuki. It was their honeymoon, but a scientific ex- 
pedition as well. M. Kovalski gave some lectures in Paris, and 
attended the sessions of the Physics Society. On his arrival he had 
enquired after Marie and had asked her how she was. Marie had 
confided in him her worries of the moment: the Society for the 
Encouragement of National Industry had ordered a study from her 
on the magnetic properties of various steels. She had begun the 
researches in Professor Lippmann's laboratory; but she had to 
analyse minerals and group samples of metal, which required a 
cumbersome equipment too cumbersome for the already 
crowded laboratory. And Marie did not know what to do, where 
to conduct her experiments. 

"1 have an idea," Joseph Kovalskisaid to her after some moments 
of reflection. "I know a scientist of great merit who works in the 
School of Physics and Chemistry in the Rue Lhomond. Perhaps 
he might have a workroom available. In any case he could give 
you some advice. Come and have tea to-morrow evening, after 
dinner, with my wife and me. I will ask the young man to come. 
You probably know his name: it is Pierre Curie." 

In the course of the calm evening passed in the young couple's 
room in a quiet boarding-house, immediate sympathy brought the 
French physicist and the Polish student together. 

Pierre Curie had a very individual charm made up of gravity and 
careless grace. He was tall. His clothes, cut on ample, old- 
fashioned lines, hung a bit loosely about his body, but they became 
him: he had much natural elegance. His hands were long and 
sensitive. His regular, almost motionless face, lengthened by a 
rough beard, was made beautiful by his peaceful eyes, with their 
incomparable look, deep and serene, detached from all things. 

Although this man maintained a constant reserve and never 



IZG ' MADAME CURIE 

lifted his voice, it was impossible not to notice his expression of 
rare intelligence and distinction. In a civilisation in which in- 
tellectual superiority is seldom allied to moral worth, Pierre Curie 
was an almost unique specimen of humanity: his mind was both 
powerful and noble. 

The attraction he felt from the first moment for the foreign girl 
who spoke so little was doubled by intense curiosity. This Mile 
Sklodovska was truly a rather astonishing person. . . . She was 
Polish, come from Warsaw to study at the Sorbonne, had passed 
first in the physics examination last year, would pass her mathe- 
matics examination in a few months. . . . And if between her 
ashen-grey eyes a little preoccupied wrinkle appeared, was it not 
because she didn't know where to install her apparatus for the 
study of magnetism in steel? 

The conversation, at first general, was soon reduced to a 
scientific dialogue between Pierre Curie and Marie Sklodovska. 
Marie, with a shade of timidity and deference, asked questions and 
listened to Pierre's suggestions. He in turn explained his plans, and 
described the phenomena of crystallography which fascinated him 
and upon which he was now engaged in research. How strange it 
was, the physicist thought, to talk to a woman of the work one 
loves, using technical terms, complicated formulx, and to see that 
woman, charming and young, become animated, understand, even 
discuss certain details with an infallible clear-sightedness. . . , 
How sweet it was! 

He looked at Marie's hair, at her high, curved forehead and her 
hands already stained by the acids of the laboratory and roughened 
by housework. He was disconcerted by her grace, which the 
absence of all coquetry made more surprising. He dug from his 
memory all that his host had told him about the girl when he had 
invited them together: she had worked for years before being able 
to take the train for Paris, she had no money, she lived alone m a 
garret. 

"Are you going to remain in France always?" he asked Mile 
Sklodovska, without knowing why. 

A shadow passed over Marie's *face, and she replied in her 
tinging accent: 

"Certainly not. This summer, if I succeed in my master's 



PIERRE CURIE 121 

examination, I shall go back to Warsaw. I should like to come back 
here in the autumn, but I don't know whether I shall have the 
means to do so. Later on I shall be a teacher in Poland; I shall try 
to be useful. Poles have no right to abandon their country." 

The conversation, in which the Kovilskis joined, turned toward 
the painful subject of Russian oppression. The three exiles 
evoked memories of their native land and exchanged news of their 
families and friends. Astonished, vaguely dissatisfied, Pierre Curie 
listened to Marie speak of her patriotic and social duties. 

A physicist obsessed by physics, he could not imagine how this 
amazingly gifted girl could devote even one thought to anything 
outside of science, and that her plan for the future should be to use 
her strength in a struggle against Tsarism. 

He wanted to see her again. 

Who was Pierre Curie? 

He was a French scientist of genius, very nearly unknown in his 
own country, but already highly esteemed by his foreign colleagues. 

He was born in Paris, in the Rue Cuvier, on May ijth, 1859. 
He was the second son of a physician, Dr. Eugene Curie, who was 
himself the son of a doctor. The family was of Alsatian origin, and 
Protestant. The Curies, once of the lower bourgeoisie, had, 
through generations, become intellectuals and scientists. Pierre's 
father had to practise medicine to earn his living; but he was 
devoted to research. He had been for some time a worker in the 
laboratory of the Museum of Natural History in Paris, and he was 
the author of works on tubercular infection. 

His two sons, Jacques and Pierre, were drawn by science from 
their infancy. Pierre, with his independent and dreamy mind, was 
unable to adapt himself to systematic work and discipline. He had 
never been to school. Dr. Curie, understanding that the boy was 
too original to be a brilliant pupil, had at first instructed him 
himself, and afterward had confided him to a remarkable teacher, 
M. Bazille. This liberal education had borne fruit: Pierre Curie 
was a Bachelor of Science* at sixteen and had a master's degree in 
physicsf at eighteen. At nineteen he was appointed laboratory 

* Bachclicr cs Science. 
f Licencte es Physique. 



122- MADAME CURIE 

assistant to Professor Dcsains in the Faculty of Science a position 
he occupied for five years. He was engaged in research with his 
brother Jacques, who also had his degree and was a laboratory 
worker at the Sorbonne. The two young physicists soon an- 
nounced the discovery of the important phenomenon of * 'piezo- 
electricity," and their experimental work led them to invent a new 
apparatus with many practical uses: piezoelectric quartz, which 
measures small quantities of electricity with precision. 

In 1883 the two brothers separated with regret: Jacques \vas 
appointed professor at Montpellier, and Pierre became chief of 
laboratory at the School of Physics and Chemistry of the City of 
Paris. Even though he devoted much time to demonstrations for 
the pupils, he pursued his theoretical work on crystalline physics. 
This work led to the formulation of the principle of symmetry, 
which was to become one of the bases of modern science. 

Taking up his experimental study again, Pierre Curie invented 
and built an ultra-sensitive scientific scale, the "Curie scale." Then 
he undertook research on magnetism and obtained a result of 
capital importance: the discovery of a fundamental law: "Curie's 
law." 

For these efforts, crowned by dazzling success, and for the 
constant care he lavished on the thirty students confided to him, 
Pierre Curie was receiving from the French State, in 1894, after 
fifteen years of work, a salary of three hundred francs a month 
just about what a specialised worker would receive in a factory. 

But when the illustrious English scientist, Lord Kelvin, came 
to Paris, he was not satisfied with going to hear Pierre Curie's 
reports to the Physics Society. In spite of his great age and 
position, he wrote to the young physicist, spoke of his work, and 
asked for a meeting. 

Lord Kelvin to Pierre Curie, August , 1893: 
DEAR MONSIEUR CURIE, 

I thank you very much for having taken the trouble to obtain 
for me an apparatus by which I can so conveniently observe the 
magnificent experimental discovery of piezoelectric quartz, made 
by you and your brother. 

I have written a note for the Philosophical Magazine* making it 



PIEP.RE CURIE 123 

clear that your work preceded mine. This note should arrive in 
time to appear in the October number, but, if not, it will certainly 
appear in November. . . . 

October 3/-Y/, 1893: 
DEAR MONSIEUR CURIE, 

I hope to arrive in Paris to-morrow evening; I should be very 
grateful if you could let me know when, between now and the end 
of the week, it would be convenient for you to let me come and see 
you in your laboratory. 

Jn the course of these visits, when the two physicists discussed 
scientific questions for hours, the English scientist must have been 
astonished to observe that Pierre Curie was working without 
assistants in a pitiable place, that he devoted most of his time to 
poorly paid trudgcry, and that hnrdly anybody in Paris knew the 
name of this man whom he, Lord Kelvin, considered a master. 

Pierre Curie was even more than a remarkable physicist. He 
was a man who, when asked to offer himself as candidate for a post 
which would improve his material condition, replied: 

They tell me one of the professors may perhaps resign and that 
in case he does I should submit my candidature as his successor. It 
is a nasty job being a candidate for any place at all, and I am not 
accustomed to this sort of exercise, demoralising in the highest 
degree. 1 am sorry I spoke of it to you. I believe there is nothing 
more unhealthy for the mind than to allow oneself to be pre- 
occupied with such matters. 

When proposed by the director of the School of Physics for a 
decoration: hs Pu/mes acatifuiques, he refused in these terms: 

MR. DIRECTOR, 

M. Muzet has told me that you intend to propose me to the 
Prefect again for decoration. _ 

I write to beg you to do no such thing. If *i$P 
distinction for me, you will put me under 




X24 MADAME CURIE 

it, for I have quite decided never to accept any decoration of any 
sort. I hope you will be good enough to spare me the necessity of 
a step which would make me rather ridiculous in the eyes of many 
people. 

If it is your intention to give me an evidence of interest, you 
have already done so and in more efficacious fashion by which I 
have been much touched in allowing me the means of working at 
my ease. 

He was also, or at least could have been, a writer. This man, 
whose education had been so fantastic, was possessed of an 
original, strong and graceful style: 

"To stun with clatter a mind that wishes to think."* 

Weak as I am, in order not to let my mind fly away on every 
wind that blows, yielding to the slightest breath it encounters, it 
would be necessary either to have everything motionless around 
me, or else, speeding on like a humming-top, in movement itself 
to be rendered impervious to external things. 

Whenever, rotating slowly on myself, I attempt to speed up, the 
merest nothing a word, a story, a newspaper, a visit stops me, 
prevents my becoming a gyroscope or top, and can postpone or for 
ever delay the instant when, equipped with sufficient speed, I 
might be able to concentrate within myself in spite of what is 
around me. 

We arc obliged to cat, drink, sleep, laze, love; that is to say, to 
touch the sweetest things in this life, and yet not succumb in doing 
all that, to make the anti-natural thought to which one has devoted 
one's self remain dominant and continue its impassable course in 
one's poor head. One must make of life a dream, and of that 
dream a reality. 

Finally, he had the sensibility and imagination of a poet or an 
artist, with their discouragements and anguish. 

What shall I be later on? [he wjote in his diary in 1881]. I am 
very rarely all under command at once; ordinarily a portion of my 
Etour&r Jtffvhti I'tsprit qm i*tt/p*t/ir. (Victor Hugo: Lt Rou' amutt.) 



PIERRE CURIE izj 

being is asleep. It seems to me that my mind gets clumsier every 
day. Before, I flung myself into scientific or other divagations; 
to-day I barely touch on subjects and do not allow myself to be 
absorbed by them any more. And I have so many, many things to 
do! Is my poor mind, then, so feeble that it cannot act upon my 
body? Is thought itself unable to move my poor mind? Then it is 
worth very little! And Pride, Ambition couldn't they at least 
propel me, or will they let me live like this? In my imagination I 
shall find most confidence to pull myself out of the rut. Imagina- 
tion may perhaps entice my mind and carry it away. But I am very 
much afraid that imagination, too, may be dead . . . 

The poet had been immediately captivated by Marie Sklodovska, 
as had the physicist, and had understood what was unique in her. 
Pierre Curie, with gentle tenacity, endeavoured to get on friendly 
terms with the girl. He saw her again two or three times at the 
sessions of the Physics Society, where she was listening to the 
reports of scientists on new research. He sent her, by way of 
compliment, a reprint of his latest publication, On Symmetry in 
Physical Phenomena: Symmetry of an Electric Field and of a Megnetic 
field; and on the first page he wrote in his awkward hand: "To 
Mile Sklodovska, with the respect and friendship of the author, 
P. Curie." He had seen her in Lippmann's laboratory, in her big 
linen smock, bent silently over her apparatus. 

And then he asked if he could visit her. Marie gave him her 
address, n Rue des Feuillantines. Friendly but reserved, she 
received him in her little room, and Pierre, his heart constricted by 
so much poverty, nevertheless appreciated, in the depths of his 
spirit, the subtle agreement between the character and the setting. 
In an almost empty attic, with her threadbare dress and her ardent, 
stubborn features, Marie had never seemed more beautiful to him. 
Her young face, thin and worn from the effort of an ascetic life, 
could not have found a more perfect frame than this denuded 
garret, 

A few months passed. Their friendship strengthened, their 
intimacy increased, in proportion as their reciprocal esteem, 
admiration and confidence grew greater. Pierre Curie was already 
the captive of the too intelligent, too lucid Polish girL He obeyed 



i2o MADAME CURIE 

her and followed her advice. He was soon urged and stimulated by 
her, to shake off his indolence, write out his experiments on 
magnetism, and pass a brilliant thesis for the doctor's degree. 

Marie still believed herself to be free. She did not seem disposed 
to listen to the final words which the scientist did not dare to 
pronounce. 

This evening, for perhaps the tenth time, they were together in 
the room in the Rue des Feuillantines. It was warm: it was the end 
of an afternoon in June. On the table, near the mathematics books 
with the help of which Marie was preparing her approaching 
examination, there were some white daisies in a glass, brought 
back from an excursion Pierre and Marie had made together. The 
girl poured out tea, made on her faithful little spirit lamp. 

The physicist had just been speaking at length about a piece of 
work that preoccupied him. Then, without transition: 

"I wish you would come to know my parents. I live with them, 
in a little house at Sceaux. They are charming." 

He described his father for her: a tall, ungainly old man with 
lively blue eyes, very intelligent, hasty and impetuous, apt to boil 
over like a quick soup, but extremely kind and his mother, 
weighed down by infirmities, but still an expert housekeeper, 
brave, gay and courageous. 1 le recalled his fantastic childhood, his 
interminable jaunts in the woods with his brother Jacques. . . . 

Marie listened with surprise. What mysterious likenesses and 
coincidences! By changing a few details, transporting the little 
house at Sceaux to a street in Warsaw, you could turn the Curies 
into the Sklodovski family. Apart from religion Dr. Curie, an 
Anticlerical freethinker, had not had his children baptized it was 
the same sort of circle, wise and honourable, with the same respect 
for culture, the same love of science, the same affectionate alliance 
between parents and children, the same passionate liking for 
nature. Smiling and more at her ease, Marie told the tale of her 
merry holidays in the Polish countryside that countryside which 
she was going to see again in a few weeks. 

"But you're coming back in October? Promise me that you will 
come back! If you stay in Poland you can't possibly continue your 
studies. You have no right to abandon science now . . ." 

These commonplace words of solicitude betrayed profound 



PIERRE CURIE 127 

anxiety. And Marie felt that when Pierre said: " You have no right 
to abandon science," he meant, above all, "You have no right to 
abandon me." 

They were silent for a time. Then Marie, lifting her ash-grey 
eyes to Pierre, answered gently, in a voice that still hesitated: 

"I believe you are right. I should like to come back very 
much." 

Pierre spoke of the future several times again. He had asked 
Marie to be his wife; but the answer was not a happy one. To 
marry a Frenchman and leave her family for ever, to renounce all 
political activity and abandon Poland, seemed to Mile Sklodovska 
like so many dreadful acts of betrayal. She could not and must not. 
She had passed her examination brilliantly; and now she must go 
back to Warsaw for the summer at least, perhaps for ever. She 
offered the discouraged young scientist a friendship which was no 
longer enough for him, and took her train, having promised 
nothing. 

He followed her in thought; he would have liked to join her in 
Switzerland, where she was passing a few weeks with her father 
who had come to meet her; or else in Poland in that Poland of 
which he was jealous. But it could not be. ... 

So, from afar, he continued to urge his suit. Wherever Marie 
went, during the summer months, to Crettaz, Lcmberg, Cracow or 
Warsaw, letters in uncertain and rather childish handwriting 
followed, on inexpensive paper headed by the name of the School 
of Physics, attempting to convince her and bring her back: to 
remind her that Pierre Curie was waiting for her. 

Pierre Curie to Marie Skkdovska > August loth, 1 894: 

Nothing could have given me greater pleasure than to get news 
of you. The prospect of remaining two months without hearing 
about you had been extremely disagreeable to me: that is to say, 
your little note was more than welcome. 

I hope you arc laying up a stock of good air and that you will 
come back to us in October. As for me, I think I shall not go 
anywhere; I shall stay in the country, where I spend the whole day 
in front of my open window or in the garden. 

We have promised each other haven't we? to be at least great 



nfi MADAME CURIE 

friends. If you will only not change your mind! For there are no 
promises that are binding; such things cannot be ordered at will. 
It would be a fine thing, just the same, in which I hardly dare 
believe, to pass our lives near each other, hypnotised by our 
dreams: your patriotic dream, our humanitarian dream, and our 
scientific dream. 

Of all those dreams the last is, I believe, the only legitimate one. 
I mean by that that we are powerless to change the social order 
and, even if we were not, we should not know what to do; in 
taking action, no matter in what direction, we should never be 
sure of not doing more harm than good, by retarding some 
inevitable evolution. From the scientific point of view, on the 
contrary, we may hope to do something; the ground is solider 
here, and any discovery that we may make, however small, will 
remain acquired knowledge. 

See how it works out: it is agreed that we shall be great friends, 
but if you leave France in a year it would be an altogether too 
platonic friendship, that of two creatures who would never see 
each other again. Wouldn't it be better for you to stay with me? 
I know that this question angers you, and that you don't want to 
speak of it again and then, too, 1 feel so thoroughly unworthy of 
you from every point of view. 

I thought of asking your permission to meet you by chance in 
Fribourg. But you are staying there, unless I am mistaken, only 
one day, and on that day you will of course belong to o ar friends 
the Kovalskis. 

Believe me your very devoted 
PIERRE CURIE. 

I should be happy if you would write to me and give me the 
assurance that you intend to come back in October. Jf you write 
direct to Sceaux the letters would get to me quicker: Pierre Curie, 
13 Rue des Sablons, Sceaux (Seine). 

Pierre Curie to Marie Sklodcvska % August I4/A, 1 894: 

I couldn't decide to come and meet you; 1 hesitated all through 

one day, only to come to this negative result in the end. 1 he first 

impression I received in reading your letter was that you preferred 

me not to come. The seconds was tiiat you were very kind, just the 



PIERRE CURIE 119 

same, to allow me the possibility of passing three days with you, 
and I was on the point of leaving. But then I was attacked by a sort 
of shame at pursuing you like this against your will; and finally, 
what decided me to stay, was the near-certainty that my presence 
would be disagreeable to your father and would spoil his pleasure 
in your company. 

Now that it is too late, I am sorry I did not go. Wouldn't it have 
doubled the friendship we have for each other, perhaps, if we had 
passed three days together and wouldn't it have given us strength 
not to forget each other in the two months and a half that separate us? 

Are you a fatalist? Do you remember the day of Mi-Careme?* 
I had suddenly lost you in the crowd. It seems to me that our 
friendly relations will be suddenly interrupted in the same way 
without either of us desiring it. I am not a fatalist, but this will 
probably be a result of our characters. I shall never know how to 
act at the opportune moment. 

For that matter it will be a good thing for you, for I do not know 
why I have got it into my head to keep you in France, to exile you 
from your country and family without having anything good to 
offer you in exchange for such a sacrifice. 

Aren't you a little pretentious when you say you are perfectly 
free? We are all slaves at least of our affections, slaves of the 
prejudices of those we love; we must also earn our living, and 
thereby become a part of the machine, etc., etc. 

The most painful thing is the concessions we are forced to make 
to the prejudices of the society that surrounds us; one makes them 
more or less often, according to one's strength or weakness. If we 
don't make enough we arc crushed; and if we make too many we 
are vile and acquire a disgust for ourselves. I am now far away 
from the principles I held ten years ago. At that time I believed one 
ought to be excessive in everything and make no concession to 
environment. I thought I had to exaggerate defects as well as 
qualities; I wore only blue shirts like workmen, etc., etc. 

So, you sec, I have become very old and feel greatly weakened. 
I hope you wiU enjoy yourself very much. 

Your devoted friend, 

PIERRE CURIR. 

The mid-Lenten carnival. 



1 3 o MADAME CURIE 

Pierre Curie to Marie Sklodovska^ September y//&, 1894: 

... As you may imagine, your letter worries me. I strongly 
advise you to come back to Paris in October. It would be a great 
grief to me if you did not come back this year; but it is not out of a 
friend's selfishness that I tell you to come back. Only, I believe 
that you would work better here and can do a more solid and useful 
job. 

What would you think of somebody who thought of butting his 
head against a stone wall in the hope of knocking it over? It might 
be an idea resulting from the finest feelings, but in fact that idea 
would be ridiculous and stupid. I believe that certain questions 
require a general solution, but are no longer capable of local 
solutions nowadays; and that when one engages in a course which 
has no issue one can do a great deal of harm. I further believe that 
justice is not of this world, and that the strongest system, or rather 
the most economic, is the one that must prevail. Man is worn out 
by work and has a miserable life just the same: that is a revolting 
thing, but it isn't for that reason that it will disappear. It will dis- 
appear, probably, because man is a kind of machine and there is an 
advantage, from the economic point of view, in making any sort of 
machine work in its normal way without forcing it. 

You have an amazing way of understanding selfishness! When I 
was twenty I had a dreadful misfortune: I lost, in terrible circum- 
stances, a childhood friend whom I loved. I haven't the courage to 
tell you all about it. I went through days and nights with a fixed 
idea, and experienced a sort of delight in torturing myself. Then I 
vowed, in all good faith, to lead a priest's existence; I promised 
myself to be interested only in things thereafter, and never again to 
think either of myself or of mankind. Since then I have often asked 
if this renunciation of life was not simply a trick which I used 
against myself to acquire the right to forget. 

Is correspondence free in your country? I doubt it; and I think 
it would be better, in the future, to write no more dissertations 
which, .even though purely philosophical, might be badly in- 
terpreted and could cause you trouble. 

You can write to me, if you only will, at 1 3 Rue des Sablons. 

Your devoted friend, 

P. CURIE. 



PIERRE CURIE 131 

Pierre Curie to Marie Sklodovska, September ijtb, 1894: 

Your letter worried me a great deal; I felt that you were worried 
and undecided. Your letter from Warsaw reassures me a little; I 
feel you have regained your calm. Your picture pleases me 
enormously. How kind of you to send it to me! I thank you with 
all my heart. 

And finally, you are coming back to Paris; that gives me great 
pleasure. I want very much for us to become at least inseparable 
friends. Don't you agree? 

If you were French, you could easily manage to be a professor 
in the secondary schools or in a girls' normal school. Would that 
profession please you? 

Your very devoted friend, 

P. CURIE. 

1 showed your photograph to my brother. Was that wrong? 
He admired it. He added: "She has a very decided look, not to 
say stubborn" 

Would it not in itself be a splendid title to fame, to have inspired 
such letters? 

October came. Pierre's heart swelled with happiness: Marie> 
according to her promise, had returned to Paris. She was to be 
seen again at the lectures in the Sorbonne and at Lippmann's 
laboratory. But this year her last in France, as she believed she 
no longer lived in the Latin Quarter. Bronya had given her a room 
adjoining the surgery she had opened for consultation at 37 Rue de 
CMtcauclun. As the Dluskis still lived in La Villette and Bronya 
came to the Rue dc Chateaudun only during the day, Marie could 
thus work in peace. 

It was in this dark and rather dismal lodging that Pierre Curie 
resumed his tender entreaties. He bore within him the same 
faith as his future wife, a faith which was even more whole- 
hearted, purer by its lack of alloy. For Pierre, science was the 
only aim, Thus his was a strange and almost incredible adventure, 
for it mixed the essential aspiration of his mind into the movement 
of his heart. He felt himself drawn toward Marie by an impulse 
of love and at the same time by the highest necessity. 



I 3 i ' MADAME CURIE 

He was even ready to sacrifice what people call happiness to 
another happiness known to him alone. He made Marie a proposal 
which at first seems fantastic, which might pass for a ruse or an 
approach, but which was characteristic of his nature. If Marie had 
no love for him, he asked, could she resolve upon a purely friendly 
arrangement at least, and work with him "in an apartment in the 
Rue Mouffetard, with windows giving on a garden, an apartment 
which could be divided into two independent parts?" 

Or else (since necessity names its own price) if he, Pierre Curie, 
went to Poland and obtained a position would she marry him? He 
could give French lessons; then, with whatever means at their 
disposal, he would engage in scientific research with her. . . . 

Before the former governess who had once been disdained by a 
Polish squireen family, this man of genius became an humble 
supplicant. 

Marie confided her perplexities and anxieties to Bronya, speaking 
of Pierre's offer to exile himself. She did not feel that she had the 
right to accept such sacrifice, but she was troubled and moved 
by the idea that Pierre loved her enough to have thought 
of it. 

When he learned that the girl had spoken of him to the Dluskis, 
Pierre tried a new attack on that side. He went to see Bronya, 
whom he had already met several times; he won her over com- 
pletely and asked her to come with Marie to his parents' house at 
Sceaux. Dr. Curie's wife took Bronya aside and in a gentle, 
touching voice asked her to speak to her younger sister. 

"There isn't a soul on earth to equal my Pierre," Mmc Curie 
insisted. "Don't let your sister hesitate. She will be happier with 
him than with anybody." 

Ten more months had to pass before the obdurate Pole accepted 
the idea of marriage. Like a true Slavic "intellectual," Marie was 
encumbered with theories on life and duty. Some of her theories 
were generous and fine; others were only childish. Above all 
and Pierre had understood this for a long time it was not her 
theories that made Marie a superior being. The scientist made 
quick work of principles which Marie shared with several thou- 
sands of her cultivated compatriots. What held and fascinated him 
was her total devotion to work; it was her genius that he felt; it was 



PIERRE CURIE 133 

tiso ncr courage and nobility. This graceful girl had the character 
and gifts of a great man. 

Principles? He, too had lived on principles for a long time, and 
life had undertaken to demonstrate their absurdity. He, too, had 
sworn never to get married. He had no Poland to defend, but he 
had always believed marriage to be incompatible with an existence 
devoted to science. The tragic end of an ardent youthful love had 
turned him in upon himself and had kept him away from women. 
He no longer wanted to love: a salutary principle which had saved 
him from commonplace marriage and made him wait for this 
meeting with an exceptional woman, a woman "made for him'* 
for Marie. And now he would not be stupid enough to let the 
chance of great happiness and a wonderful collaboration escape 
him for the sake of a "principle." He would win the girl, the Pole 
and the physicist, three persons who had become indispensable to 
him. . . . 

Thus he gently reasoned with Mile Sklodovska. By such words 
and by others more tender, by the protection he offered her and by 
the deep, irresistible charm of his daily presence, Pierre Curie 
gradually made a human being out of the young hermit. 

On July 1 4th, 1895, Marie's brother Joseph sent her the 
affectionate absolution of the Sklodovski family: 

... As you are now M. Curie's fiancee, I offer you first of all 
my sincerest good wishes, and may you find with him all the 
happiness and joy you deserve in my eyes and in the eyes of all who 
know your excellent heart and character. 

... 1 think you are right to follow your heart, and no just 
person can reproach you for it. Knowing you, 1 am convinced 
that you will remain Polish with all your soul, and also that you will 
never cease to be part of our family in your heart. And we, too, 
will never cease to love you and to consider you ours. 

I would infinitely rather see you in Paris, happy and contented, 
than back again in our country, broken by the sacrifice of a whole 
life and victim of a too subtle conception of your duty. What we 
must do now is try to see each other as often as possible, in spite of 
everything. 



I 34 MADAME CURIE 

A thousand kisses, dear Manya; and again let me wish you 
happiness, joy and success. Give my affectionate regards to your 
fiance. Tell him that I welcome him as a future member of our 
family and that I offer him my friendship and sympathy without 
reserve. I hope that he will also give me his friendship and esteem. 

A few days later Marie wrote to Kazia, her girlhood friend, and 
announced the decision she had taken: 

When you receive this letter your Manya will have changed her 
name. I am about to marry the man I told you about last year in 
Warsaw. It is a sorrow to me to have to stay for ever in Paris, but 
what am I to do? Fate has made us deeply attached to each other 
and we cannot endure the idea of separating. 

I haven't written, because all this was decided only a short time 
ago, quite suddenly. I hesitated for a whole year and could not 
resolve upon an answer. Finally I became reconciled to the idea of 
settling here. When you receive this letter, write to me: Madame 
Curie, School of Physics and Chemistry, 42 Rue Lhomond. 

That is my name from now on. My husband is a teacher in that 
school. Next year I shall bring him to Poknd so that he will know 
my country, and I shall not fail to introduce him to my dear little 
chosen sister, and I shall ask her to love him. . . . 

On July 26th Marie awoke for the last time in her lodging in the 
Rue de Chateaudun. It was a marvellous day. The girl's face was 
beautiful. Something her student comrades had never seen was alight 
in her face: to-day Mile Sklodo vska was to become Mme Pierre Curie. 

She dressed her lovely hair and put on her wedding dress, a 
present from Casimir Dluski's aged mother, who now lived in the 
Rue d'Allemagne. "I have no dress except the one I wear every 
day," Marie had said. "If you are going to be kind enough to give 
me one, please let it be practical and dark, so that I can put it on 
afterwards to go to the kb oratory/* 

Guided by Bronya, Mme Glet, a little dressmaker in the Rue 
Dancourt, had made the dress: a navy-blue woollen suit with a blue 
blouse with ligher blue stripes, in which Marie looked pretty, fresh 
and young. 



PIERRE CURIE 135 

Marie loved the idea of her wedding, which was to be, in every 
detail of the great day, different from all other weddings. There 
would be no white dress, no gold ring, no "wedding breakfast." 
There would be no religious ceremony: Pierre was a freethinker 
and Marie, for a long time past, had ceased the practices of religion. 
There were no lawyers necessary, as the marriage pair possessed 
nothing in the world nothing but two glittering bicycles, bought 
the day before with money sent as a present from a cousin, with 
which they were going to roam the countryside in the coming 
summer. 

It was to be a wonderful wedding indeed, for neither indiffer- 
ence, curiosity nor envy was to be present. At the city hall in 
Sceaux and in the little garden at Pierre's parents' house in the Rue 
des Sablons there would be Bronya and Casimir, a few very close 
friends university people and Professor Sklodovski, who had 
come from Warsaw with Hela. . . . The professor made it a 
point of honour to talk to old Dr. Curie in the most correct and 
careful French; but first of all he would say, in his lowest tone, very 
moved, these words straight from his good heart: "You will have 
a daughter worthy of affection in Marie. Since she came into the 
world she has never caused me pain/' 

Pierre came to get Marie. They had to go to the Luxembourg 
station for the train to Sceaux, where their parents were waiting. 
They went up the Boulevard Saint-Michel on the top of an 
omnibus in the bright sun, and from the height of their triumphal 
chariot looked down on the passing of familiar places. 

In front of the Sorbonne, at the entrance to the Faculty of 
Science, Marie squeezed her companion's arm a little and sought 
his glance, luminous and at peace. 



CHAPTER XI 



A Young Couple 



MARIE always succeeded in her undertakings. It was thus with her 
marriage. She had hesitated for more than a year before marrying 
Pierre Curie. Now that she was his wife, she organised their 
conjugal life with such far-sighted tenderness that she was to make 
a wonderful thing of it. 

The first days of their life together were picturesque: Pierre and 
Marie roamed the roads of the Ile-de-France on their famous 
bicycles. In the baggage straps they strung up a few clothes and 
two long rubberised cloaks which the rainy summer had forced 
them to buy. They lunched on bread and cheese, peaches and 
cherries, seated on the moss of some woodland glade. In the 
evening, they stopped by chance at some unknown inn. There 
they found thick, hot soup and a room with faded wallpaper on 
which the candle made shadows dance. They were alone in the 
mock-silence of the night fields, broken by far-off barking, the 
cooing of birds, the lewd complaints of cats and the dramatic 
crackling of boards in the floor. 

When they wanted to explore the woods or rocks they inter- 
rupted their journey by a walk. Pierre loved the country passion- 
ately, and no doubt his long, silent walks were necessary to his 
genius; their equal rhythm encouraged his scientist's meditation. 
He could not remain quiet when he was outside in a garden. He 
did not know how to rest. Neither did he care for the classic 
excursions with itineraries provided in advance. He had no 
notion of time: why ought one to walk by day more than by night, 
and why should the hours for meals be fixed once and for all? 

136 



A YOUNG COUPLE 137 

Since his childhood he had had the habit of going off when he 
liked, sometimes at dawn, sometimes at dusk, without knowing 
whether he would come back in three days or in an hour. He 
retained a wonderful memory of these wanderings in the old days 
with his brother: 

Oh! what a good time that was, in grateful solitude, far from the 
thousand irritating little things which tortured me in Paris. . . . 
No, 1 do not regret my nights in the woods or my days that 
slipped by alone. If I had time I would willingly ramble on about 
the day-dreams I had there. I should like to describe my delicious 
valley too all embalmed in aromatic plants; the lovely jungle, so 
cool and wet, through which the Bievre flowed, the fairy palace 
with colonnades of hop plants, the stony hills, red with briar, 
where we enjoyed ourselves so much. Yes: I shall always re- 
member the woods of La Miniere with gratitude. Of all the places 
I have known, it is the one I loved most, where I was happiest. 
I often went off in the evening, up the valley, and came back with 
dozens of ideas in my head. . . . 

The summer's tramping in 1895, a "wedding tramp," was 
sweeter still; love exalted it and made it beautiful. At the cost of 
some thousands of pedal strokes and a few francs for village 
lodgings, the young couple attained the luxury of solitude shared 
between them for long enchanted days and nights. 

One day, leaving their machines in a peasant's house, Pierre and 
Marie left the big road and went off on a chance trail taking nothing 
with them but a little compass and some fruit. Pierre strode on 
ahead and Marie followed him without fatigue. Sacrificing the 
proprieties, she had shortened her skirts a liltle so as to be able to 
walk freely. Her head was bare; she wore a white bodice, fresh 
and pretty, heavy shoes, and around her waist a leather belt, 
practical but not graceful, which harboured a knife, some money 
and a watch in its pockets. 

Pierre went on thinking aloud about the work on crystals that 
preoccupied him, without even turning round to catch his wife's 
eyes. He knew that Marie understood, and that what she would 
reply would be intelligent, useful and original. She, too, had great 



138 MADAME CURIE 

plans for the next university year: she was going to prepare for the 
Fellowship competition and it was almost certain that the director 
of the School of Physics, Schutzenberger, would authorise her to 
make her researches in the same laboratory with Pierre. Thus they 
could live constantly together, never separate. 

In the midst of the thicket they came upon a pond surrounded 
by reeds. Pierre discovered the flora and fauna of this sleeping 
pool with joy. He had a wonderful knowledge of air and water 
animals, of salamanders, dragon-flies and tritons. While his young 
wife stretched out on the bank, he stepped nimbly out on a fallen 
tree- trunk and, risking a fall and an unwanted bath, stretched his 
hands forward to gather yellow irises and pale floating water-lilies. 

Marie, at peace and almost dozing, looked up at the sky where 
light clouds drifted. Suddenly she cried out sharply as she felt 
something cold and wet on her opened hand. It was a green frog, 
panting, which Pierre had delicately dropped into her palm. He 
had no intention of playing a joke; familiar acquaintance with 
frogs was an absolutely natural thing to him. 

"Pierre. . . . Really, Pierre!" she protested, with a movement 
of childish terror. 

The physicist was shocked. 

"Don't you like frogs?" 

"Yes, but not in my hands." 

"Ycu are quite wrong," he said, unmoved. "It is very amusing 
to watch a frog. Open your hand gently. Now see how nice it is!" 

He took the animal back and Marie smiled in relief. He put the 
frog down on the edge of the pond and gave it its freedom; then, 
already tired of this halt, he made off down the trail, and his wife 
followed him, wearing her wild .ornaments of iris and water-lily. 

Caught up again by the haunting thought of work, Pierre Curie 
had suddenly forgotten woods and skies frog and pool. He mused 
upon the tenuous, immense difficulty of his research, the troubled 
mystery of the growth of crystals. He described the apparatus he 
was going to construct for a new experiment; and again he heard 
Marie's faithful voice, her lucid questions and reflective answers. 

During these happy days was formed one of the finest bonds that 
ever united man and woman. Two hearts beat together, two 
bodies were united, and two minds of genius learned to think 



A YOUNG COUPLE 139 

together. Marie could have married no other than this great 
physicist, than this wise and noble man. Pierre could have married 
no woman other than the fair, tender Polish girl, who could be 
childish or transcendent within the same few moments; for she was 
a friend and a wife, a lover and a scientist. 

Toward the middle of August, delighted and tired by their 
wonderful summer, the young couple settled down near Chantilly 
on a farm called The Mind. This, too, was one of Bronya's 
discoveries; she had taken the peaceful dwelling for several 
months. There Marie and Pierre rejoined old Mme Dluska, 
Casimir, Bronya and their daughter Helen, nicknamed "Lou," 
Professor Sklodovski and Hela, who had prolonged their stay in 
France. 

T his holiday was to become a precious and dazzling memory to 
that group of people who were destined seldom to meet again. 
They felt the charm of a poetic old house standing alone in the 
woods full of pheasants and hares, its ground carpeted with lilies- 
of the- valley; the charm of a friendship embracing two races and 
thre" generations. 

Pierre Curie made a permanent conquest of his new family. He 
talked about science with his father-in-law Sklodovski and had 
serious interviews with little Lou, who was pretty, funny and very 
gay at the age of three and was the delight of them all. Sometimes 
Dr. Curie and his wife came for a visit from Sceaux to Chantilly. 
Then there were two more places laid at the big table, and the 
conversation grew animated, passing from chemistry to medicine 
and to the education of children, from social ideas to general views 
on France and Poland. 

Pierre had not a trace of that instinctive distrust of foreigners 
wl ich is so common among our compatriots. He was, on his side, 
captivated by the Dluskis and Sklodovskis. To give his wife a 
new proof of love he forced himself, in spite of Marie's delighted 
protests into a most touching effort: he tried to learn Polish, the 
most difficult of languages, and since it was the speech of a 
country which had been abolished the most useless. 

Pierre took his "Polonisation" treatment at The Hind; and at 
Sceaux, where be brought his young wife in September, it was 



i 4 o MADAME CURIE 

Marie's turn to become Gallicised. She asked nothing better. She 
already loved her husband's parents, whose affection was to 
comfort her exile when M. Sklodovski and Hcla had gone back to 
Warsaw. 

Pierre's marriage to a poor foreign girl, found in a garret in the 
Latin Quarter, had neither shocked nor surprised the old people; 
theirs were gifted minds. They admired Marie from the first 
moment. It was not only her "Slavic charm" that affected them 
and their elder son Jacques, who had a great friendship for his 
sister-in-law; they were dazzled by the masculine intelligence of 
Pierre's wife, and by her character. 

One of the few surprises Marie was to experience in the circle at 
Sceaux, no doubt, was the ardour of her father-in-law's political 
passions and that of his friends. Dr. Curie, still in love with the 
ideas of 1848, was intimately associated with the radical Henri 
Brisson. He had a fighting spirit. Marie, who had been brought 
up in the struggle against foreign oppressors and the pacific 
devotion to a social ideal, learned to know party quarrels, so dear 
to Frenchmen. She listened to long arguments and the explanation 
of burning theories. When she was a little tired of them she took 
refuge with her husband, who kept to himself, dreamy and silent. 
If the Sunday guests in the little garden of the Rue des Sablons 
tried to get Pierre into one of their friendly disputes over events of 
the day, the physicist sometimes answered gently, as if to excuse 
himself: "I am not much good at getting angry." 

Pierre Curie was little inclined to take an active part in politics 
[Marie was to write]. By education and feeling he was attached to 
democratic and socialist ideas, but he was dominated by no party 
doctrine. ... In public as in private life he did not believe in the 
use of violence. 

The Dreyfus case was to be one of the few occasions on which 
Pierre Curie, coming out of his reserve, would grow impassioned 
in political struggle; but there again his conduct was not to be 
dictated by sectarian spirit: he quite naturally took the part of the 
innocent and persecuted. He was to fight against an iniquity tha/ 
filled him with horror, because he was a just man. 



A YOUNG COUPLE 141 

The little flat at 24 Rue de la Glaciere, where the young couple 
settled in October, had windows giving on a big garden. This 
lodging, which was singularly lacking in comfort, possessed no 
other charm. 

Marie and Pierre had done nothing to decorate their three tiny 
rooms. They even refused the furniture offered them by Dr. Curie: 
every sofa and chair would be one more object to dust in the 
morning and to furbish up on days of full cleaning. Marie could 
not do it; she hadn't time. In any case, what was the good of a 
sofa or chair, as the Curies had agreed to do away with meetings 
and calls 5 The troublesome person who risked his neck on the 
four flights of stairs in order to disturb the young couple in their 
lair was rebuffed once for all uhen he got into the conjugal office 
with its bare walls, furnished with books and a white wooden 
table. At one end of the table was Marie's chair; at the other, 
Pierre's. On the table were treatises on physics, a petroleum lamp, 
a bunch of flowers; and that was all Before these two chairs, 
neither of which was for him. and before the politely astonished 
gaze of Pierre and Marie the most daring visitor could only flee. 

Pierre's existence tended toward one ideal only: to engage in 
scientific research at the side of the beloyed woman who also lived 
for scientific research. Marie's was a harder life, because to the 
obsession of work was added the humble and tiring tasks of 
womankind. She could no longer neglect material life, as she had 
done in the austere and careless days of her study at the Sorbonne; 
and her first purchase on their return from holiday was a black 
account book with the great word EXPENSES printed in letters 
of gold on its cover. 

Pierre Curie now earned five hundred francs a month at the 
School of Physics. These five hundred francs were the couple's 
only resource until Marie's diploma as fellow of the university 
would permit her to teach in France. 

This would do well onough: with such a sum a modest pair 
could live, and Marie knew how to be economical. The difficult 
thing was to get the crushing work of one day into twenty-four 
hours Marie passed the whole morning and afternoon at the 
laboratory of the school, where a place had been found for her. 
The laboratory was happiness; and yet there were a floor to sweep 



i 4 z MADAME CURIE 

and a bed to make at the Rue de la Glaciere. Pierre's clothes had t^ 
be kept in good condition and his meals had to be suitable. With 
no maid. . . . 

So Marie got up early to go to market; and in the evenings as 
she was coming home from school on Pierre's arm she took him 
into the grocer's shop or the dairy. She peeled the vegetables for 
the noonday meal in the morning before she went to the laboratory. 
Where were the days when the careless Mile Sklodovska didn't 
know the strange ingredients of soup? Mme Pierre Curie made it a 
point of honour to learn them. As soon as her marriage had been 
decided, the student had gone secretly to ask for cookery lessons 
from old Mme Dluska and Bronya. She practised cooking a 
chicken and fried potatoes, and dutifully prepared wholesome meals 
for Pierre, who was indulgence itself, and so absent-minded that 
he never even noticed the great effort she made. 

Marie was stimulated by a puerile conceit; what a mortification 
it would be for her if her French mother-in-law, face to face some 
day with an unsuccessful omelette, wondered aloud what on earth 
they taught the young girls in Warsaw! Marie read and re-read her 
cookery book and annotated it conscientiously in the margins, 
reporting her trials, failures and successes in brief phrases of 
scientific accuracy. 

She invented dishes which needed little preparation, and still 
others which could be left to "cook themselves" during the hours 
she passed at the school. But cooking was as difficult and my- 
sterious as chemistry. What could she do to keep the macaroni 
from sticking? Should she put boiled beef into cold or hot water? 
How long should runner beans boil? In front of her oven Marie, 
her cheeks afire, heaved many as igh. It had been so simple 
in the old days to live on buttered bread and tea, radishes and 
cherries! 

Little by little she improved in housekeeping wisdom. The gas 
heater, which on several occasions had taken the liberty of burning 
the roast, now knew its duty. Before going out, Marje would 
regulate the flame with a physicist's precision; then, casting one 
last worried glance at the stewpans she was entrusting to the fire, 
she shut the door on the landing, flew down the stairs and caught 
up with her husband, to walk with him toward the school. 



A YOUNG COUPLE 143 

In a quarter of an hour, bent over other containers, she would 
regulate the height of flame on a laboratory burner with the same 
careful gesture;. 

Eight hours of scientific research and two or three hours of 
housekeeping were not enough. In the evening, after writing 
down the details of daily expenses in the account-book columns 
so pompously headed "Monsieur's Expenditure" and "Madam's 
Expenditure," Marie Curie sat down at one end of the white- 
wood table and became absorbed in preparing for the Fellowship 
competition. On the other side of the lamp Pierre was drawing up 
the programme of his new course at the School of Physics. Often, 
when she felt her husband's iine eyes upon' her, she lifted her own 
eyes to receive a message of love and admiration. And a little 
smile was silently exchanged between this man and woman who 
loved each other. There was a light at the window of their room 
until two or three in the morning, and the ardent pianissimo of the 
turning page, the running pen, could be heard in their office with 
its two chairs. 

MarietoJwpbSklodovski* November z$rd y 1895: 

. . . Everything goes well with us; we are both healthy and life 
is kind to us. I am arranging my flat little by little, but I intend to 
keep it to a style which will give me no worries and will not 
require attention, as I have very little help: a woman who comes 
for an hour a day to wash the dishes and do the heavy work. I do 
the cooking and housekeeping myself. 

Every few days we go to Sceaux to see my husband's parents. 
This does not interrupt our work; we have two rooms on the first 
floor there, with everything we need; we are therefore perfectly at 
home and can do all the part of our work that cannot be done in the 
laboratory. 

When it is fine we go to Sceaux by bicycle; we only take the train 
when it is raining cats and dogs. 

My "lucrative" employment is not yet settled. I hope to get 
some work this year that 1 can do in the laboratory. It is half- 
scientific, half-industrial occupation, which I prefer to giving 
lessons. 



144 MADAME CURIE 

Mar te to Joseph Sklodovski, March i8A&, 1896: 

. . . Our life is always the same, monotonous. We see nobody 
but the Dluskis and my husband's parents in Sceaux. We hardly 
ever go to the theatre and we give ourselves no diversions. At 
Easter we shall allow ourselves several days' holiday, perhaps, and 
shall go off on an excursion. 

I am sorry not being able to go to Hela's wedding. If none of us 
lived in Warsaw, perhaps, in spite of the difficulties, I might get 
together the money for the journey. But happily Mela is not 
altogether abandoned. I must therefore deprive myself of this 
great joy, because I cannot indulge it without scruple. 

It has been very hot here for several weeks. Everything is green 
in the country. At Sceaux, simple violets were showing themselves 
already in February, and now there are quantities of them; the 
rockery in the garden is full of them. In the streets of Paris they 
sell masses of flowers at very reasonable prices, and we always have 
bunches of them at home. . . . 



Marie to Joseph and to his wife* ]itly 1 6/^, 1896: 

Dear ones, I should so much have liked to come home this year 
and take you both in my arms! I can't think of it, aks; I have 
neither the time nor the money. The competitive examination for 
a Fellowship, which I am passing now, may go on until the middle 
of August. 

In the examination for a Fellowship in Secondary Education 
Mme Curie passed first. Pierre, without a word, flung his proud, 
protecting arm around Marie's neck. They went to the Rue de la 
Glaciere arm in arm; and as soon as they got there they blew up the 
tyres of their bicycles and packed their bags. They were oil to 
Auvergne on a journey of exploration. 

How prodigal they were of their mental and physical powersl 
Their holidays, too, were an orgy of energy. 

Marie was to write later: 

A radiant memory remains from one sunny day when, after a 
long and difficult ascent, we traversed the fresh green fields of 
Aubrac in the pure air of the high plateau. Another living 



A YOUNG COUPLE 145 

memory is that of an evening when, loitering at dusk in the gorges 
of the Truyere, we were particularly taken by a folk-song dying 
away in the distance, sung on a boat that was going down the 
current of the water. Having planned our stages badly, we could 
not get back to our lodging before dawn: a meeting with some 
carts whose horses were frightened at our bicycles made us cut 
across the tilled fields. We took the road afterward across the high 
plateau bathed in the unreal light of the moon, while the cows who 
were passing the night in enclosures came to contemplate us 
gravely with their great, tranquil eyes. 

The second year of their marriage differed from the first only in 
Marie's state of health, which was upset by her pregnancy. Mme 
Curie had wanted a child, but she was vexed at being so ill and 
at being unable to stand before the apparatus and study the 
magnetisation of steel. She complained: 

Marie to Ka^ia, March znd, 1 897: 

Dear Kazia, I am very late with my birthday letter, but I have 
been very unwell all these last weeks, and that deprived me of the 
energy and freedom of mind for writing. 

I am going to have a child, and this hope has a cruel way of 
showing itself. For more than two months I have had continual 
dizziness, all day long from morning to night. I tire myself out 
and get steadily weaker, and although I do not look ill, I feel 
unable to work and am in a very bad state of spirits. 

My condition irks me particularly because my mother-in-law 
is now seriously ill. 

Mark to Joseph Shlodcvski, March $ist, 1897: 
Nothing new here. 1 am ill all the time, although I look well 
instead of showing it. My husband's mother is still ill, and as it is 
an incurable disease (cancer of the breast) we are very depressed. 
I am afraid, above all, that the disease will reach its end at the 
e time as my pregnancy. If this should happen my poor Pierre 
have some very hard weeks to go through. . , . 

In July 1897 Pierre and Marie, who had hardly been apart for 



146 ' MADAME CURIE 

an hour during the preceding two years, were separated for the 
first time. Professor Sklodovski came to pass the summer in 
France and settled with his daughter at the little Hotel of the Grey 
Rocks at Port Blanc; he watched over her until Pierre, who was 
detained in Paris, could come and join them. 

Pierre to Mane, J'tty 1897: 

My little girl, so dear, so sweet, whom I love so much, I had your 
letter to-day and was very happy. . . . Nothing new here, except 
that I miss you very much: my soul flew away with you. . . . 

These lines were traced with great industry, in Polish, the 
barbarian language in which the physicist had wanted to know all 
the tenderest words. Also in Polish, and in short little sentences 
that a novice could understand, Marie answered: 

My dear husband, it is fine, the sun shines, it is hot. I am very 
sad without you, come quickly, I expect you from morning to 
night and I don't see you coming. ... I am well, I work as much 
as 1 can, but Poincare's book is more difficult than I had thought. 
I must speak to you about it and we can read over again together 
those parts which seemed to me important and hard to 
understand. 

Returning to French, Pierre, in letters beginning "My dear little 
child whom I love," hastily describes his life at Sceaux and the 
details of his work at the end of the year. He speaks with serious^ 
ness and exactness about the swaddling clothes, jackets and little 
shirts of the infant that was about to be born: 

I sent you a parcel to-day by post. You will find in it two 
knitted jackets coming from Mme P., I believe. They are of the 
smallest size and of the size next to it. The smallest size will do 
for jackets in clastic knit, but we must have a larger one in linen 
or cotton. You have to have jackets in both sizes. . . . 

Suddenly he found grave and rare words to express his love: 
I think of my dearest who fills my life, and I should like to have 



A YOUNG COUPLE 147 

new faculties. It seems to me that in concentrating my mind 
exclusively on you, as I have just been doing, I should be able to 
see you, to follow what you are doing, and also to make you feel 
that 1 am all yours in this moment but I don't succeed in getting 
a clear picture. 

At the beginning of August Pierre ran away to Port Blanc. It 
might be supposed that he would be so softened by Marie's con- 
dition, in her eighth month of pregnancy, as to pass a quiet 
summer with her; but this was not so. With the thoughtlessness 
of the insane or rather of the scientist the pair went off to Brest 
on their bicycles, covering stages as long as they usually did. Marie 
declared that she felt no fatigue, and Pierre was quite willing to 
believe her. He had a vague feeling that she was a supernatural 
being, who escaped from human kws. 

This time, just the same, the young wife's body had to beg for 
mercy. Marie was forced, in great humiliation, to cut short the 
trip and go back to Paris, where she gave birth to a daughter on 
September izth: Irene, a beautiful baby and a future Nobel prize- 
winner. Dr. Curie took charge of the delivery, which Mme Curie 
endured without a cry, her teeth clenched. 

The confinement seems to have attracted little attention and cost 
very little money. On September i2th we find in the account book, 
under the heading of unusual expenses: "Champagne $fr. Telegrams 
ifr. 10." Under the heading of * 'illnesses" the young mother has 
written: "Chemist and nurse: 71 fr. 50." The total expenses of the 
Curie household for September 430 fr. 40 were thus so 
enlarged that Marie, to show her indignation, underlined the figure 
of 430 fr. with two great raging strokes. 

The idea of choosing between family life and the scientific career 
did not even cross Marie's mind. She was resolved to face love, 
maternity and science all three, and to cheat none of them. By 
passion and will, she was to succeed. 



Marie to M. Sklodovski, November joM, 1897: 
... I am still nursing my little Queen, but lately we have 
been seriously afraid that I could not continue. For three weeks 



i 4 8 ' MADAME CURIE 

the child's weight had suddenly gone down, Irene looked ill, and 
was depressed and lifeless. For some days now things have been 
going better. If the child gains weight normally I shall continue to 
nurse her. If not, I shall take a nurse, in spite of the grief this would 
be to me, and in spite of the expense; I don't want to interfere with 
my child's development for anything on earth. 

It is still very fine here, hot and sunny. Irene goes out with me 
for a walk every day, or else with the servant. I bathe her in a 
little washing basin. 

Marie was soon obliged to give up nursing her daughter by the 
doctor's orders; but morning, noon, evening and night she 
changed, bathed and dressed her. The nurse trundled the baby in 
the Pare Montsouris, while the young mother worked at the 
laboratory, finished and edited her work on magnetisation for the 
Bulletin of the Society for Encouragement of National Industry. 

Thus, in the same year, within an interval of three months, 
Marie Curie brought into the world her first child and the results 
of her first research. 

Sometimes her acrobatic system of life seemed impossible to 
continue. Her health had deteriorated since her pregnancy. 
Casimir Dluski and Dr. Vauthier, the Curie family doctor, spoke of 
a tubercular lesion in the left lung. Alarmed by Marie's heredity, 
as her mother had died of phthisis, they advised several months in 
a sanatorium. But the stubborn scientist listened to them absent- 
mindedly and flatly refused to obey. 

She had other things to worry about. She had the laboratory, 
her husband, her home and her daughter. Little Irene's tears as she 
was cutting teeth; a cold in the head; any minor accident troubled 
the calm of the household and made the two scientists pass nights 
of sleepless anxiety. Or else Marie, panic- stricken, would suddenly 
fly from the School of Physics toward the Pare Montsouris: had 
the nurse lost the child? No; she could see afar off, on their 
accustomed round, the woman and the little carriage in which 
something white could be discerned. 

She found kindly and precious help in her father-in-law. Dr. 
Curie, whose wife had died a few days after Irene's birth, had 
attached himself passionately to the baby, lie watched over her 



A YOUNG COUPLE 149 

first steps in the garden of the Rue cles Sablons. When Pierre and 
Marie left the Rue de la Glaciere for a little house in the Boulevard 
Kellermann, the old man was to come and live with them. He was 
to be Irene's first teacher and best friend. 

The Polish girl had travelled far since the morning in November 
1891 when she had arrived at the Gare du Nord, laden with 
parcels, in a third-class carriage. Manya Sklodovska had dis- 
covered physics, chemistry and the whole life of a woman. She had 
conquered humble and gigantic obstacles without for a moment 
suspecting that to do so she had called upon unequalled tenacity 
and exceptional courage. 

These struggles and victories had transformed her physically; 
they had given her a new face. It is impossible to look unmoved 
at a photograph of Marie Curie taken a little after her thirtieth 
year. The solid and rather thick-set girl had become an ethereal 
creature. One would like to say: "What an attractive, odd and 
pretty woman!" but one docs not dare, in front of the immense 
brow, of that gaze into another world. 

Mme Curie had a tryst with fame. She had made herself 
beautiful. 



CHAPTER XH 



The Discovery of Radium 



WHILE a young wife kept house, washed her baby daughter and 
put pans on the fire, in a wretched laboratory at the School of 
Physics a woman physicist was making the most important 
discovery of modern science. 

At the end of 1897 the balance-sheet of Marie's activity showed 
two university degrees, a fellowship and a monograph on the 
magnetisation of tempered steel. No sooner had she recovered 
from childbirth than she was back again at the laboratory. 

The next stage in the logical development of her career was the 
doctor's degree. Several weeks of indecision came in here. She 
had to choose a subject of research which would furnish fertile and 
original material. Like a writer who hesitates and asks himself 
questions before settling the subject of his next novel, Marie, 
reviewing the most recent work in physics with Pierre, was in 
search of a subject for a thesis. 

At this critical moment Pierre's advice had an importance which 
cannot be neglected. With respect to her husband, the young 
woman regarded herself as an apprentice: he was an older physicist, 
much more experienced than she. He was even, to put it exactly, 
her chief, her "boss." 

But without a doubt Marie's character, her intimate nature, 
played a great part in this all-important choice. From childhood 
the Polish girl had carried the curiosity and daring of an explorer 
within her. This was the instinct that had driven her to leave 
Warsaw for Paris and the Sorbonne, and had made her prefer a 
solitary room in the Latin Quarter to the Dluskis* downy nest. 

150 



THE DISCOVERY OF RADIUM 151 

In her walks in the woods she always chose the wild trail or the 
unfrequented road. 

At this moment she was like a traveller musing on a long voyage. 
Bent over the globe and pointing out, in some far country, a 
strange name that excites his imagination, the traveller suddenly 
decides to go there and nowhere else: so Marie, going through the 
reports of the latest experimental studies, was attracted by the 
publication of the French scientist Henri Becquerel of the pre- 
ceding year. She and Pierre already knew this work; she read it 
over again and studied it with her usual care. 

After Rontgen's discovery of X-rays, Henri Poincare conceived 
the idea of determining whether rays like the X-ray were emitted 
by fluorescent bodies under the action of light. Attracted by the 
same problem, Henri Becquerel examined the salts of a rare metal, 
uranium. Instead of the phenomenon he had expected, he ob- 
served another, altogether dirierent and incomprehensible: he dis- 
covered that uranium salts spontaneously emitted, without exposure 
to light, some rays of unknown nature. A compound of uranium, 
placed on a photographic plate surrounded by black paper, made 
an impression on the plate through the paper. And, like the X-ray, 
these astonishing uranic salts discharged an electroscope by 
rendering the surrounding air a conductor. 

Henri Becquerel made sure that these surprising properties were 
not caused by & preliminary exposure to the sun and that they 
persisted when the uranium compound had been maintained in 
darkness for several months. For the first time, a physicist had 
observed the phenomenon to which Marie Curie was later to give 
the name of radioactivity. But the nature of the radiation and its 
origin remained an enigma. 

Becquerel's discovery fascinated the Curies. They asked them- 
selves whence came the energy tiny, to be sure which uranium 
compounds constantly disengaged in the form of radiation. And 
what was the nature of this radiation? Here was an engrossing 
subject of research, a doctor's thesisl The subject tempted Marie 
most because it was a virgin field: Becquerel's work was very 
recent and so far as she knew nobody in the laboratories of Europe 
ha'd yet attempted to make a fundamental study of uranium rays. 
As a point of departure, and as the only bibliography, there existed 



1 5 2' MADAME CURIE 

some communications presented by Henri Becquerel at the 
Academy of Science during the year 1896. It was a leap into great 
adventure, into an unknown realm. 

There remained the question of where she was to make her 
experiments and here the difficulties began. Pierre made several 
approaches to the director of the School of Physics with practically 
no results: Marie was given the free use of a little glassed-in studio 
on the ground Moor of the school. It was a kind of store-room, 
sweating with damp, where unused machines and lumber were put 
away. Its technical equipment was rudimentary and its comfort nil. 

Deprived of an adequate electrical installation and of everything 
that forms material for the beginning of scientific research, she kept 
her patience, sought and found a means of making her apparatus 
work in this hole. 

It was not easy. Instruments of precision have sneaking enemies: 
humidity, changes of temperature. Incidentally the climate of this 
little workroom, fatal to the sensitive electrometer, was not much 
better for Marie's health. But this had no importance. When she 
was cold, the young woman took her revenge by noting -the 
degrees of temperature in centigrade in her notebook. On 
February 6th, 1898, we find, among the formulas and figures: 
"Temperature here 625." Six degrees ... 1* Marie, to show 
her disapproval, added ten little exclamation points. 

The candidate for the doctor's degree set her first task to be the 
measurement of the "power of ionisation" of uranium rays that is 
to say, their power to render the air a conductor of electricity and 
so to discharge an electroscope. The excellent method she used, 
which was to be the key to the success of her experiments, had been 
invented for the study of other phenomena by two physicists well 
known to her: Pierre and Jacques Curie. Her technical installation 
consisted of an ionisation chamber, a Curie electrometer and a 
piezoelectric quartz. 

At the end of several weeks the first result appeared: Marie 
acquired the certainty that the intensity of this surprising radiation 
was proportional to the quantity of uranium contained in the 
samples under examination, and that this radiation, which could be 
measured with precision, was not affected either by the chemical 
* About 44 Fahrenheit. 



THE DISCOVERY OF RADIUM 153 

state of combination of the uranium or by external factors such as 
lighting or temperature. 

These observations were perhaps not very sensational to the 
uninitiated, but they were of profound interest to the scientist. It 
often happens in physics that an inexplicable phenomenon can be 
subjected, after some investigation, to laws already known, and by 
this very fact loses its interest for the research worker. Thus, in a 
badly constructed detective story, if we are told in the third chapter 
that the woman of sinister appearance who might have committed 
the crime is in reality only an honest little housewife who leads a 
life without secrets, we feel discouraged and cease to read. 

Nothing of the kind happened here. The more Marie penetrated 
into intimacy with uranium rays, the more they seemed without 
precedent, essentially unknown. They were like nothing else. 
Nothing affected them. In spite of their very feeble power, they 
had an extraordinary individuality. 

Turning this mystery over and over in her head, and pointing 
toward the truth, Marie felt, and could soon affirm, that the incom- 
prehensible radiation was an atomic property. She questioned: 
Even though the phenomenon had only been observed with 
uranium, nothing proved that uranium was the only chemical 
element capable of emitting such radiation. Why should not other 
bodies possess the same power? Perhaps it was only by chance that 
this radiation had been observed in uranium first, and had remained 
attached to uranium in the minds, of physicists. Now it must be 
sought for elsewhere. . . . 

No sooner said than done. Abandoning the study of uranium, 
Marie undertook to examine ^il I known chcmic.il bodies, either in the 
pure state or in compounds. The result was not long in appearing: 
compounds of another element, thorium, also emitted spontaneous 
rays like those of uranium and of similar intensity. The physicist 
had been right: the surprising phenomenon was by no means the 
property of uranium alone, and it became necessary to give it a 
distinct name. Mme Curie suggested the name of radioactivity. 
Chemical substances like uranium and thorium, endowed with this 
particular "radiance/ 7 were called radio dements. 

Radioactivity so fascinated the young scientist that she never 
tired of examining the most diverse forms of matter, always bj 



154 ' MADAME CURIE 

the same method. Curiosity, a marvellous feminine curiosity, the 
first virtue of a scientist, was developed in Marie to the highest 
degree. Instead of limiting her observation to simple compounds, 
salts and oxides, she wanted to assemble samples of minerals from 
the collection at the School of Physics and make them undergo, 
almoat casually, for her own information, a kind of customs 
inspection, which is an electrometer test. Pierre approved, and 
chose, with her, the veined fragments, hard or crumbly, oddly 
shaped, which she wanted to examine. 

Marie's idea was simple sinple as the stroke of genius. At the 
cross-roads where Marie now stood hundreds of research workers 
might have remained, nonplussed, for months or even years. After 
examining all known chemical substances, and discovering as 
Marie had done the radiation of thorium, they would have con- 
tinued to ask themselves in vain whence came this mysterious 
radioactivity. Marie, too, questioned and wondered. But her 
surprise was translated into fruitful acts. She had used up all 
evident possibilities. Now she turned toward the unplumbed and 
the unknown. 

She knew in advance what she would learn from an examination 
of the minerals, or rather she thought she knew. The specimens 
which contained neither uranium nor thorium would be revealed 
as totally "inactive." The others, containing uranium or thorium, 
would be radioactive. 

Experiment confirmed this prevision. Rejecting the inactive 
minerals, Marie applied herself to the others and measured their 
radioactivity. Then came a dramatic revelation: the radioactivity 
was a great deal stronger than could have been normally foreseen by 
the quantity of uranium or thorium contained in the products 
examined! 

"It must be an error in experiment," the young woman thought; 
for doubt is the scientist's first response to an unexpected 
phenomenon. 

She started her measurements over again, unmoved, using the 
same products repeated them ten times, twenty times; and she was 
forced to yield to the evidence: the quantities of uranium and 
thorium found in these minerals were by no means sufficient to 
justify the exceptional intensity of the radiation she cbs^ivcd. 



THE DISCOVERY OF RADIUM 155 

Where did this excessive and abnormal radiation come from? 
Only one explanation was possible: the minerals must contain, in 
small quantity, a much more powerfully radioactive substance than 
uranium and thorium. 

But what substance? In her preceding experiments, Marie had 
already examined all known chemical elements. 

The scientist replied to the question with the sure logic and the 
magnificent audaciousness of a great mind: The minerals certainly 
contained a radioactive substance, which was at the same time a 
chemical element until then unknown: a new element. 

A new element! It was a fascinating and alluring hypothesis 
but still a hypothesis. For the moment this powerfully radioactive 
substance existed only in the imagination of Marie and of Pierre. 
But it did exist there. It existed strongly enough to make the young 
woman go to see Bronya one day and tell her in a restrained, ardent 
voice: 

"You know, Bronya, the radiation that I couldn't explain comes 
from a new chemical element. The element is there and I've got to 
find it. We are sure! The physicists we have spoken to believe we 
have made an error in experiment and advise us to be careful. But 
I am convinced that I am not mistaken." 

1 hese were unique moments in her unique life. The layman 
forms a theatrical and wholly false idea of the research worker 
and of his discoveries. "The moment of discovery" does not 
always exist: the scientist's work is too tenuous, too divided, for 
the certainty of success to crackle out suddenly in the midst of his 
laborious toil like a flash of lightning, dazzling him by its fire. 
Marie, standing in front of her apparatus, perhaps never experi- 
enced the sudden intoxication of triumph. This intoxication was 
spread over several days of decisive labour, made feverish by a 
magnificent hope. But it must have been an exultant moment 
when, convinced by the rigorous reasoning of her brain that she 
was on the trail of new matter, she confided the secret to her elder 
sister, her ally always. . . . Without exchanging one affectionate 
word, the two sisters must have lived again, in a dizzying breath 
of memory, their years of waiting, their mutual sacrifices, their 
bleak lives as students, full of hope and faith. 

It was barely four years earlier that Marie had written: 



i 5 6 MADAME CURIE 

Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have 
perseverance and, above all, confidence in ourselves. We must 
believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at 
whatever cost, must be attained. 

That "something" was to direct science towards a path hitherto 
unsuspected. 

In a first communication to the Academy, presented by Professor 
Lippmann and published in the Proceeding* on April izth, 1898, 
"Marie Sklodovska Curie" announced the probable presence in 
pitch-blende ores of a new element endowed with powerful radio- 
activity. This was the first stage of the discovery of radium. 

By the force of her own intuition the physicist had shown to 
herself that the wonderful substance must exist. She decreed its 
existence. But its incognito still had to be broken. Now she would 
have to verify hypothesis by experiment, isolate this material and 
see it. She must be able to announce with certainty: "It is there." 

Pierre Curie had followed the rapid progress of his wife's experi- 
ments with passionate interest. Without directly taking part in 
Mane's work, he had frequently helped her by his remarks and 
advice. In view of the stupefying character of her results he did 
not hesitate to abandon his study of crystals for the time being in 
order to join his efforts to hers in the search for the new substance. 

Thus, when the immensity of a pressing task suggested and 
exacted collaboration, a great physicist was at Marie's side a 
physicist who was the companion of her life. Three years earlier, 
love had joined this exceptional man and woman together love, 
and perhaps some mysterious foreknowledge, some sublime 
instinct for the work in common. 

The available force was now doubled. Two brains, four hands, 
now sought the unknown element in the damp little workroom in 
the Rue Lhomond. From this moment onward it is impossible to 
distinguish each one's part in the work of the Curies. We krow 
that Marie, having chosen to study the radiation of uranium as the 
subject of her thesis, discovered that other substances were also 
radioactive. We know that after the examination of minerals she 



THE DISCOVERY OF RADIUM 157 

was able to announce the existence of a new chemical element, 
powerfully radioactive, and that it was the capital importance of 
this result which decided Pierre Curie to interrupt his very different 
research in order to try to isolate this element with his wife. At 
that time May or June 1898 a collaboration began which was 
to last for eight years, until it was destroyed by a fatal accident. 

We cannot and must not attempt to find out what should be 
credited to Marie and what to Pierre during these eight years. It 
would be exactly what the husband and wife did not want. The 
personal genius of Pierre Curie is known to us by the original work 
he had accomplished before this collaboration. His wife's genius 
appears to us in the first intuition of discovery, the brilliant start; 
and it was to reappear to us again, solitarily, when Marie Curie the 
widow unflinchingly carried the weight of a new science and 
conducted it, through research, step by step, to its harmonious 
expansion. We therefore have formal proof that in the fusion of 
their two efforts, in this superior alliance of man and woman, the 
exchange was equal. 

Let this certainty suffice for our curiosity and admiration. Let 
us not attempt to separate these* creatures full of love, whose hand- 
writing alternates and combines in the working notebooks covered 
with formulae, these creatures who were to sign nearly all their 
scientific publications together. They were to write "We found" 
and "We observed"; and when they were constrained by fact to 
distinguish between their parts, they were to employ this moving 
locution: 

Certain minerals containing uranium and thorium (pitchblende, 
chalcolite, uranite) are very active from the point of view of the 
emission of Becquerel rays. In a previous communication, one of us 
showed that their activity was even greater than that of uranium 
and thorium and stated the opinion that this effect was due to some 
other very active substance contained in small quantity in these 
minerals. 

'Pierre and Marie Curie: Proceeding* of tbe Academy of Science, 
July i8th, 1898.) 

Marie and Pierre looked for this "very active" substance in an 



i 5 8 ' MADAME CURIE 

ore of uranium called pitch-blende, which in the crude state had 
shown itself to be four times more radioactive than the pure oxide 
of uranium that could be extracted from it. But the composition 
of this ore had been known for a long time with considerable 
precision. The new element must therefore be present in very 
small quantity or it would not have escaped the notice of scientists 
and their chemical analysis. 

According to their calculations * 'pessimistic" calculations, like 
those of true physicists, who always take the less attractive of two 
probabilities the collaborators thought the ore should contain 
the new element to a maximum quantity of one per cent. They 
decided that this was very little. They would have been in con- 
sternation if they had known that the radioactive element they were 
hunting down did not count for more than a millionth part of 
pitch-blende ore. 

They began their prospecting patiently, using a method of 
chemical research invented by themselves, based on radioactivity: 
they separated all the elements in pitch- blende by ordinary 
chemical analysis and then measured the radioactivity of each of the 
bodies thus obtained. By successive eliminations they saw the 
"abnormal" radioactivity take refuge in certain parts of the ore. 
As they went on, the field of investigation was narrowed. It was 
exactly the technique used by the police when they search the 
houses of a neighbourhood, one by one, to isolate and arrest a 
malefactor. 

But there was more than one malefactor here: the radioactivity 
was concentrated principally in two difTere.it chemical fractions of 
the pitch-blende. For M. and Mme Curie it indicated the existence 
of two new elements instead of one. By July 1898 they were able to 
announce the discovery of one of these substances with certainty. 

"You will have to name it," Pierre said to his young wife, in the 
same tone as if it were a question of choosing a name for little 
Irene. 

The one-time Mile Sklodovska reflected in silence for a moment. 
Then, her heart turning toward her own country which had been 
erased from the map of the world, she wondered vaguely if the 
scientific event would be published in Russia, Germany and 
Austria the oppressor countries and answered timidly: 



THE DISCOVERY OF RADIUM 159 

"Could we qdl it 'polonium'?" 

In the Proceedings of the Academy for July 1898 we read: 

We believe the substance we have extracted from pitch-blende 
contains a metal not yet observed, related to bismuth by its 
analytical properties. If the existence of this new metal is confirmed 
we propose to call it polonium^ from the name of the original 
country of one of us. 

The choice of this name proves that in becoming a Frenchwoman 
and a physicist Marie had not disowned her former enthusiasms. 
Another thing proves it for us: even before the note "On a New 
Radioactive Substance contained in Pitch-blende" had appeared in 
the Proceedings of the Academy, Marie had sent the manuscript to her 
native country, to that Joseph Loguski who directed the little 
laboratory at the Museum of Industry and Agriculture where she 
had made her first experiments. The communication was published 
in Warsaw in a monthly photographic review called Swiallo almost 
as soon as it was in Paris. 

Life was unchanged in the little flat in the Rue de la Glaciere. 
Marie and Pierre worked even more than usual: that was all. When 
the heat of summer came, the young wife found time to buy some 
baskets of fruit in the markets and, as usual, she cooked and put 
away preserves for the winter, according to the recipes used in the 
Curie family. Then she locked the shutters on her windows, which 
gave on burnt leaves; she registered their two bicycles at the 
Orleans station, and, like thousands of other young women in 
Paris, went off on holiday with her husband and her child. 

This year the couple had rented a peasant's house at Auroux, 
in.Auvergne. Happy to breathe fresh air after the noxious atmo- 
sphere of the Rue Lhomond, the Curies made excursions to Mende, 
Puy, Clermont, Mont-Dore. They climbed hills, visited grottoes, 
bathed in rivers. Every day, alone in the country, they spoke of 
what they called their "new metals," polonium and "the other" 
the one that remained to be found. In September they would go 
back to the damp workroom and the dull minerals; with 



160 ' MADAME CURIE 

freshened ardour they would take up their search again. . . . 
One grief interfered with Marie's intoxication for work: the 
Dluskis were on the point of leaving Paris. They had decided to 
settle in Austrian Poland and to build a sanatorium for tubercular 
sufferers at Zakopane in the Carpathian Mountains. The day of 
separation arrived: Marie and Bronya exchanged broken-hearted 
farewells; Marie was losing her friend and protector, and for the 
first time she had the feeling of exile. 

Marie to Brotiya, December ^nd^ 1898: 

You can't imagine what a void you have made in my life. With 
you two, I have lost everything I clung to in Paris except my 
husband and child. It seems to me that Paris no longer exists, 
apart from our lodging and the school where we work. 

Ask Mme Dluska if the green plant you left behind should be 
watered, and how many times a day. Does it need a great deal of 
heat and sun? 

We are well, in spite of the bad weather, the rain and the mud. 
Irene is getting to be a big girl. She is very difficult about her food, 
and except milk tapioca she will eat hardly anything regularly, not 
even eggs. Write me what would be a suitable menu for persons 
of her age. . . . 

In spite of their prosaic character or perhaps because of it 
some notes written by Mme Curie in that memorable year 1898 
seem to us worth quoting. Some are to be found in the margins of 
a book called Family Cooking, with respect to a recipe for goose- 
berry jelly: 

I took eight pounds of fruit and the same weight in crystallised 
sugar. After boiling for ten minutes, I passed the mixture through 
a rather fine sieve. I obtained fourteen pots of very good jelly, not 
transparent, which "took" perfectly. 

In a school notebook covered with grey linen, in which the 
young mother had written little Irene's weight day by day, her diet 
and the appearance of her first teeth, we read under the date of July 
zoth, 1898, some days after the publication of the discovery of 
polonium: 



THE DISCOVERY OF RADIUM 161 

Irene says "thanks" with her hand. She can walk very well now 
on all fours. She says "Gogli, gogli, go." She stays in the garden 
all day at Sceaux on a carpet. She can roll, pick herself up, and sit 
down. 

On August i$th, at Aurottx: 

Irene has cut her seventh tooth, on the lower left. She can stand 
for half a minute alone. For the past three days we have bathed her 
in the river. She cries, but to-day (fourth day) she stopped crying 
and played with her hands in the water. 

She plays with the cat and chases him with war cries. She is not 
afraid of strangers any more. She sings a great deal. She gets up 
on the table when she is in her chair. 

Three months later, on October i7th, Marie noted with pride: 
Irene can walk very well, and no longer goes on all fours. 



tb y 1899: 
Irene has fifteen teeth! 

Between these two notes that of October lyth, 1898, in which 
Irene no longer goes on all fours, and that of January jth, in which 
Irene has fifteen teeth and a few months after the note on the 
gooseberry preserve, we find another note worthy of remark. 

It was drawn up by Marie and Pierre Curie and a collaborator 
called G. Bemont. Intended for the Academy of Science, and 
published in the Proceedings of the session of December 26th, 1898, 
it announced the existence of a second new chemical element in 
pitch-blende. 

Some lines of this communication read as follows: 

The various reasons we have just enumerated lead us to believe that the 
new radioactive substance contains a new element to which we propose to 
give the name of RADIUM. 

The new radioactive substance certainly contains a very strong proportion 
of barium; in spite of that its radioactivity is considerable. The radio- 
activity of radium, therefore, must be enormous. 



CHAPTER XIII 



Four Years in a Shed 



A MAN chosen at random from a crowd to read an account of the 
discovery of radium would not have doubted for one moment that 
radium existed: beings whose critical sense has not been sharpened 
and simultaneously deformed by specialised culture keep their 
imaginations fresh. They are ready to accept an unexpected fact, 
however extraordinary it may appear, and to wonder at it. 

The physicist colleagues of the Curies received the news in 
slightly different fashion. 1 he special properties of polonium and 
radium upset fundamental theories in which scientists had believed 
for centuries. How was one to explain the spontaneous radiation of 
the radioactive bodies? The discovery upset a world of acquired 
knowledge and contradicted the most firmly established ideas on 
the composition of matter. Thus the physicist kept on the reserve. 
He was violently interested in Pierre and Marie's work he could 
perceive its infinite developments, but before being convinced he 
awaited decisive results. 

The attitude of the chemist was even more downright. By 
definition, a chemist only believes in the existence of a new sub- 
stance when he has seen the substance, touched it weighed and 
examined it, tested it with acids, bottled it, and when he has 
determined its "atomic weight." 

Now, up to the present, nobody had seen radium, nobody knew 
its atomic weight. The chemists, faithful to their principles, 
therefore concluded: "No atomic weight, no radium. Show us 
some radium and we will believe you." 

To show polonium and radium to the incredulous, to prove to 

162 



FOUR YEARS IN A SHED 163 

the world the existence of their "children," and to complete their 
own conviction, M. and Mme Curie were now to labour for four 
years. 

The aim was to obtain pure radium and polonium. In the most 
strongly radioactive products which the scientists had prepared, 
these substances figured only in imperceptible traces. Pierre and 
Marie already knew the method by which they could hope to 
isolate the new metals, but the separation could not be made except 
by treating very large quantities of crude material. 

Here arose three agonising questions: 

How were they to get a sufficient quantity of ore? What 
premises could they use to effect their treatment? What money 
was there to meet the inevitable cost of the work? 

Pitch-blende, in which polonium and radium were hidden, was 
a costly ore, treated at the St. Joachimsthal mines in Bohemia for 
the extraction of uranium salts used in the manufacture of glass. 
Tons of pitch-blende would cost a great deal: far too much for the 
Curie household. 

Ingenuity was to make up for wealth. According to the expecta- 
tion of the two scientists, the extraction of uranium should leave, 
intact in the ore, such traces of polonium and radium as the ore 
contains. There was no reason why these traces should not be 
found in the residue. And whereas crude pitch-blende was costly, 
its residue after treatment had very slight value. By asking an 
Austrian colleague for a recommendation to the directors of the 
mines of St. Joachimsthal would it not be possible to obtain a 
considerable quantity of such residue for a reasonable price? 

It was simple enough; but somebody had to think of it. 

It was necessary, of course, to buy this crude material and pay 
for its transportation to Paris. Pierre and Marie appropriated the 
required sum from their meagre savings. They were not so foolish 
as to ask for official credits. . . . If two physicists on the scent of 
an immense discovery had asked the University of Paris or the 
French government for a grant to buy pitch-blende residue they 
would have been laughed at. In any case their letter would have 
been lost in the files of some office, and they would have had to 
wait months for a reply, probably untavourable in the end. Out 



164 MADAME CURIE 

of the traditions and principles of the French Revolution, which 
had created the metric system, founded the Normal School, and 
encouraged science in many circumstances, the State seemed to 
have retained, after more than a century, only the deplorable words 
pronounced by Fouquier-Tinville at the trial in which Lavoisier 
was condemned to the guillotine: "The Republic has no need for 
scientists." 

But at least could there not be found, in the numerous buildings 
attached to the Sorbonne, some kind of suitable workroom to lend 
to the Curie couple? Apparently not. After vain attempts, Pierre 
and Marie staggered back to their point of departure, which is to 
say to the School of Physics where Pierre taught, to the little room 
where Marie had done her first experiments. The room gave on a 
courtyard, on the other side of which was a wooden shack, an 
abandoned shed, with a skylight roof in such bad condition that it 
admitted the rain. The Faculty of Medicine had formerly usrd the 
place as a dissecting room, but for a long time now it had not even 
been considered fit for a mortuary. There was no floor and an 
uncertain layer of bitumen covered the earth. It was furnished with 
some worn kitchen tables, a blackboard which had landed there for 
no known reason, and an old cast-iron stove with a rusty pipe. 

A workman would not willingly have worked in such a place: 
Marie and Pierre, nevertheless, resigned themselves to it. The shed 
had one advantage: it was so untempting, so miserable, that nobody 
thought of refusing them the use of it. Schutzenbcrger, the 
director of the school, had always been very kind to Pierre Curie 
anckno doubt regretted that he had nothing better to offer. How- 
ever that may be, he offered nothing else; and the couple, very 
pleased at not being put out into the street with their material, 
thanked him, saying that "this would do" and that they would 
"make the best of it." 

As they were taking possession of the shed, a reply arrived from 
Austria. Good news! By extraordinary luck, the residue of recent 
extractions of uranium had not been scattered. The useless 
material had been piled up in a no-man's-land planted with pine- 
trees, near the mine of St. Joachimsthal. Thanks to the intercession 
of Professor Suess and the Academy of Science of Vienna, the 
Austrian government, which was the proprietor of the State factory 



FOUR YEARS IN A SHED 165 

there, decided to present a ton of residue to the two French 
"lunatics" who thought they needed it. If, later on, they wanted 
a greater quantity of the material, they could obtain it at the mine 
on the best terms. For the moment the Curies had to pay only 
the transportation charges on a ton of ore. 

One morning a heavy wagon, like those which deliver coal, drew 
up in the Rue Lhomond before the School of Physics. Pierre and 
Marie were notified. They hurried bareheaded into the street in 
their laboratory gowns. Pierre, who was never excited, remained 
calm; but the more exuberant Marie could not restrain her joy at 
the sight of the sacks that were being unloaded. It was pitch- 
blende, b-r pitch- blende, for which she had received a notice some 
days before from the freight station. Full of curiosity and im- 
patience, she wanted to open one of the sacks and contemplate her 
treasure without further waiting. She cut the strings, undid the 
coarse sackcloth and plunged her two hands into the dull brown 
ore, still mixed with pine-needles from Bohemia. 

That was where radium was hidden. It was from there that 
Marie must extract it, even if she had to treat a mountain of this 
inert stuff like dust on the road. 

Marya Sklodovska had lived through the most intoxicating 
moments of her student life in a garret: Marie Curie was to know 
wonderful joys again in a dilapidated shed. It was a strange sort 
of beginning over again, in which a sharp subtle happiness (which 
probably no woman before Marie had ever experienced) twice 
elected the most miserable setting. 

The shed in the Rue Lhomond surpassed the most pessimistic 
expectations of discomfort. In summer, because of its skylights, it 
was as stifling as a hothouse; in winter one did not know whether 
to wish for rain or frost; if it rained, the water fell, drop by drop, 
with a soft, nerve-racking noise, on the ground or on the work- 
tables, in places which the physicists had to mark in order to avoid 
putting apparatus there; if it froze, one froze. There was nothing 
to do about it. The stove, even when it was stoked high, was a 
complete disappointment. If one went near enough to touch it 
one received a little heat, but two steps away and one was back 
in the zone of ice. 



i66' MADAME CURIE 

It was almost better for Marie and Pierre to get used to the 
cruelty of the outside temperature, since their technical installation 
hardly existent possessed no chimneys to carry off noxious 
gases, and the greater part of their treatment had to be made in the 
open air, in the courtyard. When a shower of rain came the 
physicists hastily moved their apparatus inside: to keep on working 
without being suffocated they set up draughts between the opened 
door and windows. 

Marie probably did not boast to Dr. Vauthier of this very 
peculiar cure for attacks of tuberculosis. 

We had no money, no laboratory and no help in the conduct of 
this important and difficult task [she was to write later]. It was like 
creating something out of nothing, and if Casimir Dluski once 
called my student years "the heroic years of my sister-in-law's life," 
I may say without exaggeration that this period was, for my 
husband and myself, the heroic period of our common existence. 

. . . And yet it was in this miserable old shed that the best and 
happiest years of our life were spent, entirely consecrated to work. 
I sometimes passed the whole day stirring a boiling mass, with an 
iron rod nearly as big as myself. In the evening I was broken with 
fatigue. 

In such conditions M. and Mme Curie worked for four years, 
from 1898 to 1902. 

During the first year they busied themselves with the chemical 
separation of radium and polonium and they studied the radiation 
of the products (more and more active) thus obtained. Before long 
they considered it more practical to separate their efforts. Pierre 
Curie tried to determine the properties of radium, and to know the 
new metal better; Marie continued those chemical treatments 
which would permit her to obtain salts of pure radium. 

In this division of labour Marie had chosen the "man's job." 
She accomplished the toil of a day labourer. Inside the shed her 
husband was absorbed by delicate experiments. In the courtyard, 
dressed in her old dust-covered and acid-stained smock, her hair 
blown by the wind, surrounded by smoke which stung her eyes 
and throat, Marie was a sort of factory all by herself. 




T\VO VHAVS or Till' Sill!!) AT Tl IK SCHOOL Ol- PHYSICS 
ON III!' KMT UIOMONI) \\'lll Ml! KADM'M \VAS 



( >n 



( *,in 1^ SMMI I J in re Curie's \\'rilmjj 




I In* 1'iixl Scientist to ( )listTvr llir Plinminnum ol Ixiulio.K livifv 



FOUR YEARS IN A SHED 167 

I came to treat as many as twenty kilogrammes of matter at a 
time [she writes], which had the effect of tilling the shed with great 
jars of precipitates and liquids. It was killing work to carry the 
receivers, to pour off the liquids and to stir, for hours at a stretch, 
the boiling matter in a smelting basin. 

Radium showed no intention of allowing itself to be known by 
human creatures. Where were the days when Marie naively 
expected the radium content of pitch-blende to be one per cent? The 
radiation of the new substance was so powerful that a tiny quantity 
of radium, disseminated through the ore, was the source of striking 
phenomena which could be easily observed and measured. The 
difficult, the impossible thing was to isolate this minute quantity, to 
separate it from the gangue in which it was so intimately mixed. 

The days of work became months and years: Pierre and Marie 
were not discouraged. This material, which resisted them, which 
defended its secrets, fascinated them. United by their tenderness, 
united by their intellectual passions, they had, in a wooden shack, 
the "anti-natural" existence for which they had both been made, 
she as well as he. 

At this period we were entirely absorbed by the new realm that 
was, thanks to an unhoped-for discovery, opening before us 
[Marie was to write]. In spite of the difficulties of our working 
conditions, we felt very happy. Our days were spent at the 
laboratory. In our humble shed there reigned a great tranquillity: 
sometimes, as we watched over some operation, we would walk up 
and down, talking about work in the present and in the future; 
when we were cold a cup of hot tea taken near the stove comforted 
us. We lived in our single preoccupation as if in a dream. 

. . . We saw only very few persons at the laboratory; among 
the physicists and chemists there were a few who came from time 
to time, either to see our experiments or to ask for advice from 
Pierre Curie, whose competence in several branches of physics was 
well known. Then took place some conversations before the 
blackboard the sort of conversation one remembers well because 
it acts as a stimulant for scientific interest and the ardour for work 
without interrupting the course of reflection and without troubling 



168 . MADAME CURIE 

that atmosphere of peace and meditation which is the true atmo- 
sphere of a laboratory. 

Whenever Pierre and Marie, alone in this poor place, left their 
apparatus for a moment and quietly let their tongues run on, their 
talk about their beloved radium passed from the transcendent to 
the childish. 

"I wonder what // will be like, what It will look like," Marie said 
one day with the feverish curiosity of a child who has been prom- 
ised a toy. "Pierre, what form do you imagine It will take?" 

"I don't know," the physicist answered gently. "I should like 
it to have a very beautiful colour ..." 

It is odd to observe that in Marie Curie's correspondence we 
find, upon this prodigious effort, none of the sensitive comments, 
decked out with imagery, which used to flash suddenly amid the 
familiarity of her letters. Was it because the years of exile had 
somewhat relaxed the young woman's intimacy with her people? 
Was she too pressed by work to find time? 

The essential reason for this reserve is perhaps to be sought 
elsewhere. It was not by chance that Mme Curie's letters ceased to 
be original at the exact moment when the story of her life became 
exceptional. As student, teacher or young wife, Marie could tell 
her story. . . . But now she was isolated by all that was secret and 
inexpressible in her scientific vocation. Among those she loved 
there was no longer anybody able to understand, to realise her 
worries and her difficult design. She could share her obsessions 
with only one person, Pierre Curie, her companion. To him alone 
could she confide rare thoughts and dreams. Marie, from now on, 
was to present to all others, however near they might be to her 
heart, an almost commonpkce picture of herself. She was to paint 
for them only the bourgeois side of her life. She was to find some- 
times accents full of contained emotion to express her happiness as 
a woman. But of her work she was to speak only in laconic, inex- 
pressive little phrases: news in three lines, without even attempting 
to suggest the wonders that work meant to her. Through subtle 
modesty, and also through horror of vain talk and everything 
superfluous, Marie concealed herself, dug herself in; or rather, she 



FOUR YEARS IN A SHED 169 

offered only one of her profiles. Shyness, boredom, or reason, 
whatever it may have been, the scientist of genius effaced and 
dissimulated herself behind "a woman like all others." 

Marie to Bronya, 1899: 

Our life is always the same. We work a lot but we sleep well, so 
our health does not suffer. The evenings are taken up by caring for 
the child. In the morning 1 dress her and give her her food, then I 
can generally go out at about nine. During the whole of this year 
we have not been either to the theatre or a concert, and we have 
not paid one visit. For that rmttcr, we feel very well. ... I miss 
my family enormously, above all you, my dears, and Father. I 
often think of my isolation with grief. I cannot complain of any- 
thing else, for our health is not bad, the child is growing well, and 
I have the best husband one could dream of; I could never have 
imagined finding one like him. fie is a true gift of heaven, and the 
more we live together the more we love each other. 

Our work is progressing. I shall soon have a lecture to deliver 
on the subject. It should have been last Saturday, but I was 
prevented from giving it, so it will no doubt be this Saturday, or 
else in a fortnight. 

This work, which is so dryly mentioned in passing, was in fact 
progressing magnificently. In the course of the years 1 899 and 1900 
Pierre and Marie Curie published a report on the discovery of 
' 'induced radioactivity" due to radium, another on the effects of 
radioactivity, and another on the electric charge carried by the 
rays. And at last they drew up, for the Congress of Physics of 1900, 
a general report on the radioactive substances, which aroused 
immense interest among the scientists of Europe. 

The development of the new science of radioactivity was 
rapid, overwhelming the Curies needed fellow- workers. Up 
to now they had had only the intermittent help of a laboratory 
assistant named Petit, an honest man who came to work for 
them outside his hours of service working out of personal 
enthusiasm, almost in secret. But they now required technicians 
of the first order. Their discovery had important extensions 
in the domain of chemistry, which demanded attentive study. 



i 7 o' MADAME CURIE 

They wished to associate competent research workers with them. 

Our work on radioactivity began in solitude [Marie was to 
write]. But before the breadth of the task it became more and 
more evident that collaboration would be useful. Already in 1898 
one of the laboratory chiefs of the school, G. Bemont, had given us 
some temporary help. Toward 1900 Pierre Curie entered into 
relations with a young chemist, Andre Dcbierne, assistant in the 
laboratory of Professor Fricdel, who esteemed him highly. Andre 
Debierne willingly accepted work on radioactivity. He undertook 
especially the research of a new radio element, the existence of 
which was suspected in the group of iron and rare clays. He 
discovered this element, named "actinium." Even though he 
worked in the physico-chemical laboratory at the Sorbonne 
directed by Jean Perrin, he frequently came to see us in our shed 
and soon became a very close friend to us, to Dr. Curie and later on 
to our children. 

Thus, even before radium and polonium were isolated, a French 
scientist, Andre Debierne, had discovered a ' 'brother/' actinium. 

At about the same period [Marie tells us], a young physicist, 
Georges Sagnac, engaged in stud} T ing X-rays, came frequently to 
talk to Pierre Curie about the analogies that might exist between 
these rays, their secondary rays, and the radiation of radioactive 
bodies. Together they performed a work on the electric charge 
carried by these secondary rays. 

Marie continued to treat, kilogramme by kilogramme, the tons 
of pitch-blende residue which were sent her on several occasions 
from St. Joachimsthal. 'With her remarkable patience she was able 
to be, every day for four years, physicist, chemist, specialised 
worker, engineer and labouring man all at once. Thanks to her 
brain and muscle, the old tables in the shed held more and more 
concentrated products products richer and richer in radium. 
Mme Curie was approaching the end: she no longer stood in the 
courtyard, enveloped in bitter smoke, to watch the heavy basins of 
material in fusion. She was now at the stage of purification and of 
the "fractional crystallisation" of strongly radioactive solutions. 



FOUR YEARS IN A SHED 171 

But the poverty of her haphazard equipment hindered her work 
more than ever. It was now that she needed a spotlessly clean 
workroom and apparatus perfectly protected against cold, heat and 
dirt. In this shed, open to every wind, iron- and coal-dust was 
afloat which, to Marie's despair, became mixed with the products 
purified with so much care. Her heart sometimes constricted 
before these little daily accidents, which absorbed so much of her 
time and her strength. 

Pierre was so tired of the interminable struggle that he would 
have been quite ready to abandon it. Of course, he did not dream 
of dropping the study of radium and of radioactivity. But he 
would willingly have renounced, for the time being, the special 
operation of preparing pure radium. The obstacles seemed in- 
surmountable. Could they not resume this work later on, under 
better conditions? More attached to the meaning of natural 
phenomena than to their material reality, Pierre Curie was 
exispjrated to see the paltry results to which Marie's exhausting 
effort had led. He advised an armistice. 

He counted without his wife's character. Marie wanted to isolate 
radi jm and she woi-Jd isolate it. She scorned fatigue and difficulties, 
and even the gaps in her own knowledge which complicated her 
task. After all, she was only a very young scientist: she still had not 
the certainty and great culture Pierre had acquired by twenty years' 
work, and sometimes she stumbled across phenomena or methods 
of calculation of which she knew very little and for which she had 
to make hasty studies. 

So much the worse! With stubborn eyes under her great brow, 
she clang to her apparatus and her test-tubes. 

In 1902, forty-live months after the day on which the Curies 
announced the probable existence of radium, Marie finally 
carded off the victory in this war of attrition: she succeeded in 
pr paring a decigramme of pure radium, and made a first deter- 
mination of the atomic weight of the new substance, which was 
225. 

The incredulous chemists of whom there wcr still a few 
could only bow before the facts, before the superhuman obstinacy 
of a woman. 

Radium officially existed. 



i 7 2 MADAME CURIE 

It was nine o'clock at light. Pierre and Marie Curie were in their 
little house at i o3 B> -ulevard Kcllermann, where they had been 
living since 1900. 7 he house suited them well. From the boule- 
vard, where three rows of trees half hid the fortifications, could be 
seen only a dull wall and a tiny door. But behind the one-storey 
house, hidden from all eyes, there was a narrow provincial garden, 
rather pretty and very quiet. And from the "barrier" of Gentilly 
they could escape on their bicycles toward the suburbs and the 
woods. . . . 

Old Dr. Curie, who lived with the couple, had retired to his 
room. Marie had bathed her child and put her to bed, and had 
stayed for a long time beside the cot. This was a rite. When Irene 
did not feel her mother near her at night she would call out for her 
incessantly, with that "Me!" which was to be our substitute for 
"Mamma" always. And Marie, yielding to the implacability of the 
four-year-old child, climbed the stairs, seated herself beside her and 
stayed there in the darkness until the young voice gave way to 
light, regular breathing. Only then would she go down again to 
Pierre, who was growing impatient. In spite of his kindness, he 
was the most possessive and jealous of husbands. He was so used 
to the constant presence of his wife that her least eclipse kept him 
from thinking freely. If Marie delayed too long near her daughter, 
he received her on her return with a reproach so unjust as to be 
comic: 

"You never think of anything but that child I" 

Pierre walked slowly about the room. Marie sat down and made 
some stitches on the hem of Irene's new apron. One of her 
princi N les was never to buy ready-made clothes for the child: she 
thought them too fancy and impractical. In the days when Bronya 
was in Paris the two sisters cut out their children's dresses together, 
according to patterns of their own invention. These patterns still 
served for Marie. 

But this evening she could not fix her attention. Nervous, she 
got up; then, suddenly: 

"Suppose we go down there for a moment?" 

There was a note of supplication in her voice altogether 
superfluous, for Pierre, like herself, longed to go b^ck to the shed 
they had left two hours before. Radium, fanciful as a living 



FOUR YEARS IN A SUED 17, 

creature, endearing as a love, called them back to its dwelling, to 
the wretched laboratory. 

The day's work had been hard, and it would have been more 
reasonable for the couple to rest. But Pierre and Marie were not 
always reasonable. As soon as they had put on their coats and told 
Dr. Curie of their flight, they were in the street. They went on foot, 
arm in arm, exchanging few words. After the crowded streets of 
this queer district, with its factory buildings, wastelands and poor 
tenements, they arrived in the Rue Lhomondand crossed the little 
courtyard. Pierre put the key in the lock. The door squeaked, as it 
h->cl squeaked thousands of times, and admitted them to their 
realm, to their dream. 

"Don't light the lamps!" Marie said in the darkness. Then she 
added with a little laugh: 

"Do you remember the day when you said to me: 'I should like 
radium to have a beautiful colour'?" 

The reality was more entrancing than the simple wish of long 
ago. Radium had something better than "a beautiful colour"; it 
was spontaneously luminous. And in the sombre shed, where, in 
the absence of cupboards, the precious particles in their tiny glass 
receivers were placed on tables or on shelves nailed to the wall, 
their phosphorescent bluish outlines "gleamed, suspended in the 
night. 

"Look . . . Look!" the young woman murmured. 

She went forward cautiously, looked for and found a straw- 
bottomed chair. She sat down in the darkness and silence. Their 
two faces turned toward the pale glimmering, the mysterious 
sources of radiation, toward radium their radium. Her body 
leaning forward, her head eager, Marie took up again the attitude 
which had been hers an hour earlier at the bedside of her sleeping 
child. 

Her companion's hand lightly touched her hair. 

She was to remember for ever this evening of glow-worms, this 
magic. 



CHAPTER XIV 



A Hard Life 



THE existence of Pierre and Marie might have been altogether 
happy if they had been able to devote their strength to the im- 
passioned struggle with nature in their poor laboratory. 

Unfortunately, they had to engage in other struggles, from which 
they did not always emerge victorious. 

For his salary of rive hundred francs a month, Pierre gave a 
course of a hundred and twenty lessons a year at the School of 
Physics and directed the students' experiments. This tiring 
instruction, over which he took great pains, was in addition to his 
research work. So long as the Curies had no children and Marie 
could manage the domestic work herself, five hundred francs 
covered their expenses. But after Irene's birth the cost of a servant 
and a nurse made heavy inroads into the budget. First Pierre and 
then Marie went on the warpath: new resources had to be found. 

There are few more distressing things than the awkward and 
unhappy attempts of these superior beings to assure themselves of 
the two or three thousand francs a year that they needed. The 
problem was not simply to find some subordinate work which 
would cover the deficit. Pierre Curie, as we know, considered 
scientific research as a vital necessity. It was more indispensable to 
him to work in the laboratory or in the shed, rather, as there was 
no laboratory than to eat or sleep. But his work in the school 
took up the greater part of his time. Rather than add other 
obligations to those he already possessed, the ideal would have 
been to lighten his task. But money was needed. What could he 
do? 

174 



A HARD LIFE 175 

The solution was simple too simple. If Pierre were appointed 
professor at the Sorbonne, a post for which his work obviously 
fitted him, he would receive ten thousand francs a year, he would 
give fewer hours' lessons than at the school, and his scientific 
knowledge would enrich the students and increase the prestige of 
the university. And if the use of a laboratory were added to these 
duties, Pierre Curie would have nothing further to ask of fate. His 
humble ambition was contained in these words: a professor's chair 
for earning his living and teaching young physicists; a laboratory 
for work a laboratory with all that was so cruelly missing from 
the shed: electrical and technical equipment, room for some 
assistants, a little heat in winter. . . . 

Wild demands, over-ambitious dreams! Pierre was not to 
obtain the post of professor until 1904, after the whole world had 
acclaimed his worth. The laboratory was never to be accorded 
him. Death is quicker than public officials to claim great men. 

The fact was that Pierre, so beautifully fitted for puzzling out 
mysterious phenomena and for the subtle struggle against hostile 
matter, was awkwardness itself when it came to canvassing for a 
place. His first disadvantage was that he had genius, which 
arouses secret, implacable bitterness in the competitions of 
personalities. He knew nothing about underhand methods or 
combinations. His most legitimate qualifications were of no use 
to him: he did not know how to make them valued. 

Always ready to efface himself before his friends or even before 
his rivals, he was what they call a "wretchedly bad candidate" 
[Henri Poincare* was to write of him, adding]: But in our demo- 
cracy, candidates are not what we most lack. 

In 1898 a chair of physical chemistry fell vacant at the Sorbonne 
and Pierre Curie decided to ask for it. In equity his nomination 
should have been assured. But he had not gone through either the 
normal or the polytechnic school, and was deprived of the decisive 
support given by those institutions to their former students. More- 
over, the discoveries he had been publishing for the past fifteen 
years were not "exactly" in the realm of physical chemistry, certain 
captious professors asserted. . . . His candidature was rejected. 



176 MADAME CURIE 

We are beaten [one of his partisans, Professor Friedel, wrote to 
him] and I should be left with nothing but regret for having 
encouraged you in such an unsuccessful candidature if the dis- 
cussion had not been much more favourable than the vote. But in 
spite of the efforts of Lippmann, Bouty, Pellat and myself, in spite 
of the eulogies your work elicited even from your opponents, what 
can be done against a normal- school man and against the pre- 
judices of mathematicians? 

The fact that "the discussion had been favourable" to Pierre was 
a purely platonic compensation. No post of interest was vacant 
for months, and the Curies, absorbed by their great work on 
radium, preferred to muddle along rather than waste their time 
further in antechambers. They made the best of a bad job and did 
not complain. Five hundred francs, after all, was not abject 
poverty. Life could be managed . . . badly. 

Marie to Joseph Sklodovski^ March i<)th y 1899: 

We have to be very careful and my husband's salary is not quite 
enough for us to live on, but up to now we have had some un- 
expected extra resources every year, which keep us from having a 
dehcit. 

I hope, in any case, that my husband and I may soon find steady 
work. Then we could not only make both ends meet but also save 
something to ensure the future of our child. I only want to pass 
my doctor's examination before looking for work. At the moment 
we have so much work with our new metals that I cannot prepare 
for my doctorate. It is based on this work, it is true, but it requires 
extra study which I cannot take up at the moment. 

Our health is good. My husband no longer suffers as much from 
rheumatism since he has been on a diet consisting chiefly of milk, 
eggs and vegetables, doing without wine and red meat and 
drinking a great deal of water. I am very well; I don't cough at 
all, and I have nothing the matter with my lungs, as has been 
shown by medical examinations and several analyses of sputum. 

Irene is developing normally. I weaned her at eighteen months, 
but naturally I had been giving her milk soups for a long time. 
Now I feed her on such soups and on fresh eggs " straight from the 
hen"l 



A HARD LIFE 177 

1900 ... In the account book the expenses were rising, 
surpassing the income. Old Dr. Curie lived with his son now, and 
to lod^c the household five persons, including a servant Marie 
had rented the house in the Boulevard Kellermann: fourteen 
hundred francs rent. Driven by necessity, Pierre asked for and 
obtained a place as tutor in the Polytechnic School. He was to 
receive two thousand five hundred francs a year for this drudgery. 

Suddenly there came an unhoped-for offer but not from 
France. The discovery of radium, without having reached the 
general public, was known by physicists. The University of 
Geneva was willing to make an exceptional effort to get a man and 
a woman whom it considered in the first rank of European 
scientists: the dean offered Pierre Curie a chair in physics, a salary 
of ten thousand francs, an allowance for residence, and the 
direction of a laboratory, "the appropriation for which will be 
increased by agreement with Professor Curie, and to which two 
assistants will be assigned. After an examination of the resources 
of the laboratory the collection of instruments of physics will be 
completed." An official position was to be accorded to Marie in 
the same laboratory. 

Facetious on such occasions, fate allowed itself to bestow what 
had been desired above all things but with one small variation 
that made it impossible. If the heading on the generous letter from 
the "Republic and Canton of Geneva" had read "University of 
Paris" the Curies would have been overwhelmed with happiness. 

The position in Geneva was offered to Pierre with so much 
cordiality and deference that on first impulse he accepted it. In 
July he and Marie went to Switzerland and were given a warm 
welcome by their colleagues, but during the summer their scruples 
were aroused. Were they to take several months and consecrate 
them to the preparation of new and important teaching? To 
interrupt their research on radium, which was not easy to transport, 
and postpone their work on purification of the new substance? It 
was asking too much of these two scientists, two haunted ones. 

Pierre Curie, sighing, sent off to Geneva a letter of excuses, 
thanks and resignation. He put the temptation of the easy way 
aside, and made up his mind to remain in Paris for the love of 
radium. Exchanging one task for another better paid, he left the 



i 7 8 MADAME CURIE 

Polytechnic School in October for a post teaching at the P.C.N.,* 
an annex of the Sorbonne in the Rue Cuvier. Marie, who wanted 
to do her share of work, put in her application for a professorship 
in the Higher Normal School for Girls, at Sevres, near Versailles. 
She received a letter of appointment from the vice-rector, reading: 

MADAME, 

I have the honour to inform you that, on my recommendation, 
you are charged with the lectures in physics for the first- and 
second-year students of the Normal School at Sevres for the school 
year 1900-1901. 

Will you put yourself at the disposal of the directors from 
Monday next, Z9th? 

Here were two "successes." The budget was balanced for a long 
time to come and the Curies were burdened with an enormous 
increase of work at the very moment when their experiments in 
radioactivity called for all their energy. The only position worthy 
of Pierre had been refused him: that of professor at the Sorbonne. 
But the authorities were only too willing to entrust this master 
with time-filling lessons of secondary importance. 

M. and Mme Curie bent over their text-books, invented subjects 
for problems, picked out experiments to make in class. Pierre now 
had charge of two courses of instruction and the experimental work 
of two series of students. Marie, impressed by her first steps in 
French teaching, took the very greatest pains to prepare her 
lectures and organise the experiments of the Sevres girls. She 
renovated the methods, and developed such original lessons that 
Lucien Poincare, rector of the university, was struck by them and 
congratulated the young woman. Marie did not know how to do 
things by halves. 

But what energy was wasted, what hours stolen from their true 
work! Carrying a portfolio crammed with corrected "home- 
work," Marie made the journey to Sevres several times a week, in a 
maddeningly slow tram for which she sometimes waited half an 
hour at a time, standing on the pavement. Pierre scurried from the 
Rue Lhomond to the Rue Cuvier, where the P.C.N. was, and from 

* Physics, Chemistry, Natural Science. 



A HARD LIFE 179 

the Rue Cuvier to the shed in the Rue Lhomond. Hardly had he 
begun an experiment when he had to leave his apparatus to go and 
question the beardless physicists of the schools. 

He had hoped that a laboratory would be attached to his new 
post. A laboratory would have consoled him for everything. But 
at the P.C.N. he was given only two tiny rooms. The disappoint- 
ment was so great that he overcame his horror of asking for things 
and tried to get a larger place to work in. No success. 

Those who have made similar demands [Marie was to write] 
know the financial and administrative difficulties one runs into, 
and may remember the considerable number of official letters, 
visits and requests which are indispensable if one is to obtain the 
slightest advantage. Pierre Curie was extremely tired and dis- 
couraged because of them. 

The effort had an effect on the working power of the Curies and 
even upon their strength. Pierre, especially, felt such exhaustion 
that it became urgent to cut down the number of his "hours." A 
chair of mineralogy fell vacant at the Sorbonne just then a chair 
for which the scientist who had evolved decisive theories on 
crystalline physics was particularly qualified. He presented himself. 
His competitor obtained the chair. 

"With great merit and even greater modesty," Montaigne 
wrote, "one can remain unknown for a long time." 

Pierre Curie's friends sought by all means to bring him a little 
nearer to that inaccessible place of professor. In 1902 Professor 
Mascart insisted on making Pierre present himself as a candidate 
for the Academy of Science. His election was certain and would 
be of great use afterward to his material position. 

He hesitated, and then obeyed without pleasure. He found it 
hard to make the customary visits to the academicians, as required 
by a tradition which seemed to him stupid and humiliating. But 
the physics section of the Academy pronounced unanimously in his 
favour. He was touched by this and became a candidate. Duly 
coached by Mascart, he asked for an audience from each member 
of the illustrious company. 

When fame had come, and journalists began to dig up striking 



180 MADAME CURIE 

anecdotes about the celebrated scientist, one of them was to write 
of Pierre Curie's round of visits in May 1902 in the following terms: 

. . . To climb stairs, ring, have himself announced, say why he 
had come all this filled the candidate with shame in spite of 
himself; but what was worse, he had to set forth his honours, state 
the good opinion he had of himself, boast of his science and his 
work which seemed to him beyond human power. Consequently 
he eulogised his opponent sincerely and at length, saying that M. 
Amagat was much better qualified than he, Curie, to enter the 
Institute. . . . 

On June 9th the results of the election were published. Between 
Pierre Curie and M. Amagat, the academicians had chosen the 
latter. 

Pierre announced the news thus to his intimate friend, Georges 
Gouy: 

My dear friend, as you had foreseen, the election turned in 
favour of Amagat, who received 32 votes whereas I got 20 and 
Gernez 6. 

I regret, when all is said, having lost time in paying visits for this 
brilliant result. The section had presented me at the head of the 
list unanimously, and I allowed them to go ahead. 

... I tell you all this chatter because I know you rather like it, 
but do not believe that I am sensibly affected by these little 
happenings. 

Your devoted 
PIERRE CURIE. 

The new dean, Paul Appell whose lessons Marie had listened 
to with ecstasy in the old days was soon to attempt another 
means of serving Pierre's interests. He knew Curie's uncompromis- 
ing nature and prepared the way: 

Paul Appell to Pierre Curie: 

The Ministry has asked me to propose names for the Legion of 
Honour. You must be on my list. 1 ask you as a service to the 



A HARD LIFE 181 

faculty to allow yourself to be named. I realise that the decoration 
has no interest for a man of your worth, but 1 intend to propose the 
men of most merit in the faculty, those who have most dis- 
tinguished themselves by their discoveries and their work. It is 
one way of making them known to the Minister and showing how 
\vc work at the Sorbonne. If you are named, you may wear or not 
wear your decoration, as it may please you, naturally but 1 ask of 
you to let me propose you. 

Excuse me, dear colleague, for annoying you like this, and 
believe me your cordially devoted 

PAUL APPELL. 

Paul Appell to Marie Curie: 

... I have spoken several times to Rector Liard of M. Curie's 
fine work, of the insufficiency of his equipment, and of the reasons 
which exist for giving him a bigger laboratory. The rector spoke 
of M. Curie to the Minister, seizing the occasion offered by the 
presentations of July fourteenth for the Legion of Honour. The 
Minister appeared to take great interest in M. Curie perhaps he 
would like to show his interst, as a start, by decorating M. Curie. 
On this hypothesis I ask you to use all your influence to keep M. 
Curie from refusing it. The thing ill itself is obviously without 
interest, but from the point of view of practical results (labora- 
tories, credits, etc.) it has considerable worth. 

I ask you to insist, in the name of science and in the highest 
interests of the faculty, that M. Curie allow us to name him. 

This time Pierre Curie did not "submit to anything." His deep- 
seated aversion for honours would have been enough to justify his 
attitude, but he was animated by still another feeling. It seemed to 
him a bit too comic that a scientist should be refused the means of 
working and should at the same time, by way of * 'encouragement," 
of "good note," be offered a little enamelled cross hung on the end 
of a red silk ribbon. 

His reply to the dean was as follows: 

Please be so kind as to thank the Minister and to inform him that 
I do not feel the slightest need of being decorated, but that I am in 
the greatest need of a laboratory. 



i82 MADAME CURIE 

The hope of an easier life was abandoned. In the absence of the 
desired laboratory the Curies contented themselves with the shed 
for their experiments, and the ardent hours passed in this wooden 
shack consoled them for all their set-backs. They continued to 
teach. They did so with a good will and without bitterness. More 
than one boy was to remember Pierre's lessons, so clear and vivid, 
with gratitude; more than one Sevres girl was to owe her love for 
science to Marie, the fair-haired professor whose Slavic accent 
made even the scientific demonstrations sing. 

Torn between their own work and their jobs, they forgot to eat 
and sleep. The rule of "normal" life, as set up formerly by Marie, 
and her performances as cook and housekeeper, were forgotten. 
Unconscious of their folly, the pair used and abused their ebbing 
strength. On several occasions Pierre was obliged to take to his 
bed by attacks of pain, of intolerable violence, in the legs. Marie, 
upheld by her tense nerves, had not yet had a collapse: she 
considered herself invulnerable since she had cured by scorn and 
daily imprudence the attack of tuberculosis that had disquieted 
her family. But in the little notebook where she kept a regular 
record of her weight, the figure grew lower every week: in four 
years of work in the shed, Marie lost seven kilogrammes.* The 
friends of the couple noticed her pallor and the emaciation of her 
face; one of them, a young physicist, even wrote to Pierre Curie to 
beg him to spare Marie's health and his own. The letter is an 
alarming picture of the life of the Curies, and of the way they 
sacrificed themselves: 

Georges Saffiac to Pierre Curie: 

... I have been struck, when I have seen Mme Curie at the 
Society of Physics, by the alteration in her appearance. I know 
very well that she is overworked because of her thesis. . . . But 
this is an occasion for me to observe that she has not sufficient 
sources of resistance to live such a purely intellectual life as that 
which both of you lead; and what I say of her, you can take also for 
yourself. 

Only one example to dwell upon: you hardly eat at all, either of 
you. More than once I have seen Mme Curie nibble two slices of 

* Fifteen pounds five ounces. 



A HARD LIFE 183 

sausage and swallow a cup of tea with it. Do you think even a 
robust constitution would not suffer from such insufficient nourish- 
ment? What would become of you if Mme Curie lost her health? 

Her own indifference or stubbornness will be no excuse for you. 
I foresee the following objection: "She is not hungry. She is old 
enough to know what she has to do!" Well, frankly, no: she is 
behaving at the present time like a child. I tell you this with all the 
conviction of my friendship. 

You do not give enough time to your meals. You take them at 
any random hour, and in the evening you eat so late that your 
stomach, weakened by waiting, finally refuses to do its work. No 
doubt your researches may cause you to dine kte one evening, but 
you have no right to make this into a habit. ... It is necessary 
not to mix scientific preoccupations continually into every instant 
of your life, as you are doing. You must allow your body to 
breathe. You must sit down in peace before your meals and 
swallow them slowly, keeping away from talk about distressing 
things or simply things that tire the mind. You must not read or 
talk physics while you eat. . . . 

To warnings and reproaches, Pierre and Marie answered in- 
genuously: "But we do rest; we take holidays in the summer." 

And in fact they did so or rather, thought they did. During 
the fine weather they wandered about, stage by stage, as in the old 
days. For them "rest" meant, in 1898, exploring the Cevennes on 
bicycles; two years later they followed the coast of the Channel 
from Havre to St. Valery-sur-Somme, then they went off to the 
He de Noirmoutier. In 1901 we see them at Le Pouldu, in 1902 at 
Arromanches, in 1903 at Le Treport and afterward at St. Trojean. 

Did these journeys bring them the physical and spiritual 
relaxation they needed? It is permissible to doubt it. The one 
responsible was Pierre, who could not stay at peace: after two or 
three days passed in the same place he became preoccupied and 
absent-minded. Unable to stand it any longer, he would speak of 
going back to Paris and would say gently to his ^ife, as if to 
excuse himself: 

"We have been doing nothing for a long time now." 

In 1899 the Curies undertook a distant expedition which gave 



i8 4 MADAME CURIE 

them great pleasure: for the first time since her marriage, Marie 
returned to her fatherland, not to Warsaw but to Zakopane in 
Austrian Poland, where the Dluskis were building their sana- 
torium. The Pension Fger, next door to the yard where the 
masons were at work, harboured an affectionate group. Professor 
Sklodovski was there, still very active, and rejuvenated by the 
happiness of seeing his four children and their four households 
united. 

How the years had flown! Not long ago his son and his three 
daughters had been scouring Warsaw to find pupils. To-day, 
Joseph, a highly reputed doctor, had a wife and children. Bronya 
and Casimir were founding a sanatorium. Hela was making a 
career as a teacher, while her husband, Stanislav Szalay, directed a 
prosperous enterprise in photography. And little Manya was 
working in a laboratory and having her researches published 
the dear "little rascal," as he had used to call the baby of the family. 
Pierre Curie, "the foreigner," was the object of many attentions. 
His Poles were proud to show Poland to him. At first without 
great enthusiasm for the severe countryside, where the dark points 
of pine-trees struck sharply at the sky, Pierre made an excursion 
to the summits of the "Rysy" and was moved by the poetry and 
grandeur of the high mountains. In the evening he said to his 
wife, in front of her family: 

"This country is very beautiful. I understand now why you love 
it." 

He purposely spoke in his brand-new Polish, which, in spite of 
the bad accent, dazzled his brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law; and 
he caught the smile of pride on Marie's glowing face. 

Three years later, in May, 1902, Marie was to take the train for 
Poland again but with v hat painful anxiety! Letters had informed 
her of her father's sudden illness and of an operation on his gall 
bladder which had resulted in the extraction of huge stones. She 
received reassuring news at first, and then suddenly a telegram. Jt 
was the end. Marie wanted to leave at once, but the passport 
formalities were complicated; hours went by before the red tape 
was all in order. After two and a half days' travel, she arrived in 
Warsaw, at Joseph's house where M. Sklodovski had been living. 
Too late! 



A HARD LIFE 185 

Marie could not endure the thought that she was never to see 
that face again. She learned of her father's death during the 
journey, and begged her sisters by telegram to put off the funeral. 
She penetrated into the funereal chamber where there was nothing 
but the coffin and some flowers. With a strange obstinacy, 
she demanded that the coffin be broken open. This was done. 
And to the serene, lifeless face, streaked by a thin line of blood 
from one of the nostrils, Marie said farewell and asked for forgive- 
ness. She had always secretly reproached herself for remaining in 
France, and for disappointing the old man who had counted on 
finishing his days with her. Before the open bier, in silence, she 
repented and accused herself, until her brother and sisters put an 
end to the painful scene. 

Marie had the demon of scruple within her: she was tor- 
turing herself unjustly. The last years had been kind to her 
father and kinder still because of her. The affection of his 
family, the satisfactions of a father and a grandfather had made 
M. Sklodovski forget the vicissitudes of a life without brilliance. 
His last and strongest joys had come to him through Marie. The 
discovery of polonium and radium, the startling communications 
signed with his daughter's name in the Proceedings of the Academy of 
Science of Paris, had been a source of intense emotion for the 
professor of physics, who had always been kept from making 
disinterested research by his daily tasks. He had followed his 
daughter's work stage by stage. He understood its importance 
and foresaw its later renown. Just recently, Marie had informed 
him that she had obtained, after four years of perseverance, some 
pure radium. And in his last letter, six days before his death, M. 
Sklodovski traced these words in a shaky hand which sadly 
deformed his fine and regular script: 

And now you are in possession of salts of pure radium! If you 
consider the amount of work that has been spent to obtain it, it is 
certainly the most costly of chemical elements! What a pity it is 
that this work has only theoretical interest, as it seems! 

Nothing new here. The weather is moderate, still rather cool. 
I must go back to bed now; I shall end, then, and embrace you 
tenderly. . . . 



1 86 MADAME CURIE 

The happiness and pride of the good man would have been 
indescribable if he had been able to live aivnher two years to learn 
that fame had seized upon his daughter's name, and that the Nobel 
Prize had been given to Henri Becquerel, to Pierre Curie and to 
Marie Curie, his little girl, his "Anciupecio." 

Paler ^ind thinner than ever, Marie left Warsaw. In September 
she was to go back to Poland. After this grief the Sklodovski 
"children" felt the need of gathering together, to prove that 
fraternal solidarity survived. 

October . . . Pierre and Marie were back in the laboratory. 
They were tired. Marie, as she collaborated in research, was also 
drawing up the results of her work on the purification of radium. 
But she was without zest, and nothing aroused her. The terrible 
regimen she had inflicted on her nervous system for so long had 
strange repercussions: at night, slight attacks of somnambulism 
made her get up and walk unconsciously through the house. 

The coming years were to bring unhappy events. The first was a 
pregnancy, accidentally interrupted. Marie took this disappoint- 
ment tragically: 

Marie to Bronya> Ajtgast z^th, 1903: 

I am in such consternation over this accident that I have not the 
courage to write to anybody. 1 had grown so accustomed to the 
idea of the child that I am absolutely desperate and cannot be 
consoled. Write to me, I beg of you, if you think I should blame 
this to general fatigue for 1 must admit that I have not spared my 
strength. I had confidence in my organism, and at present I regret 
this bitterly, as 1 have paid dearly for it. The child a little girl 
was in good condition and was living. And I had wanted it so 
badly! 

Later on, again from Poland, came bad news: Bronya's second 
child, a boy, had died within a few days of tubercular meningitis. 

I am quite overwhelmed by the misfortune that has fallen upon 
the Dluskis [Marie writes to her brother]. That child was the 
picture of health. If, in spite of every care, one can lose a child like 



A HARD LIFE 187 

that, how can one hope to keep the others and bring them up? I 
can no longer look at my little girl without trembling with terror. 
And Bronya's grief tears me to pieces. 

These sorrows darkened Marie's life, which was undermined by 
another torment, the gravest of all: Pierre was not well. The 
violent attacks of pain to which he was subject, which the doctors 
for lack of more precise signs called rheumatism, came at 
frequent intervals and left him terribly weak. Shot through and 
through with pain, he moaned for entire nights, watched over by 
his frightened wife. 

Just the same, Marie had to teach her classes at Sevres; Pierre 
had to question his numerous students and supervise their labora- 
tory work. And, far from the laboratory they had dreamed of in 
vain, the two physicists had to continue their minute experiments. 

Once, and only once, Pierre allowed a complaint to escape him. 
He said, under his breath: 

"It's pretty hard, this life that we have chosen." 

Marie tried to protest. But she did not succeed in dissimulating 
her own anxiety. If Pierre was discouraged to this point, his 
strength must be leaving him. Perhaps he was affected by some 
terrible, implacable disease? And could she, Marie, ever conquer 
this dreadful fatigue? For months past, the idea of death had 
prowled about this woman and obsessed her. 

"Pierre!" 

The scientist, surprised, turned toward Marie, who had called 
him with distress, in a strangled voice. 

"What's the matter? Darling, what is the matter with you?" 

"Pierre . . . if one of us disappeared . . . the other should not 
survive. . . . We can't exist without each other, can we?" 

Pierre shook his head slowly. Marie, in pronouncing those 
words of a woman in love, forgetting for an instant her mission, 
had made him remember that a scientist had no right to desert 
Science, the object of his life. 

He contemplated Marie's twisted grief -stricken face for a 
moment. Then he said firmly: 

"You are young. Whatever happens, even if one has to go on 
like a body without a soul, one must work just the same." 



CHAPTER XV 



A. Doctor's Thesis 



WHAT does it matter to Science if her passionate servants are rich 
or poor, happy or unhappy, healthy or ill? She knows that they 
have been created to seek and to discover, and that they will seek 
and find until their strength dries up at its source. It is not in a 
scientist's power to struggle against his vocation: even on his days 
of disgust or rebellion his steps lead him inevitably back to his 
laboratory apparatus. 

We cannot, therefore, be surprised at the brilliance of the 
researches Pierre and Marie carried out successfully during these 
difficult years. Radioactivity grew and developed, exhausting little 
by little the pair of physicists who had given it life. 

From 1899 to 1904 the Curies published, sometimes together 
and sometimes separately, or sometimes in collaboration with one 
of their colleagues, thirty- two scientific communications. The 
titles of these notes are grim, and their text bristles with diagrams 
and formulae which frighten the layman. Each of them, neverthe- 
less, represents a victory. In reading the dry enumeration of the 
most important reports, let us think of how much curiosity, 
obstinacy and genius lie within them. 

On the Chemical Effects of Radiitm Rays. Marie Curie and Pierre 
Curie, 1899. 

On the Atomic Weight ofRadiferous J*>arh>m. Marie Curie, 1900. 

The New Radioactive Substances and th Rays They ~En:it. Marie 
Curie and Pierre Curie, 1900. 

188 



A DOCTOR'S THESIS 189 

On Induced Radioactivity Provoked by Radium Salts. Pierre Curie 
and Andre Debicrne, 1901. 

The Physiological Action of Radium Rcys. Pierre Curie and Henri 
Becquerel, 1901. 

On Radioactive Bodies. Marie Curie and Pierre Curie, 1 901 . 

On the Atomic Weight of Radium. Marie Curie, 1902. 

On the Absolute Measure of '1 "tme. Pierre Curie, 1 902. 

On Induced Radioactivity and on the Emanation of Radium. Pierre 
Curie, 1903. 

On the Heat Spontaneously Distngagedby Radium Salts. Pierre Curie 
and A. Laborde, 1903. 

Researches on Radioactive Substances. Marie Curie, 1903. 

On the Radioactivity of Gases Fn ed by the Water of Thermal Springs. 
Pierre Curie and A. Laborde^ 1904. 

The Physiological Ac I ion of tie Emanation of Radium. Pierre Curie, 
Charles Bouchard and V. balthazard, 1904. 

Radioactivity, born in France, rapidly conquered in foreign 
countries. From 1900 onwards, letters signed by the greatest 
names in science arrived in the Rue Lhomond from England, 
Germany, Austria, Denmark, all bubbling over with requests for 
information. The Curies thus had a continuous correspondence 
with Sir William Crookes, with Professors Suess and Boltzmann of 
Vienna, with the Danish explorer Paulsen. The "parents" of 
radium were lavish of explanations and technical advice to their 
colleagues. In several countries, research workers rushed into the 
search for unknown radioactive elements. They hoped to achieve 
new discoveries. It was a fruitful pursuit, to which we owe 
mesothorium, radiothorium, ionium, protactinium and radio- 
lead. 

In 1903 two English scientists, Ramsay and Soddy, demon- 
strated that radium continually disengaged a small quantity of a 
gas. helium. This was the first known example of a transformation 
of atoms. A little later, still in England, Rutherford and Soddy, 
taking up a hypothesis considered by Marie Curie as early as 1900, 
published a striking Theory of Radioactive Transformation. They 
affirmed that radio elements, even when they seemed to be un- 
changeable, were in a state of spontaneous evolution: the more 



190 ' MADAME CURIE 

rapid their rate of transformation, the more powerful their 
"activity." 

Here we have a veritable theory of the transmutation of simple 
bodies, but not as the alchemists understood it [Pierre Curie was to 
write]. Inorganic matter must have evolved, necessarily, through 
the ages, and followed immutable laws. 

Prodigious radium! Purified as a chloride, it appeared to be a 
dull- white powder, which might easily be mistaken for common 
kitchen salt. But its properties, better and better known , seemed 
stupefying. Its radiation, by which it had become known to the 
Curies, passed all expectation in intensity; it proved to be two 
million times stronger than that of uranium. Science had already 
analysed and dissected it, subdividing the rays into three different 
kinds, which traversed the hardest and most opaque matter 
undergoing modification of course. Only a thick screen of lead 
proved to be able to stop the insidious rays in their invisible flight. 

Radium had its shadow, its ghost: it spontaneously produced a 
singular gaseous substance, the emanation of radium, which was 
also active and destroyed itself clearly even when enclosed in a 
glass tube, according to rigorous law. Its presence was to be 
proved in the waters of numerous thermal springs. 

Another defiance of the theories which seemed the immovable 
basis of physics was that radium spontaneously gave off heat. In 
one hour it produced a quantity of heat capable of melting its own 
weight of ice. If it was protected against external cold it grew 
warmer, and its temperature would go up as much as ten degrees 
centigrade or more above that of the surrounding atmosphere. 

What could it not do? It made an impression on photographic 
plates through black paper; it made the atmosphere a conductor of 
electricity and thus discharged electroscopes at a distance; it 
coloured the glass receivers which had the honour of containing it 
with mauve and violet; it corroded and, little by little, reduced to 
powder the paper or the cottonwool in which it was wrapped. 

We have already seen that it was luminous. 

This luminosity cannot be seen by daylight [Marie wrote] but 
it can be easily seen in half-darkness. The light emitted can be 



A DOCTOR'S THESIS 191 

strong enough to read by, using a little of the product for light in 
darkness. . . . 

Nor was this the end of the wonders of radium: it also gave 
phosphorescence to a large number of bodies incapable of emitting 
light by their own means. 

Thus with the diamond: 

The diamond is made phosphorescent by the action of radium 
and can so be distinguished from imitations in paste, which have 
very weak luminosity. 

And, finally, the radiation of radium was "contagious" 
contagious, like a persistent scent or a disease. It was impossible 
for an object, a plant, an animal or a person to be left near a tube of 
radium without immediately acquiring a notable "activity" which 
a sensitive apparatus could detect. This contagion, which inter- 
fered with the results of precise experiments, was a daily enemy to 
Pierre and Marie Curie. 

When one studies strongly radioactive substances [Marie 
writes], special precautions must be taken if one wishes to be able 
to continue taking delicate measurements. The various objects 
used in a chemical laboratory, and those which serve for ex- 
periments in physics, all become radioactive in a short time and act 
upon photographic plates through black paper. Dust, the air of 
the room, and one's clothes all become radioactive. The air in the 
room is a conductor. In the laboratory where we work the evil has 
reached an acute stage, and we can no longer have any apparatus 
completely isolated. 

Long after the death of the Curies, their working notebooks 
were to reveal this mysterious "activity," so that after thirty or 
forty years the "living activity" would still affect measuring 
apparatuses. 

Radioactivity, generation of heat, production of helium gas and 
emanation, spontaneous self-destruction how far we had 
travelled from the old theories on inert matter, on the immovable 
atoml Not more than five years before, scientists had believed our 



1 92 MADAME CURIE 

universe to be composed of defined substances, elements fixed for 
ever. Now it was seen that with every second of passing time 
radium particles were expelling atoms of helium gas from them- 
selves and were hurling them forth with enormous force. The 
residue of this tiny, terrifying explosion, which Marie was to call 
the "cataclysm of atomic transformation," was a gaseous atom of 
emanation which, itself, was transformed into another radioactive 
body which was transformed in its turn. Thus the radio elements 
formed strange and cruel families in which each member was 
created by the spontaneous transformation of the mother sub- 
stance: radium was a * 'descendant" of uranium, polonium a 
descendant of radium. These bodies, created at every instant, 
destroyed themselves according to eternal laws: each radio 
element lost half its substance in a time which was a/n> iys the same, 
which was to be called its "period." To diminish itself by one half, 
uranium required several thousand million years, radium sixteen 
hundred years, the emanation of radium four days, and the 
"descendants" of emanation only a few seconds. 

Motionless in appearance, matter contained births, collisions, 
murders and suicides. It contained dramas subjected to im- 
placable fatality: it contained life and death. 

Such were the facts which the discovery of radioactivity 
revealed. Philosophers had only to begin their philosophy all over 
again and physicists their physics. 

The last and most moving miracle was that radium could do 
something for the happiness of human beings. It was to become 
their ally against an atrocious disease, cancer. 

The German scientists WalkhofT and Giesel announced in 1900 
that the new substance had certain physiological effects; Pierre 
Curie at once applied the technique which seemed to him most 
practical. Indifferent to danger, he exposed his arm to the action of 
radium. To his joy, a lesion appeared. He watched over it, 
followed its evolution and, in a report to the Academy, phleg- 
matkally described the symptoms observed. 

After the action of the rays, the skin became red over a surface 
of six square centimetres; the appearance was that of a burn, but 
the skin was not painful, or barely so. At the end of several days 



A DOCTOR'S THESIS 193 

the redness, without growing larger, began to increase in intensity; 
on the twentieth day it formed scabs, and then a wound which was 
dressed with bandages; on the forty-second day the epidermis 
b.'gan to form again on the edges, working toward the centre, and 
fifty -two days after the action of the rays there was still a surface of 
one square centimetre in the condition of a wound, which assumed 
a greyish appearance indicating deeper mortification. 

I may add that Mme Curie, in carrying a few centigrammes of 
very active matter in a little sealed tube, received analogous burns, 
even though the little tube was enclosed in a thin metallic box. 
One action lasting less than half an hour, in particular, produced a 
red spot at the end of fifteen days, which left a blister similar to that 
of a superficial burn and took fifteen more days to cure. 

These facts show that the duration of the evolution of the 
changes varies with the intensity of the active rays and with the 
duration of the action which originally excites them. 

Besides these lively effects, we have had various efTects on our 
hands during researches made with very active products. The 
hands have a general tendency toward desquamation; the ex- 
tremities of the fingers which have held tubes or capsules contain- 
ing very active products become hard and sometimes very painful; 
with one of us, the inflammation of the extremities of the fingers 
lasted about a fortnight and ended by the scaling of the skin, but 
their painful sensitiveness had not yet completely disappeared at 
the end of two months. 

Henri Becqucrel, carrying a glass tube of radium in the pocket 
of his waistcoat, was also burned, but not because he had wished to 
be. Astonished and angry, he hurried to the Curies to tell them 
about his mishap and the exploits of their terrible "child." He 
declared, by way of conclusion: 

"I love this radium, but I've got a grudge against it 1" 

Then he hastened to draw up the results of the involuntary 
experiment, which appeared in the Proceedings of June 3rd, 1901, 
alongside Pierre's observations. 

Struck by this surprising power of the rays, Pierre studied the 
action of radium on animals. He collaborated with two medical 
men of high rank, Professors Bouchard and Balthasard. Their 



i 9 4 MADAME CURIE 

conviction was soon formed: by destroying diseased cells, radium 
cured growths, tumours and certain forms of cancer. This 
therapeutic method was to be called Curietherapy. French 
practitioners (Daulos, Wickam, Dominici, Eegrais, etc ) made the 
first treatments of diseased persons with success, employing tubes 
of emanation of radium lent by Marie and Pierre Curie. 

The action of radium on the skin was studied by Dr. Daulos at 
St. Louis' Hospital [Marie Curie was to write]. Radium gave 
encouraging results from this point of view: the epidermis, 
partially destroyed by its action, formed again in a healthy state. 

Radium was useful magnificently useful. 

The immediate consequence of such revelations can be guessed. 
The extraction of the new element no longer had merely ex- 
perimental interest. It had become indispensable, salutary. A 
radium industry was about to be born. 

Pierre and Marie watched over the beginning of this industry, 
which could not have been created without their dv ce. 1 hey 
prepared with their own hands the first gramme 01 indium that 
saw the light by the hands of Marie, chieriy in treating eight 
tons of pitch-blende residue at the shed behind the School of 
Physics, according to a process of their invention. Little by little 
the magic properties of radium excited other imaginations, and the 
couple found practical help in organising production on a vast 
scale. 

The wholesale treatment of ores was begun under the direction 
of Andre Debierne at the Central Chemical Products Company, 
which consented to effect the operation without making a pront. 
In 1902 the Academy of Science awarded the Curies a credit of 
20,000 francs "for the extraction of radioactive matter." Ihey 
began at once to purify five tons of ore. 

In 1904, a French industrialist who was intelligent and bold, 
Armet de Lisle, had the idea of founding a factory to m ike radium 
and to. furnish it to doctors for the treatment of malignant tumours. 
Be offered Pierre and Marie a laboratory attached to this factory, 
where the scientists could successfully carry out work which the 
narrow limits of their wooden shed made in)pi*cuciiblc. Ihe 



A DOCTOR'S THESIS < 95 

Curies found collaborators such as F. Haudepin and Jacques 
Danne. to whom Armet de Lisle confided the extraction of the 
precious substance. 

Marie was never to be separated from her first gramme of 
radium which she bequeathed to her laboratory. It never had, and 
was never to have, a value other than that of her tenacious effort. 
When the shed had been knocked down by the wrecker's axe and 
Madame Curie was no more, this gramme of radium was to 
remain as the shining symbol of a great work and of the heroic 
period of two existences 

7 he grammes which followed had a different value: a value in 
gold. Radium, regularly put on sale, became one of the dearest 
substances in the world: during these first years, it was estimated at 
750,000 gold francs by gramme. 

Such an aristocratic material was worth commenting upon: in 
January 1905 appeared the first number of a review, Radium ', which 
was to treat exclusively of radioactive products. 

Radium had acquired a commercial personality. It had its 
market value and its press. On the letter-paper of the Armet dc 
Lisle factory was soon to be read, in big letters: 

RADIUM SALTS RADIOACTIVE SUBSTANCES 
Telegraphic address: RADIUM, NOGENT-SUR-MARNE 

If the fruitful work of scientists in several countries, the creation 
of an industry, and the first trials of a wonderful treatment for 
disease had been possible to accomplish, it was because a blonde 
young woman, carried away by her passionate curiosity, had 
chosen in 1897 to study Becquerel's rays as the subject of her 
thesis. It was because she had been able to guess at the presence of 
a new substance and. joining her efforts to those of her husband, to 
prove the existence of this substance. It was. because she had 
succeeded in isolating pure radium. 

We see this young woman on June zjth, 1903, before the black- 
board in a little hall of the Sorbonne, the students' hall, reached by 
a twisting hidden staircase. Five years had gone by since Marie 
had attacked the subject of her thesis. Involved in the whirlwind 
of an immense discovery, she had put otf her doctor's cxamuution 



i 9 6 MADAME CURIE 

again and again, as she could not find the necessary time to 
assemble her material. To-day she was presenting herself before 
her judges. 

According to custom, she had sent the examiners, MM. 
Lippmann, Bouty and Moissan, the text of the work she was 
submitting for their approval: * 'Researches on Radioactive 
Substances, by Madame Sklodovska Curie." And incredible 
event ! she had bought herself a new dress, all black, in "silk and 
wool." To be exact, Bronya, who had come to Paris for the 
presentation of the thesis, had made Marie ashamed of her shiny 
clothes and had carried her off by force to a shop. It was Bronya 
who had debated with the saleswoman, fingered the stuffs, and 
decided on the alterations, without paying any attention to the 
sulky, absent-minded face of her younger sister. 

Did the two sisters remember that it was exactly twenty years 
since, in the radiant month of June 1883, Bronya had dressed Marie 
for another occasion? It was a solemn morning: little Manyusya, 
dressed in black, was to receive from the hands of a Russian official 
the gold medal of the Gymnasium in the Krakovsky Boule- 
vard. . . . 

Mme Curie was standing very straight. On her pale face and 
rounded brow, completely bared by her fair hair brushed back in a 
crest, a few lines marked the traces of the battle she had fought and 
won. Physicists and chemists were crowded into the sun-filled 
room where more chairs had had to be added: the exceptional 
interest of the researches to be spoken of here had attracted men of 
science. 

Old Dr. Curie, Pierre Curie and Bronya had taken their places at 
the back of the room, squeezed in between students. Near them 
could be seen a group of young girls, fresh and chattering: they 
were Sevres girls, pupils of Marie, who had come to applaud their 
professor. 

The three examiners in evening dress sat behind a long oak table. 
They took turns in asking questions of the candidate. To M. 
Bouty, to Lippmann, her first master, with subtle inspired features, 
and to M. Moissan, whose impressive beard seemed to go on for 
ever, Marie answered in a gentle voice. Sometimes she traced the 
design of an apparatus or the signs of a fundamental formula on 



A DOCTOR'S THESIS 197 

the blackboard with a piece of chalk. She explained the results of 
her research in sentences of technical dry ness, with dull adjectives. 
But in the brains of the physicists around her, young and old, 
pontiffs and disciples, a transmutation of another order took place: 
Marie's cold words changed into a dazzling and exciting picture: 
that of one of the greatest discoveries of the century. 

Scientists disapprove of eloquence and comments. In conferring 
on Marie Curie the rank of doctor, the judges gathered at the 
Faculty of Science were to use, in their turn, words without 
brilliance, to which their extreme simplicity, as one re-reads them 
thirty years later, gives deep emotional value. 

M. Lippmann, the president, pronounced the sacred formula: 

"The University of Paris accords you the title of Doctor of 
Physical Science, with the mention 'trh honorable.'' " 

When the unobtrusive applause of the audience had been stilled, 
he simply added in friendship, with the timid voice of an old 
scholar: 

"And in the name of the jury, Madame, I wish to express to you 
all our congratulations." 

These austere examinations, these serious and modest cere- 
monies, taking place in exactly the same way for the genius of 
research and for the conscientious worker, are not fit subjects for 
irony. They have their style and their greatness. 

Some time before the presentation of the thesis, and before the 
industrial treatment of radium had been developed in France and 
abroad, Pierre and Marie Curie took a decision to which they did 
not attach special importance, but which was to have a great 
influence over the rest of their lives. 

By purifying pitch-blende and isolating radium Marie had 
invented a technique and created a process for its manufacture. 

Since the therapeutic effects of radium had become known, 
radioactive ores were sought for everywhere. Plans for ex- 
ploitation had been made in several countries, particularly in 
Belgium and in America. But these factories could only produce 
the "fabulous metal" if their engineers knew the secret of the 
delicate operations involved in preparing pure radium. 



i 9 fr MADAME CURIE 

Pierre explained these things to his wife one Sunday morning 
in the little house in the Boulevard Kellermann. The postman had 
just brought a letter from the United States. The scientist had 
read it attentively, folded it up again and placed it on his desk. 
"We must speak a little about our radium," he said thoughtfully. 
"The industry is going to be greatly extended; that is certain now. 
The recent cures of malignant tumours have been conclusive; in a 
few years the whole world will be wanting radium. Just now, in 
fact, this letter has come in from Buffalo some technicians who 
want to exploit radium in America ask me to give them in- 
formation." 

"Well, then?" Marie said, taking no vivid interest in the 
conversation. 

"Well, then, we have a choice between two solutions. W T e can 
describe the results of our research without reserve, including the 
processes of purification . . ." 

Marie made a mechanical gesture of approval and murmured: 
"Yes, naturally." 

"Or else," Pierre went on, "we can consider ourselves to be the 
proprietors, the 'inventors' of radium. In this case it would be 
necessary, before publishing exactly how one worked to treat 
pitch-blende, to patent the technique and assure ourselves in that 
way of rights over the manufacture of radium throughout the 
world." 

He made an effort to clarify the position in objective fashion. It 
was not his fault if, in pronouncing words with which he was onlv 
slightly familiar, such as "patent" and "assure ourselves of tht 
rights," his voice had a hardly perceptible inflection of scorn. 
Marie reflected a few seconds. Then she said: 
"It is impossible. It would be contrary to the scientific spirit." 
Pierre's serious face lightened. To settle his conscience, he 
dwelt upon it. 

"I think so too. . . . But I do not want this decision to be taken 
lightly. Our life is hard and it threatens to be hard for ever. We 
have a daughter; perhaps we may have other children. For them, 
and for us, this patent would represent a great deal of money, a 
fortune. It would be comfort made certain, and the suppression of 
drudgery . . ." 



A DOCTOR'S THESIS 199 

Me mentioned, too, with a little laugh, the only thing which it 
was cruel for him to give up: 

"We could have a fine laboratory too." 

Marie's gaze grew fixed. She steadily considered this idea of 
gain, of material compensation. Almost at once she rejected it. 

"Physicists always publish their researches completely. If our 
discovery has a commercial future, that is an accident by which we 
must not profit. And radium is going to be of use in treating 
disease. ... It seems to me impossible to take advantage of that." 

She made no attempt to convince her husband; she guessed that 
he had spoken of the patent only out of scruple. The words she 
pronounced with complete assurance expressed the feelings of both 
of them, their infallible conception of the scientist's role. 

In the silence Pierre repeated, like an echo, Marie's phrase: 

"No. It would be contrary to the scientific spirit." 

fie was appeased, he added, as if settling a question of no 
importance: 

l< i shall write to-night, then, to the American engineers, and give 
them the inroimation they ask for." 

In agreement with me [Marie wps to write twenty years 
later] Pierre Curie decided to take no material profit from our 
discovery: in consequence we took out no patent and we have 
published the results of our research without reserve, as well 
as the processes of preparation of radium. Moreover, we gave 
interested persons all the information they requested. This 
was a great benefit to the radium industry, which was enabled 
to develop in full liberty, first in France and then abroad, furnish- 
ing to scientists, and doctors the products they needed. As a 
matter of fact, this industry is still usine; to-day, almost without 
modification, the processes which we pointed out. 

The "Buffalo Society of Natural Science" has offered me, 
as a souvenir, a publication on the development of the radium 
industry in the United States, accompanied by photographic 
reproductions of the letters in which Pierre Curie replied most 
fully to the questions asked by the American engineers [1902 and 
1903]. 



200 MADAME CURIE 

A quarter of an hour after this little Sunday-morning talk, 
Pierre and Marie passed the Gentilly gate on their beloved 
bicycles, and, pedalling at a good pace, headed for the woods 
of Clamart. 

They had chosen for ever between poverty and fortune. In the 
evening they came back exhausted, their arms filled with leaves 
and bunches of field flowers. 



CHAPTER XVI 



The Enemy 



THOUGH Switzerland was the first country to offer the Curies a 
position worthy of their merit remember the University of 
Geneva's letter their first honours came from England. 

In France some scientific rewards had been given them: Pierre 
received the Plante Prize in 1895 and the Lacaze Prize in 1901. 
Marie had received the Gegner Prize three times. But no dis- 
tinction of great brilliance had yet come their way when, in June 
1903, the Royal Institution officially invited Pierre Curie to lecture 
on radium. The physicist accepted and went to London with his 
wife for this ceremonial. 

A familiar face welcomed them, shining with friendliness and 
benevolence: Lord Kelvin. The illustrious old man made the 
success of the young couple his personal business, and was as 
proud of their researches as if they had been his own. He took 
them to see his laboratory; as they went along, he threw a paternal 
arm over Pierre's shoulder. With touching pleasure he showed his 
collaborators the present that had been brought him from Paris: it 
was a true physicist's present, a precious particle of radium en- 
closed in a glass tube. 

On the evening of the lecture Lord Kelvin was seated beside 
Marie the first woman who had ever been admitted to the 
sessions of the Royal Institution. In the crowded hall, the whole of 
English science gathered: Sir William Crookes, Lord Rayleigh, 
Lord Avebury, Sir Frederick Bramwell, Sir Oliver Lodge, 
Professors Dewar, Ray Lankester, Ayrton, S. P. Thompson, 
Armstrong. . . Speaking in French, with his slow voice, Pierre 

201 



201 MADAME CURIE 

described the properties of radium. Then he asked for darkness 
and proceeded to make several striking experiments: by the 
witchcraft of radium he discharged a gold-leaf electroscope at a 
distance, rendered a screen of zinc sulphate phosphorescent, made 
impressions on photographic plates wrapped in black paper, and 
proved the spontaneous release of heat from the marvellous 
substance. 

The enthusiasm aroused by that evening had its repercussion on 
the morrow: all London wanted to see the "parents" of radium. 
"Professor and Madame Curie" were invited to dinners and 
banquets. 

At these brilliant receptions they listened to the toasts given in 
their honour and replied by brief words of gratitude. Pierre, 
dressed in the rather shiny suit of tails in which he always lectured 
at the P.C.N., gave, in spite of his great politeness, the impression 
of being elsewhere, of understanding with difficulty that these 
compliments were addressed to him. Marie uneasily felt thousands 
of glances fixed upon her on this rarest of animals, this pheno- 
menon: a woman physicist 1 

Her dress was dark, only slightly cut out at the neck; her hands, 
ruined by acids, were bare: there was not even a wedding ring to be 
seen on them. Near her, over bare throats, there gleamed the 
finest diamonds in the empire. Marie looked upon these jewels 
with sincere pleasure and noticed with surprise that her husband, 
ordinarily so absent-minded, also had his eyes fixed on the neck- 
laces and jewelled collars. 

"I didn't even imagine that such jewels existed," she said to 
Pierre that evening as she was undressing. "How pretty they are!" 

The physicist began to laugh. 

"Do you know, during dinner, when I didn't know what to 
think about, 1 discovered a game: I calculated how many labora- 
tories could be built with the stones that each woman present was 
wearing around her neck. When the time for the speeches arrived 
I had got up to an astronomical number of buildings." 

After a few days the Curies went back to their shed. They had 
formed solid friendships in London and planned various collabora- 
tions: Pierre was to publish soon, with his English colleague, Pro- 
fessor Dewar, a study on the gases released by radium bromide. 



THE ENEMY 203 

Anglo-Saxons are faithful to those whom they admire. In 
November 1903 a letter announced to Pierre and Marie that the 
Royal Society of London wished to mark its esteem of them by 
one of its highest awards: the Davy Medal. 

Marie, who was ill, let her husband go to the ceremony without 
her. Pierre brought back from England a heavy gold medal on 
which their names were engraved. He looked for a place for the 
medal in their house in the Boulevard Kellermann. He handled it 
awkwardly; he lost and found it again. Finally, seized with a 
sudden inspiration, he confided it to his daughter Irene, who had 
never had such a gala day in her six years. 

When his friends came to see him, the scientist showed them 
the child amusing herself with the new toy. 

"Irene adores her big new penny!" he said by way of con- 
clusion. 

The brilliance of two brief journeys, and a little girl playing with 
a golden disc: such was the prelude of the symphony which was 
now approaching its all-powerful crescendo. 

It was from Sweden, this time, that the conductor gave the 
signal. 

in its "solemn general meeting" of December icth, 1903, the 
Academy of Science of Stockholm publicly announced that the 
Nobel Prize in Physics for the current year was awarded half to 
Henri Becquerel and half to M. and Mme Curie for their dis- 
coveries in radioactivity. 

Neither of the Curies was present at the session. The French 
Minister received the diplomas and gold medals in their names 
from the King's hands. Unwell and overworked, Pierre and Marie 
had shrunk from the long journey in mid-winter. 



Professor Aurivillius to M. and Mme Curie, November i4/^, 1903: 
M. AND MME CURIE, 

As 1 have had the honour of informing you telegraphically, the 
Swedish Academy of Science, in its session of November nth, 
decided to bestow on you half of the Nobel Prize in Physics for 
this year, as evidence of its appreciation of your extraordinary 
work in common on the Becquerel rays. 



zo4 MADAME CURIE 

On December loth, at the ceremonial general meeting, the 
decisions of the various bodies charged with the distribution of 
prizes which must be kept strictly secret until then will be 
published, and on the same occasion the diplomas and gold medals 
will also be distributed. 

In the name of the Academy of Science, I therefore invite you 
to be present at this meeting to receive your prize in person. 

According to Article 9 of the'statute of the Nobel Foundation, 
you are required to make a public lecture in Stockholm during the 
six months following the meeting, on the subject of the work for 
which the prize is awarded. If you come to Stockholm at the said 
time, it would no doubt be best to discharge this obligation during 
the days immediately following the meeting, if that arrangement 
suits you. 

Hoping that the Academy will have the great pleasure of seeing 
you in Stockholm, I beg of you, monsieur and madame, to accept 
the assurance of my distinguished regard. 

Pierre Curie to Professor Aitrivillitis, Ncvewbcr i*)tk, 1903: 
MR. SECRETARY,* 

We are very grateful to the Academy of Science of Stockholm 
for the great honour it does us in awarding us half of the Nobel 
Prize for Physics. We beg you to be kind enough to transmit the 
expression of our gratitude and of our sincerest thanks. 

It is very difficult for us to go to Sweden for the ceremonial 
meeting on December loth. 

We cannot go away at that time of year without greatly up- 
setting the teaching which is confided to each of us. If we went 
to the meeting we could only stay a very short time, and we should 
barely have time to make the acquaintance of the Swedish 
scientists. 

Finally, Mme Curie has been ill this summer and is not yet 
completely recovered. 

I wish to ask you to postpone the time of our journey and the 
lecture to a later date. We could go to Stockholm at Easter, for 

* Professor Aurivillius was the secretaire perpttuel of tht Swedish Academy 
of Science, a position of great eminence and authority, which the English 
word "secretary " hardly conveys. 



THE ENEMY 205 

example, or, which would suit us better still, toward the middle 
of J une. 

Please accept, Mr. Secretary, the assurance of our respect. 

After these phrases of official courtesy we must quote another 
letter unexpected and astonishing. Written by Marie in Polish, 
it was addressed to her brother. The date is worthy of remark: 
December nth, 1903, the day after the public meeting in Stock- 
holm. The first day of fame! when Marie should have been 
intoxicated by her triumph. Her adventure was indeed extra- 
ordinary: no woman had heretofore achieved renown in the 
difficult realm of science. She was the first, and for the moment 
the only, celebrated woman scientist in the world. 

Marie Curie to Joseph Sklodovski, December \\th y 1903: 
DEAR JOSEPH, 

1 thank both of you most tenderly for your letters. Don't forget 
to thank Manyusya [Joseph's daughter] for her nice letter, so well 
written, which gave me great pleasure. I shall answer her as soon 
as I have a free moment. 

At the beginning of November I had a sort of influenza which 
left me with a slight cough. I went to see Dr. Landrieux, who 
examined my lungs and found nothing wrong. But on the other 
hand, he says I am anxmic. 1 feel strong, just the same, and I 
succeed in working more now than 1 did in the autumn, without 
too much fatigue. 

My husband has been to London to receive the Davy Medal 
which has been given us. I did not go with him for fear of fatigue. 

We have been given half of the Nobel Prize. I do not know 
eaxctly what that represents; I believe it is about seventy thousand 
francs. For us, it is a huge sum. I don't know when we shall get 
the money, perhaps only when we go to Stockholm. We are 
obliged to lecture there during the six months following December 
loth. 

We did not go to the ceremonial meeting because it was too 
complicated to arrange. I did not feel strong enough to undertake 
such a long journey (forty-eight hours without stopping, and more 
if one stops along the way) in such an inclement season, in a cold 



206 MADAME CURIE 

country, and without being able to stay there more than three or 
four days: we could not, without great difficulty, interrupt our 
courses for a long period. 

We are inundated with letters and with visits from photo- 
graphers and journalists. One would like to dig into the ground 
somewhere to find a little peace. We have received a proposal 
from America to go there and give a series of lectures on our work. 
They ask us how much we want. Whatever the terms may be, we 
intend to refuse. With much effort we have avoided the banquets 
people wanted to organise in our honour. We refuse with the 
energy of despair, and people understand that there is nothing to 
be done. 

My Irene is well. She is going to a little school rather far from 
the house. It is very difficult in Paris to find a good school for 
small children. 

I kiss you all tenderly, and implore you not to forget me. 

"We have been given half of the Nobel Prize . . . I don't know 
when we shall get the money." 

These words, written by a creature who had just willingly 
renounced wealth, assume a special value. The thunderous 
notoriety, the homage of Press and public, official invitations and 
the bridge of gold offered from America, Marie only mentions 
with bitter complaints. This Nobel Prize, which suddenly made 
of Pierre Curie and herself a famous couple, represented in her eyes 
one thing only: seventy thousand gold francs. It was a recompense 
accorded by Swedish scientists to the work of two of their 
colleagues, and it was not "contrary to the scientific spirit" to 
accept it a unique chance of releasing Pierre from his hours of 
teaching, of saving his health! 

On January znd, 1904, the blessed cheque was paid in to the 
branch bank in the Avenue des Gobelins, which harboured the 
couple's slender savings. Pierre at last could leave off teaching at 
the School of Physics, where an eminent physicist, Paul Langevin, 
his former pupil, was to replace him. The Curies engaged, at their 
own expense, a laboratory assistant: it was simpler and quicker 
than waiting for the phantom collaborators promised by the 
university. Marie sent twenty thousand Austrian crowns as a loan 



THE ENEMY 207 

to the Dluskis, to help in the beginnings of their sanatorium, and 
the rest of the little fortune, which was soon to be swollen by the 
fifty thousand francs of the Osiris Prize, awarded half to Marie 
Curie and half to Edouard Branly, was evenly divided between 
French rentes and bonds of the City of Warsaw. 

In the black account book can be found traces of a few other 
sumptuary expenses. There were presents in money and loans to 
Pierre's brother, to Marie's sisters liberalities which the extreme 
discretion of their beneficiaries was to reduce to modest propor- 
tions. There \\ere also subscriptions to scientific societies. 

Gifts: to Polish students, to a childhood friend of Marie's, to 
laboratory assistants, to a Sevres girl in need. . . . Finding in her 
memory the name of a very poor woman who had once lovingly 
taught her French a Mile de St. Aubin, now Mme Kozlovska, 
born in Dieppe, but settled and married in Poland whose great 
dream was to see the land of her birth again, Marie wrote to her, 
invited her to France, received her in her bouse and paid for her 
journey from Warsaw to Paris and from Paris to Dieppe; the good 
lady was to speak of this immense unexpected joy with tears. 

Marie bestowed such ingenious and subtle kindnesses judi- 
ciously, without fuss. She had no unmeasured generosities and no 
whims and decided to help those who needed her for as long as 
she lived. She wished to do so according to her means, so as to 
be able to continue to do so always. 

She also thought of herself. She installed a modern bathroom 
in the house in the Boulevard Kellermann and repapered a little 
room which needed it. But it never entered her head to mark the 
occasion of the Nobel Prize by buying a new hat, and though she 
insisted on Pierre's leaving the School of Physics, for her part she 
kept on with her teaching at Sevres. She loved her pupils and felt 
strong enough to continue with the lessons which assured her of 
a salary. 

It may be thought strange to enumerate so minutely the 
expenses of two scientists at the moment when Fame opened her 
arms to them. I ought perhaps to describe the mob of the curious 
and of the journalists of all countries who besieged the Curie house 
and the shed in the Rue Lhomond; I ought to count the telegrams 



*o8- MADAME CURIE 

which piled up on the huge work-table, the newspaper articles in 
their thousands, and depict the physicists posing for photo- 
graphers. 

I have no desire to do so. I know that the commotion which was 
now beginning brought my parents nothing but displeasure. We 
must seek for their satisfactions not in such evidence but else- 
where: Pierre and Marie were happy to see their discovery appre- 
ciated at its worth by the members of the Swedish Academy, happy 
also to find, among the heaps of .congratulations, enthusiastic 
messages from a few persons whom they admired. The joy of their 
relations moved them, and the seventy thousand francs which 
lightened the burden of daily drudgery were welcome. The rest 
that "rest" for which men are capable of such effort, and often of 
such baseness was nothing but misery and torment to them. 

A permanent misunderstanding separated them from the public 
which turned its sympathy towards them. The Curies reached in 
this year of 1903 a moment which was perhaps the most pathetic 
of their lives. They were at an age where genius, served by 
experience, could give its maximum. They had successfully 
accomplished, in a barrack sodden with rain, the discovery of 
radium which astonished the world. But the mission was not 
finished; their brains contained the possibility of other unknown 
riches. They wanted to work; they had to work. 

But fame took little account of the future towards which Pierre 
and Marie were straining. Fame leaps upon the great, hangs its 
full weight upon them, attempts to arrest their development. The 
publicity given by the Nobel Prize fixed upon the couple of 
research workers the attention of millions of beings, men and 
women, philosophers, workers, professors, business men and 
people in society. These millions of beings offered their praises to 
the Curies. But what pledges they claimed in exchange! The 
advantages which the scientists had presented them with in 
advance the intellectual capital of the discovery, its power of help 
against a terrible evil did not suffice for them. They consigned 
radioactivity, although it was still in an embryonic stage, to the 
class of acquired victories and busied themselves less with helping 
in its development than in savouring the picturesque details of its 
birth. They wished to break in upon the intimacy of the surprising 



THE ENEMY 209 

couple about whom a double genius, a transparent life and a total 
disinterestedness were already creating a legend. Their eager 
homage rummaged through the existence of their idols of their 
victims and dispossessed them of the only treasures they wished 
to preserve: meditation and silence. 

In the newspapers of the period, along with photographs of 
Pierre, or Marie ("a fair young woman, distinguished, slender in 
figure" or "a charming mother whose exquisite sensibility is 
accompanied by a spirit curious about the unfathomable") of their 
"adorable little girl" and of Didi, the alley cat rolled up into a 
ball before the stove in the dining-room, there also appeared 
eloquent descriptions of the little house and of the laboratory, 
those retreats whose charm and chaste poverty the two physicists 
had wished to keep for themselves. The house in the Boulevard 
Kellermann became "the sages' dwelling," described as "a pretty 
house, far off in the unknown and solitary Paris, in the shadow of 
the fortifications, a house which harbours the intimate happiness 
of two great scientists." 

And the Shed rose to honour: 

Behind the Panthdon, in a narrow, dark and deserted street such 
as those shown in the etchings to illustrate melodramatic old 
novels, the Rue Lhomond, between black and fissured houses, 
beside a trembling pavement, a miserable barrack raises its wooden 
wall: it is the Municipal School of Physics and Chemistry. 

I went through a courtyard, a lamentable enclosure which had 
endured the worst insults of time, and then through a solitary 
archway where my steps re-echoed, and found myself in a soggy 
blind alley where a twisted tree was dying in a corner between 
wooden planks. There extended several cabins of a sort, long, 
low, grassed-in, where I perceived small steady flames and glass 
instruments of various forms. No noise: a deep, melancholy 
silence; the echo of the town did not even enter here. 

I knocked at a door chosen at random and entered a laboratory 
of astonishing simplicity: the floor was of rugged beaten earth, 
the walls of ruined plaster, the ceiling of rather shaky laths, and 
the light came in weakly through dusty windows. A young man, 
bent over a complicated piece of apparatus, lifted his head. 



2io MADAME CURIE 

"M. Curie/' he said, "is in there*." At once he resumed his work. 
Minutes went by. It was cold. Drops of water were falling from 
a tap. Two or three gAs burners were alight. 

Finally there entered a tall, thin man with a bony face and a 
rough grey beard, wearing a battered little cap. It was M. Curie. 

(Echo de Paris, Paul Acker.) 

Fame is an astonishing mirror, sometimes faithful, sometimes 
distorting like the convex glasses of an amusement park; it projects 
into space a thousand pictures of its chosen ones and takes posses- 
sion of their least gestures to exalt them by caricature. The life 
of the Curies furnished fashi on.ible cabarets with subjects for 
sketches; when the newspapers announced that M. and Mmc Curie 
had accidentally lost part of their stock of radium, a skit played in 
a Montmartre theatre promptly showed them locked up in their 
shed, allowing nobody to enter, sweeping the floor themselves 
and comically exploring every corner of the stage to find the lost 
substance. 

And here is how the event was told by Marie: 

ALirie to Joseph Sklodovski: 

A great misfortune has overtaken us recently: in the course of 
a delicate operation with radium, we lost an important quantity of 
our stock, and we still cannot understand the cause of the disaster. 
On this account I find myself forced to put oif the work on the 
atomic weight of radium , which I should have begun by Easter. 
We are both of us in consternation. 

In another letter, speaking of the radium which was her only 
care, she writes: 

Marie to Joseph Sklodwski, December z^ro 1 , 1903: 

It is possible that we may succeed in preparing a greater 
quantity of this luckless substance. For this we need o.e and 
money. We have the money now, but up to the present it has been 
impossible for us to get the ore. We are given some hope at the 
moment, and we shall probably be able to buy the necessary stock 
which was refused us before. The manufacture will therefore 



THE ENEMY 211 

develop. But if you only knew how much time, patience and 
money must be spent to extract this tiny amount of radium from 
several tons of matter! 

Such were Marie's preoccupations thirteen days after the 
awarding of the Nobel Prize. In the course of these thirteen days 
the whole world had, in its turn ? made a discovery: the Curies. 
A "great couple ! But Pierre and Marie did not get inside the 
sJdn of these new characters. 

Pierre Curie to Georges Gouy, January zznd, 1904: 
MY DEAR FRIEND, 

I wanted to write to you a long time ago; excuse me if I 
didn't; it is because of the stupid life J am leading just now. 

You have seen this sudden fad for radium. This has brought 
us all the advantages of a moment of popularity; we have been 
pursued by the journalists and photographers of every country on 
earth; they have even gone so far as to reproduce my daughter's 
conversation with her nurse and to describe the black-and-white 
cat we have at home. Then we have received letters and visits from 
all the eccentrics, from all the unappreciated inventors. . . . We 
have had a large number of requests for money. Last of all, 
collectors of autographs, snobs, society people and sometimes even 
scientists come to see us in the magnificent establishment in the 
Rue Lhomond which you know. With all this, there is not a 
moment of tranquillity in the laboratory, and a voluminous corre- 
spondence to be sent off every night. On this regime I can feel 
myself being overwhelmed by brute stupidity. . . . 

The Curies, who had supported poverty, overwork and even 
the injustice of mankind without a complaint, now for the first 
time betrayed a strange nervousness. As their renown increased, 
this nervousness grew in proportion. 

Pierre Curie to Charles Edouard Gnillaumt: 

. . . We are asked for articles and lectures, and when 
several years have passed, the very people who are asking us 
for them would be astonished to see that we have done no 
work. . . . 



ziz MADAME CURIE 

Pierre Curie to Charles Hdouard Guillaume, January 15 tb y 1904. . 
MY DEAR FRIEND, 

My lecture will take place on February i8th; the newspapers 
were misinformed. To this piece of false news, I owe 200 requests 
for tickets, to which I have given up replying. 

Absolute and invincible inertia regarding Flammarion's lecture. 
I long for calmer days passed in a quiet place, where lectures will 
be forbidden and newspapermen persecuted. 

Marie Curie to Joseph Sklodarski, February 14^, 1904: 
. . . Always a hubbub. People are keeping us from work as 
much as they can. Now 1 have decided to be brave and I receive 
no visitors but they disturb me just the same. Our life has been 
altogether spoiled by honours and fame. 

Marie Curie to Joseph Sklodovski, March i9//>, 1904: 
DEAR JOSEPH, 

I send you my most affectionate greetings for your birthday. 
I wish you good health and success for all your family and also 
that you may never be submerged by such a correspondence as 
inundates us at this moment, or by the assaults to which we are 
subjected. 

I regret a little that I threw away the letters we received; 
they were instructive enough. There were sonnets and poems 
on radium, letters from various inventors, letters from spirits, 
philosophical letters. Yesterday an American wrote to ask if 
I would allow him to name a racehorse after me. And then, 
naturally, hundreds of requests for autographs and photographs. 
I hardly reply to these letters, but I lose time by reading 
them. 

Pierre Curie to Georges Gouy, March zotb y 1904: 

... As you have been able to observe, fortune favours us at 
the moment; but the favours of fortune do not come without 
numerous worries. Never have we been less at peace. There are 
days when we have hardly the time to breathe. And to think 
that we had dreamed of living like wild people, far from human 
beings! 



THE ENEMY 215 

Mane Curie to her cousin Henrietta, spring of 1904: 
Our peaceful and laborious existence is completely disorganised: 
I do not know if it will ever regain its equilibrium. 

The irritation, the pessimism, and I might almost say the 
bitterness of these letters are not misleading: the scientists had 
lost their inner peace. 

The fatigue resulting from an effort which surpassed our 
strength, and which had been imposed upon us by the unsatis- 
factory physical conditions of our work, was increased by the 
invasion of publicity [Marie was to write later]. The shattering 
of our voluntary isolation was a cause of real suffering to us and 
had all the effects of a disaster. 

By way of compensation, fame should have brought the Curies 
certain advantages: the chair, the laboratory, the collaborators and 
the credits so long desired. But when would these benefactions 
come? Their anxious waiting was prolonged. . . . 

Here we touch upon one of the essential causes of Pierre's and 
Marie's bitterness. France was the country where their worth had 
been recognised last, and nothing less than the Davy Medal and 
the Nobel Prize were required before the University of Paris 
bothered to create a chair in physics for Pierre Curie. The two 
scientists were saddened by this. The compensations which came 
from abroad underlined the desolate conditions under which they 
had successfully pursued the great discovery conditions which 
did not seem likely to change soon. 

Pierre thought of the positions which had been refused him for 
the past four years, and made it a point of honour to pay public 
homage to the only institution which had encomaged and sup- 
ported his efforts within the poor means at its disposal: the School 
of Physics and Chemistry. In a lecture delivered at the Sorbonne 
before a large audience he was to say, as he recalled the bareness 
and magic of the old shed: 

I wish to point out here that we made all our researches at the 
School of Physics and Chemistry of the City of Paris. 

In all scientific production the influence of the surroundings in 



214- MADAME CURIE 

which work is done has a very great importance, and part of the 
results obtained is due to this influence. For more than twenty 
years I have been working at the School of Physics. Schutzen- 
berger, the first director of this school, was an eminent man of 
science. I remember with gratitude that he procured the means 
of work for me when I was only an assistant; later on, he permitted 
Mme Curie to come and work with me, an authorisation which 
at that time, was an innovation far out of the ordinary. The 
present directors, MM. Lauth and Gariel, have maintained the 
same kindliness toward me. 

The professors of the school and the pupils who have finished 
their studies constitute a benevolent and productive circle which 
was very useful to me. It is among the former pupils of the school 
that we found our collaborators and friends, and I am happy to 
be able to thank them all here. 

The aversion which celebrity inspired in the Curies had still other 
sources besides their passion for work or their fright at the loss of 
time. 

With Pierre, who was naturally detached, the attack of popu- 
larity encountered the resistance of principles he had always held. 
He hated hierarchies and classifications, lie found it absurd that 
there should be * 'firsts' * in a class, and the decorations which grown 
persons coveted seemed to him as superfluous as the medals 
awarded children in school. This attitude, which had made him 
refuse the Legion of Honour, was equally his in the realm of 
science. He was devoid of all spirit of competition, and in the 
"race for discoveries" he was able to endure being beaten by his 
colleagues without annoyance. "What difference does it make if 
I didn't publish such and such a work/' he had the habit of saying, 
"since somebody else has published it?" 

This almost inhuman indifference had had a deep influence on 
Marie. But when she fled before the evidences of admiration it was 
not in order to imitate her husband and not to obey him. The war 
against fame was not a principle with her: it was an instinct an 
irresistible timidity, a painful shrinking congealed her as soon as 
curious glances were fastened upon her, and even provoked 
disturbances which brought on dizziness and physical discomfort. 



THE ENEMY 215 

Also, her existence was too crowded with obligations for her 
to squander a single atom of energy uselessly. Carrying the full 
weight of her work, of her household, of motherhood and 
teaching all at once, Mme Curie advanced on her difficult road like 
an acrobat. Only one more "part" to play, and the equilibrium was 
gone: she fell from the tight rope. Wife, mother, scientist, teacher, 
Marie had not one second of time available for playing the part 
of the celebrated woman. 

By differing routes, Pierre and Marie thus arrived at the same 
position. One might imagine that creatures who had accomplished 
a great work together might react to fame in different ways. Pierre 
might have been distant, Marie vain. . . . Nothing of the sort 
occurred. The two souls, like the two brains, were of equal 
quality. After all their trials the couple traversed this one too 
victoriously, and in their withdrawal from honours they remained 
united. 

1 mur.t confess that 1 have sought with passion for some dis- 
< b'.dicncc to a law which I found cruel. I should have liked to feel 
tha such prodigious success, a scientific reputation without 
p.c vxlcnt for a woman, had brought my mother some moments 
of hippiness. That this unique adventure should have made its 
heroine suffer constantly seemed to me too unjust, and I should 
have given a great deal to tind at the end of a letter, in the midst 
of a confidence, some movement of selfish pride, a cry or a sigh 
of victory. 

It was a childish hope. Marie, promoted to the rank of "the 
celebrated Mme Curie," was still to be happy at times, but only in 
the silence of her laboratory or the intimacy of her home. Day after 
day, she made herself dimmer, more effaced, more anonymous, in 
order to escape from those who would have dragged her on to the 
stage, to avoid being the "star" in whom she could never have 
recognised herself. For many long years, to unknown persons who 
came up to her, asking with insistence: "Aren't you Mme Curie?" 
she was to reply in a neutral voice, dominating a little spasm of fear 
and condemning herself to impassibility: "No, you are mistaken." 

In the presence of her admirers, or of the potentates of the day, 
who now treated her like a sovereign, she like her husband 



*i6' MADAME CURIE 

showed only astonishment, lassitude, an impatience more or less 
covered over and, above all, boredom: the crushing mortal 
boredom which dragged her down when people rambled on about 
her discovery and her genius. 

One anecdote out of a thousand sums up beautifully the response 
of the Curies to what Pierre called "the favours of fortune." The 
couple were dining at the Ely see Palace with President Loubet. In 
the course of the evening a lady came up to Marie and asked: 

"Would you like me to present you to the King of Greece?" 

Marie, innocently and politely, replied in her gentle voice, all 
too sincere: 

"I don't see the utility of it." 

She recognised the lady's stupefaction and also, with horror, 
perceived that the lady, whom she had not recognised, was, in fact, 
Mme Loubet. She blushed, caught herself up, and said precipi- 
tately: 

"But but naturally, I shall do whatever you please. Just as 
you please." 

The Curies, who had always liked to "live like wild people," 
now had another reason for seeking solitude: they were fleeing 
from the curious. More than ever they haunted isolated villages, 
and if they had to pass the night in a country inn they registered 
there under a false name. 

But their best disguise was still their natural appearance. To 
look at this tall, ungainly man, carelessly dressed, leading his 
bicycle along some hollow road in Brittany, and the young woman 
who accompanied him, accoutred like a peasant girl, who could 
imagine them to be the laureates of the Nobel Prize? 

Even the most knowing had difficulty in recognising them. An 
American journalist, having cleverly followed the trail of the 
physicists and found them at Le Pouldu, stopped, perplexed, in 
front of their fisherman's cottage. His newspaper had sent him to 
interview Mme Curie, the illustrious scientist. Where could she 
be? He would have to find out from somebody. . . . From this 
woman, for instance, who was sitting barefoot on the stone steps 
at the door, shaking the sand out of her bathing shoes. 

The woman lifted her head, fixed her ash-grey eyes on the 



THE ENEMY 217 

intruder . . . and all at once she resembled a hundred or a 
thousand photographs that had appeared in the Press. It was she! 
The reporter was stunned for a moment, and then dropped down 
beside Marie and drew out his notebook. 

Seeing that flight was impossible, she resigned herself, and 
answered her interlocutor's questions by short phrases. Yes, Pierre 
Curie and she had discovered radium. Yes, they were continuing 
their work. 

Meanwhile she brandished her sandals, beat them against the 
stone to empty them thoroughly, and then put them back on her 
fine bare feet scratched by rocks and brambles. Magnificent 
occasion for a journalist! A scene of "intimacy" sketched from 
life, by the luckiest of chances. . . . Quickly the good reporter 
took advantage of it and put some questions of a less general 
nature. If he could get some confidences about Marie's youth, 
her methods of work, or the psychology of a woman devoted to 
research. . . . 

But at that moment the surprising face was turned from him. 
In one single sentence which she was to repeat often as a sort of 
motto, which depicted character, existence and vocation a 
sentence which tells more than a whoje book Marie put an end 
to the conversation: 

"In science we must be interested in things, not in persons." 



CHAPTER XVM 



Every Day 



THE name of Curie was now a * 'groat name." The couple were 
richer in money, Jess rich in happy moments. 

Marie, especially, had lost her n ovemcnts of ardour, and joy. 
She was not as entirely absorbed by scientific thought as Pierre. 
Her sensibility, her nerves were affected by the events of each 
day and they responded badly. 

The hubbub which celebrated radium and the Nobel Prize 
irritated her without distracting her for an instant from the care 
which was poisoning her life: Pierre's illness. 

Pierre Curie to Georges Gouy, January 3U/, 1905: 
My rheumatism is leaving me alone at the moment, but J had 
a violent attack this summer and had to give up going to Sweden. 
As you can see, we are thus completely out of favour with the 
Swedish Academy. The truth is that 1 can only keep myself in 
condition by avoiding all physical fatigue. My wife is in the same 
state as myself, and we can't dream of the long working days we 
used to have. 

Pierre Curie to Georges Gotty y July 24^, 1905: 

. . . We still lead the same life, people very busy doing nothing 
of interest. A whole year has passed since I was able to do any 
work, and I have not one moment to myself. Evidently I have not 
yet found the way of defending us against all this frittering away of 
our time, and yet it is very necessary that I should do so. It is a 
question of life or death from the intellectual point of view. 

218 



EVERY DAY 



219 



My pains appear to come from some kind of neurasthenia rather 
than from true rheumatism, and I am getting better since I have 
been eating more suitably and taking strychnine. 



Pierre Curie to Georges Gouy, September lytb, 1905: 

. . . ] was wrong when I told you I was in better health. I have 

had several new attacks and the slightest fatigue brings them on. 

I wonder if I shall ever be able to work seriously in the laboratory, 

in the state I am now in. 

There was no question now of the holidays of yore, charming, 
imprudent and foolish, in which the couple took to the road like 
schoolboys. Marie had rented a little country house near Paris in 
the valley of Chevreuse. There she cared for her husband and 
daughter. 



Marie to Mme ]can Perr/n (from St. 

... I am not very pleased with Irene, who has had a lot of 
trouble getting over her whooping-cough; from time to time she 
begins to cough again, though she has been in the country for three 
months. My husband is very tired; he can't go for walks, and we 
pass our time studying memoranda on physics and mathematics. 

Trene now has a little bicycle and knows how to use it very well. 
She rides it in a boy's costume and is very amusing to watch. 

Worn in body, and feeling, as he did, some grave menace 
hanging over him, Pierre was obsessed by the flight of time. Did 
this man, so young, fear that he was soon to die? He seemed to be 
competing in ilectness with an invisible enemy. He was all deter- 
mination and haste; he nagged his wife affectionately and trans- 
mitted his disquiet to her. The work went on too slowly for his 
liking. They would have to accelerate the rhythm of the research, 
utilise every instant, pass more hours at the laboratory. . . . 

Marie forced herself into a more intense effort, which passed the 
limit of her nervous resistance. 

Hers was a severe fate. For twenty years ever since the day 
when, as a little Polish girl of sixteen, her head filled with the 
memory of dances, she had come back from the country to Warsaw 



220 MADAME CURIE 

** 

to earn her bread she had never ceased to labour. She had lived 
her youth in solitude, bent over manuals of physics in an icy garret; 
and when love came at last, it came in the guise of work. 

Fusing into one single fervour her love of science and her love 
for a man, Marie had condemned herself to an implacable existence. 
Pierre's tenderness and her own were of equal power and their 
ideal was the same. But Pierre had had long periods of laziness in 
the old days, an ardent adolescence and lively passions. Marie, 
since she had become a woman, had never for an instant stepped 
aside from her task, and she would have liked sometimes to know 
the simple charm of living. She was a wife and mother, most 
tender. She dreamed of sweet respites, days of rest and carelessness. 
In this she astonished and shocked Pierre. Dazzled at having 
discovered a companion in genius, he intended her to sacrifice 
herself entirely, as he sacrificed himself, to what he called * 'their 
dominating thoughts." 

She obeyed him she always obeyed but she felt tired in body 
and mind. She grew discouraged and accused herself of intellectual 
impotence, of "stupidity." The truth was simpler: in this woman 
of thirty-six the sheer animal life, worn down for too long, was 
claiming its rights. Marie needed to cease being "Mme Curie" for 
some time, to forget radium to eat, sleep and think of nothing. 

This could not be. Every day brought new obligations. The 
year 1904 was to be exhausting especially exhausting for Marie, 
who was pregnant. The only favour she asked was a brief holiday 
from the school at Sevres. And in the evening, tired and heavy, 
coming back from the laboratory on Pierre's arm, she sometimes 
bought, in memory of Warsaw, a tiny portion of pressed caviar, 
for which she felt an irresistible, morbid longing. 

When the end of her second pregnancy arrived her prostration 
was extreme. Apart from her husband, whose health was her 
torment, it seemed that she no longer loved anything; neither 
science nor life, not even the child which was about to be born. 
Bronya, who had come from Poland for the delivery, was in 
consternation before this new Marie, this defeated woman. 

"Why am I bringing this creature into the world?" she never 
ceased asking. "Existence is too hard, too barren. We ought not 
to inflict it on innocent ones . . ." 



EVERY DAY 221 

The lying-in was painful, interminable. Finally, on December 
6th, 1904, a plump baby was born, crowned with shaggy black 
hair. Another daughter: Eve. 

Bronya's apparent calm, her sensible mind, somewhat dissipated 
Marie's melancholy. When she went away again she left more 
serenity behind her. 

The smiles and antics of the new-born child, who was cared for 
by a nurse, enlivened the young woman. Very small children 
softened her to tenderness. In a grey notebook she listed, as she had 
done for Irene, the story of Eve's first movements and her first 
teeth; and as the child developed the nervous condition of the 
mother grew better. Relaxed by the forced rest which accompanied 
childbirth, Marie insensibly regained her taste for life. She 
approached her laboratory apparatus with a pleasure she had 
forgotten; soon she was seen again at Sevres. 

Vacillating for a moment, she had found her steady step again: 
she had returned to her hard road. 

Everything interested her again: the house, the laboratory. She 
followed the events which shook her native country with pas- 
sionate interest: in Russia, the Revolution of 1905 had broken out 
and the Poles, carried away by the mad hope of deliverance, 
supported the anti-Tsarist agitation. 

Marie to Jtscph Sklodovski^ March z$rd y 1905: 

I see that you have the hope that this painful trial will bring 
some benefit to our country. This is also Bronya's opinion and 
Casimir's. May that hope not be disappointed! I ardently wish 
for this, and think of it without ceasing. In any case I believe it is 
necessary to support the Revolution. I shall shortly be sending 
some money to Casimir for this purpose, since I cannot alas! be 
of any direct use. . . . 

. . . Nothing new at home. The children are growing well. 
Little Eve sleeps very little, and protests energetically if I leave her 
lying awake in her cradle. As 1 am not a stoic, 1 carry her in my 
arms until she grows quiet. She does not resemble Irene. She has 
dark hair and blue eyes, whereas up to now Irene has rather light 
hair and green-brown eyes. 

We arc still living in the same house, and now that spring is here 



222 ' MADAME CURIE 

we are beginning to enjoy the garden. The weather is magnificent 
to-day, which delights us all the more as the winter was wet and 
disagreeable. 

I resumed teaching at Sevres on the first of February. In the 
afternoons I am at the laboratory, and in the mornings at home, 
except for two mornings a week spent at Sevres. ... I have a 
great deal of work, what with the housekeeping, the children, 
the teaching and the laboratory, and I don't know how I shall 
manage it all. 

The weather was fine, Pierre felt stronger, and Marie was in 
better spirits. The moment had come to fulfil a duty which had 
been too often postponed: the visit to Stockholm and the Nobel 
lecture. The couple undertook the splendid journey that journey 
which, in our family, was to become a tradition. . . . 

On June 6th, 1905, in the name of his wife and himself, Pierre 
Curie spoke on radium before the Academy of Science of Stock- 
holm. He evoked the consequences of the discovery of radium. 
In physics it profoundly modified the fundamental principles of 
mechanics. In chemistry it stirred up bold hypotheses on the 
source of energy which supplied the radioactive phenomena. In 
geology, in meteorology, it was the key to phenomena which had 
never been explained before. In biology, last of all, the action 
of radium on cancerous cells had proved efficacious. 

Radium had enriched Knowledge and served the Good. But 
could it also serve Evil? 

One rnay also imagine [Pierre said in concluding] that in criminal 
hands radium might become very dangerous, and here we may ask 
ourselves if humanity has anything to gain by learning the secrets 
of nature, if it is ripe enough to profit by them, or if this knowledge 
is not harmful. The example of Nobel's discoveries is character- 
istic: powerful explosives have permitted men to perform admirable 
work. They are also a terrible means of destruction in the hands 
of the great criminals who lead the peoples towards war. 

I am among those who think, with Nobel, that humanity will 
obtain more good than evil from the new discoveries. 

The welcome given them by the Swedish scientists gave the 



EVERY DAY Z2 5 

Curies pleasure. They had been afraid of the pomp of this distant 
expedition. But, organised with wisdom, it proved to have 
unexpected attractiveness. No crowds, very few official person- 
ages. Pierre and Marie visited at will in a country which charmed 
them, and talked with men of science; they went home delighted. 

Pierre Curie to Georges Gouy, July ztfh, 1905: 

. . . My wife and I have just made a very agreeable journey to 
Sweden. We were free of all care, and it was a rest for us. Anyhow 
there was hardly anybody in Stockholm in June and the official 
side of things was a great deal simplified by this fact. 

Sweden is composed of lakes and arms of the sea, with a little 
land round about; pines, moraines, houses of red wood; it is a 
rather uniform landscape, but very pretty and restful. There was 
no night at all during the time of our journey, and an autumn sun 
shone nearly always. 

Our children and my father are very well, and my wife and I are 
much better, although we get tired easily. 

In the house in the Boulevard Kellermann, protected like a 
fortress against intruders, Pierre and Marie led the same simple, 
hidden life. The cares of housekeeping were reduced to the 
essentials. A charwoman did the heavy work, a maid of all work 
prepared the meals and brought the dishes to the table. She beheld 
the absorbed faces of her strange employers with amazement and 
waited in vain for some flattering remark on the roast or the 
mashed potatoes. 

One day, unable to stand it any longer, the honest creature 
stopped before Pierre and demanded in a firm voice his opinion 
on the beefsteak he had just eaten with appetite. But the answer 
left her perplexed. 

"Did I eat a beefsteak?" the scientist murmured. Then he added 
conciliatory: "It's quite possible." 

Even at periods of great overwork Marie reserved time for the 
care of her children. Her work obliged her to entrust her daughters 
to servants, but until she had verified on her own account that 
Irene and Eve had slept and eaten well, that they were washed and 
combed, had no colds or ills of any sort, she was never at ease. 



224 MADAME CURIE 

For that matter, even if she had been less attentive Irene 
would have known how to remind her. Irene was a despotic 
child. She took jealous possession of her mother and barely 
allowed her to care for "the little one." In the winter Marie 
made long journeys across Paris to discover the pippins and 
bananas which her elder child consented to eat, and without which 
she did not dare go home. 

The couple spent most of their evenings in dressing gowns and 
slippers, going through scientific publications or scribbling com- 
plicated calculations in their notebooks. Even so, they were to be 
seen at exhibitions of painting, and seven or eight times a year they 
permitted themselves two hours at a concert or the theatre. 

There were wonderful actors in Paris at the beginning of the 
century. Pierre and Marie watched for the occasional appearances 
of Eleanora Duse. The eloquence of Mounet-Sully and the art of 
Sarah Bernhardt touched them less than the natural playing of 
Julia Bartct and Jeanne Granier or the power of Lucien Guitry. 

They followed the "advanced" productions, which have always 
had the favour of university people. At the Theatre de 1'CEuvre, 
Su2anne Despres was playing the dramas of Ibsen and Lugne Poe 
was producing The Pomrs of Darkness. From these performances 
Pierre and Marie would come home content and depressed for 
several days. The mocking smiles of Dr. Curie welcomed them. 
The old Voltairian, who had small liking for the morbid, fixed his 
azure gaze upon their long faces and never failed to say ironically: 

"Don't forget that you went there for pleasure!" 

A certain taste for the mysterious, combined with the eternal 
scientific curiosity of the Curies, led them at this period into a 
strange path: they were present at stances of spiritism, given with 
the help of the celebrated medium Eusapia Paiadino. They went 
not as adepts but as observers. They attempted lucidly to explore 
this dangerous region of consciousness. Pierre especially took 
passionate interest in such exhibitions, and in the darkness he 
would measure the "levitation" of objects imaginary or real. . . . 

For his impartial spirit these tests were disconcerting: they had 
neither the rigorousness nor the honesty of laboratory experiments. 
Sometimes the medium obtained stupefying results, and the two 
scientists were quite near being convinced. But suddenly they 



EVERY DAY 225 

discovered gross frauds, and scepticism was born again. Their 
final opinion was to remain uncertain. After a few years Marie was 
to abandon completely the study of such phenomena. 

Pierre and Marie avoided receptions: they were never to be seen 
in society. But they could not always get out of official dinners or 
banquets in honour of foreign scientists. It therefore sometimes 
happened that Pierre would put of! the thick woollen suit he wore 
every c$ay and don his evening clothes, as Marie would put on her 
one evening dress. 

This dress, which she kept for years and years, to be transformed 
from time to time by a little dressmaker, was made of black 
grenadine bordered with ruches on a foundation of faille, or else 
supreme boldness! of white Chantilly lace mixed with black 
velvet. A smart woman would have looked upon it with disdain: 
Marie knew nothing of fashions and had no taste. But the dis- 
cretion and reserve which were the very mark of her character 
saved her from being conspicuous and created a sort of style in her 
dress. When she changed her laboratory clothes, which were far 
from aesthetic, for an evening dress, when she wound her ash- 
blonde hair into a crest and timidly hung a light necklace of gold 
filigree about her neck, she was exquisite. Her slender body and 
inspired face suddenly unveiled their charm. Beside Marie, with 
her immense pale forehead and her powerful gaze, other women 
did not cease to be pretty: but many among them appeared both 
stupid and vulgar. 

One evening, when they were going out, Pierre contemplated 
Marie's outlines with unusual attention her free neck, her bare 
arms, so feminine and noble. A shadow of regret passed over the 
face of this man made stoop- shouldered by science. 

"It's a pity," he murmured. "Evening dress becomes you!" 

VC'ith a sigh, he added: 

"But there it is, we haven't got time." 

If Marie invited a few persons to their home, by any chance, she 
made an effort to see that the food was suitable and the house 
pleasing. She wandered, preoccupied, among the little carts of first 
fruits and vegetables in the Rue Mouffetard or the Rue d'Alsia, 
chose the best fruits, and gravely questioned the creamery man on 



226 ' MADAME CURIE 

the comparative quality of his cheeses. She picked out of a flower 
vendor's basket some bunches of roses, tulips or lilacs. . . . Back 
at home again, she would "make bouquets" while the maid of all 
work emotionally prepared to cook dishes a little more complicated 
than usual, and the pastry-shop man in the neighbourhood would 
deliver some ice-cream with great pomp. Jn this home of work, 
the most modest gathering was preceded by such a general siir. 
At the last moment Marie would inspect the table and rearrange 
the furniture. 

For the Curies at last had some furniture. The family chairs, 
which they had refused to admit into their lodgings in the Rue de 
la Glaciere, were welcomed in the Boulevard Kellermann. Sofas 
of curved mahogany, covered with shiny old velvet of watery 
green, one of which served as a bed for little Irene, and Restoration 
arm-chairs gave some human graciousncss to the sitting-room 
covered in pale paper. But in the placid, commonplace interior, on 
the shelves of two high bookcases, thick volumes stood guard with 
the titles: Treatise on Physics and Differential and Inttgral Calculus. 

There were some guests of note: foreign colleagues who were 
passing through Paris: or else Poles bringing news to Marie. Mmc 
Curie also organised children's parties to amuse her shy Irene: a 
Christmas tree, decked out by her in garlands, coloured candles and 
gilded nuts, was to leave great memories in the younger generation. 

On some occasions the house served as a setting for an even more 
magic spectacle than that of the illuminated tree. Mechanics placed 
theatre projectors and a row of electric lights in the dining-room; 
and after dinner, before the Curies and two or three of their 
friends, these lights were to caress the floating veils of a dancer who 
could make herself in turn a flame or a flower, a goddess or a witch. 

The dancer was I.oic Fuller, the * 'light fairy" whose fantastic 
inventions enchanted Paris; a picturesque friendship united her to 
the two physicists. Having read in the newspapers that radium was 
luminous, the star of the Folies-Bergere had imagined a sensational 
costume, the phosphorescence of which was to puzzle the spec- 
tators. She asked the Curies for information. Her naive letter 
made the scientists smile, and they revealed to Loie how fanciful 
was her plan for "butterfly wings of radium." 

The American dancer, applauded every night in the theatre, 



EVERY DAY 227 

astonished her kindly correspondents; she made no boast of her 
letter from the Curies and did not ask the physicists to come and 
applaud her. She wrote to Marie: "I have only one means of 
thanking you for having answered me. Let me dance one evening 
at your house, for the two of you." 

Pierre and Marie accepted. An odd, badly dressed girl, with a 
Kalmuck face innocent of make-up, her eyes as blue as a baby's, 
came to their door, followed by a troop of electricians laden with 
material. A little worried, the couple left the room to the invaders 
and went off to the laboratory. And Loie laboured for hours, tried 
different combinations of light, and arranged the curtains and rugs 
she had ordered to reconstruct her enchanting spectacle in the 
narrow dining-room of the two professors. 

The severe little house with the well-guarded gate thus wel- 
comed a goddess from the music-halls. Loie happened to have a 
delicate soul. She always showed Marie Curie the rarest sort of 
admiration: that which asks for nothing in return, which makes 
itself ingenious in rendering service and giving pleasure. She came 
back to dance at the house in the Boulevard Kellermann in the 
same privacy. When they knew her better, Pierre and Marie 
returned her visits. At her house they met Auguste Rodin, with 
whom they established friendly relations. In the course of these 
years Pierre, Marie, Loie Fuller and Rodin could have been seen 
sometimes talking peaceably in the sculptor's studio among the 
clay and the marbles. 

Seven or eight intimate friends were always welcome in the 
Boulevard Kellermann: Andre Debierne, Jean Perrin and his wife, 
who was Marie's best woman friend, Georges Urbain, Paul 
Langevin, Aime Cotton, Georges Sagnac, Charles Edouard 
Guillaume, a few students from the School at S&vres. . . . 
Scientists, all scientists! 

On Sunday afternoons in fine weather the group would meet in 
the garden. Marie installed herself in the shade with her work, 
near Eve's baby carriage. But the mending or sewing did not keep 
her from following the general conversation, which, for another 
woman, would have been more mysterious than a discussion in 
Chinese. 



228' MADAME CURIE 

It was the time of day when the latest gossip went the rounds: 
thrilling revelations about "alpha," "beta" and "gamma" rays of 
radium. . . . Perrin, Urbain and Debierne were making research, 
on and off, on the origin of the energy emitted by radium. In order 
to explain it, it was necessary to abandon either Carnot's principle 
or that of the conservation of energy or the conservation of 
elements. Pierre suggested the hypothesis of radioactive trans- 
mutations, but Urbain exclaimed in horror. He would not hear of 
it, and defended his own point of view with passion. And what of 
Sagnac's work, by the way? And what news of Marie's experiments 
on the atomic weight of radium? . . . 

Radium, radium, radium! The magic word came up ten or 
twenty times, passed from tongue to tongue, and sometimes 
provoked a regret in Marie: chance had arranged things badly in 
making radium such a prodigious substance and polonium the 
first element the Curies had discovered an unstable body of 
secondary interest. The patriotic Marie could have wished that 
polonium, with its symbolic name, had drawn fame upon itself. 

More human sounds at times traversed these transcendent 
exchanges of ideas: Dr. Curie talked politics with Debierne and 
Langevin, Urbain amiably chaffed Marie, criticised the seventy of 
her dress, and reproached her with her disdain for coquetry and 
the young woman, surprised at the unexpected sermon, listened 
speechless. Jean Perrin, abandoning atoms, the "infinitely small," 
lifted his enthusiastic face to the sky and, like a fervent Wagncrian, 
hurled forth themes from the Rbeingpld or the Met ster singer. At the 
end of the garden, a little to one side, Mme Perrin was telling a 
fairy story to her children, Aline and Francis, and to Irene, their 
playmate. 

The Perrins and Curies saw each other every day: they lived in 
neighbouring houses and their two gardens were separated only 
by a trellis covered with rose vines. When Irene had something 
urgent to confide to her friends, she called them "to the trellis." 
Through these rusty bars the accomplices exchanged bits of 
chocolate, toys and confidences until such time as they, too, like 
the grown-ups, could talk physics. 

The "grown-ups," especially Pierre and Marie, were vibrating 



EVERY DAY 229 

with plans. A new era opened before the Curies: France had taken 
notice of their existence and was thinking of supporting their 
efforts. 

The first and indispensable stage was the nomination of Pierre to 
the Academy of Science. The scientist submitted himself for the 
second time to the ordeal of a round of visits. His adherents, 
fearing that he would not behave like "a good candidate," 
showered him with worried advice: 

E. Ma scar t to Pierre Curie, May z^nd > 1905: 
MY DEAR CURIE, 

. . . Naturally you are placed at the top of the list, without 
serious competitors, and the nomination is no longer in doubt. 

Just the same, it is necessary for you to take your courage in your 
two hands and make a round of calls on the members of the 
Academy, except that you can leave a visiting card turned down at 
one connr when you don't find anybody at home. Start doing this 
next week, and in about a fortnight the job will be finished. 

J5. Mascart 1o Pierre Curie, May 25th, 1905: 

My dear Curie, arrange it any w#y you like, but before the 
twentieth of June you must make the sacrifice of a final round of 
calls on the members of the Academy, even if you have to rent a 
motor car by the day. 

The reasons you give me are excellent in principle, but one must 
make some concessions to the exigencies of practice. You must 
also think of the fact that the title of Member of the Institute will 
enable you more easily to be of service to others. 

On July 3rd, 1905, Pierre Curie entered the Academy but only 
just ! Twenty- two scientists, fearing no doubt the injustice of 
making him their equal, had voted for his opponent, M. Gcrnez. 

Pierre Curie to Georges Goty, July ztfh, 1905: 

. . . I find myself in the Academy without having desuv.d to be 
there and without the Academy's desire to have me. I only made 
one round of visits, leaving cards on the absent ones, and every- 
body told me it was agreed that I would have fifty votes. That's 



230* MADAME CURIE 

probably why I nearly didn't get in! 

. . . What's the use? In that house they can do nothing simply, 
without intrigues. Apart from a little campaign, cleverly con- 
ducted, I had against me also the lack of sympathy of the clericals, 
and of those who thought I had not paid enough calls. S. asked me 
which academicians were going to vote for me, and I told him I 
did not know; that I had not asked them. "That's it," he said, "you 
didn't deign to ask!" And the rumour is put about that I am proud. 

Pierre Curie to Georges Gouy> October (>th y 1905: 

... I went to the institute on Monday, but I must really s.iy I 
don't know what I was doing there. I have nothing to do with any 
of the members, and the interest of the meetings is null. 1 feel very 
clearly that these circles are not mine. 

Pierre Curie to Georges Goity y October, 1905: 

I have not yet discovered what is the use of the Academy. 

Pierre, though a lukewarm admirer of the illustrious company, 
took the liveliest interest in the decisions taken in his favour by the 
university: his work depended upon them. At the beginning of 
1904 the rector, Liard, had obtained for him the creation of a chair 
in physics. Here at last was the post, so long desired, of titular 
professor. Before accepting the promotion Pierre asked where 
would be the laboratory attached to his work. 

A laboratory? What laboratory? There had been no question of 
a laboratory. 

In a second the laureates of the Nobel Prize, parents of radium, 
discovered that if Pierre left his position in the P.C.N. to teach at 
the Sorbonne he would run the risk of being able to do no work at 
all. No space was offered the new professor, and the two rooms lie 
had been using at the P.C.N. would be, as was only natural, 
assigned to his successor. He was left with the prospect of 
conducting his experiments in the street. 

With his accomplished pen, Pierre wrote his chiefs a polite but 
firm letter: since the position created for him did not bring with it 
either a room to work in or an appropriation for research, he had 
decided to give it up. He could keep on at the P.C.N. with its 




MAklh AND I'lKRkKcrRIK 

\\illi I'linr I ),mi;!ilfM In-nr. in I In* I "iirltii ol I lit- 1 louse on Kmlev.ml Kellenuann. I 




l I h 



MARirrrmr AXD rn 

fr^n*'. in Mir ( MM^D of f If I (nt 



iKKi 1 rrwr 

i^r on l')onlrviir<l K'llrnrj,jnn. 




I<M)H 



EVERY DAY **L 

excessive hours of teaching the little place where he and Marie, 
somehow or other, could do useful work. 

More palavers. Then, with a great gesture, th* university at last 
asked the Chamber of Deputies to create a laboratory with a 
hundred and fifty thousand francs appropriation. The project was 
adopted or almost! There was decidedly no room for Pierre at 
the Sorbonne, but a place with two rooms would be built in the 
Rue Cuvier. A credit of twelve thousand francs a year would be 
allotted to M. Curie, who would receive thirty-four thousand 
francs in addition for the cost of installation. 

The naive Pierre imagined "cost of installation" to mean that he 
could buy apparatus and complete his equipment. Yes, he could 
do so but only when the price of the new building was sub- 
tracted from this small sum. In the mind of the public authorities, 
building and "cost of installation" were the same tiling! 

Thus trie official plans shrivelled. 

Pierre Curie to Georges Gotty, January 3i//, 1905: 

I have kept two rooms at the P.C.N., where we work, and then 
they are building two other rooms for me in a courtyard. They 
will cost twenty thousand francs, wfrich are taken out of my 
appropriation for the purchase of instruments. 

Pierre Curie to Georges Gouy, November jth, 1905 : 

I begin my courses to-morrow, but I find myself in very bad 
conditions for preparing experiments: the lecture hall is at the 
Sorbonne and my laboratory in the Rue Cuvier. Moreover, a great 
many other lectures are given in the lecture hall, and I have only 
one morning to prepare the course there. 

I am neither very well nor very ill. But I get tired easily, and I 
no longer have more than a very feeble capacity for work. My 
wife, on the contrary, leads a most active life, between her children, 
the school at Sevres and the laboratory. She does not lose a 
minute, and attends much more regularly than I do to the progress 
of the laboratory, in which she passes the greater part of her day. 

Slowly, the stingy State made a place for Pierre Curie within the 
framework of its officialdom. Workrooms for him were reluctantly 



i 3 2 MADAME CURIE 

yielded square foot by square foot; on an inconvenient bit of land 
were built two rooms which were known in advance to be in- 
sufficient. 

A rich woman, moved by this paradoxical situation, offered her 
help to the Curies, and spoke to them of building an institute in 
some quiet suburb. Regaining hope, Pierre Curie confided his 
plans and desires to her. 

Pierre Curie to Madame de X . . . February 6th, 1906: 
MADAME, 

Enclosed you will find the indications you asked for about the 
desired laboratory. These indications are not absolute, and can be 
modified in taking account of the situation, of the space and the 
resources at our disposal. 

. . . We have insisted strongly on this question of a laboratory 
in the country because it is of capital importance for us to live with 
our children where we work. Children and a laboratory exact the 
constant presence of those who take care of them. And, for my 
wife especially, life is very difficult when the house and the 
laboratory are far from each other. At times the double task is 
beyond her strength. 

A calm life outside of Paris would be very favourable to 
scientific research and the laboratories could only gain by being 
transferred there. On the other hand, life in the middle of the city 
is destructive for children, and my wife cannot decide to bring 
them up under such conditions. 

We are extremely touched by your solicitude with respect to us. 

I beg of you, madamc, to accept our respectful greetings with 
my thanks. 

This generous plan came to nothing. Eight years more of 
patience were required before Marie was to install radioactivity in 
a home worthy of it a home which Pierre was never to see. The 
harrowing idea that her companion had waited in vain for his 
beautiful laboratory the single ambition of his life until the 
very end, was to live within her always. 

Speaking of the two rooms in the Rue Cuvier, awarded in 
extremis to Pierre, she was to write: 



EVERY DAY 2^3 

One cannot keep one's self from feeling some bitterness at the 
thought that this concession was the last, and that when all is said 
and done, one of the best French scientists never had a suitable 
laboratory at his disposal although his genius had been revealed 
from the age of twenty. No doubt if he had lived longer he would 
have beneiited, sooner or later, by satisfactory conditions of work 
but at forty-seven years of age he was still without them. Can 
one imagine the regret of the enthusiastic and disinterested artisan 
of a great work, delayed in the realisation of his dream by the 
constant lack of means? And can we think without pain of the 
waste, above all things irreparable, of the nation's greatest good: 
the genius, strength and courage of its best sons? 

. . . It is true that the discovery of radium was made in pre- 
carious conditions: the shed which sheltered it seems clouded in 
the charms of legend. But this romantic element was not an 
advantage: it wore out our strength and delayed our accomplish- 
ment. \X ith better means, the first five vears of our work might 
have been reduced to t\vo, and their tension lessened. 

Of all the Minister's decisions, one alone $ave the Curies real 
pleasure: Pierre was to have three co-workers henceforth, a chief of 
laboratory work, a laboratory assistant, and a laboratory aid. The 
chief of laboratory work was to be Marie. 

Up to now the presence of the young woman in the laboratory 
had only been tolerated. Marie had accomplished her researches in 
radium without any rank or salary. In November 1904, a steady, 
paid position paid at the rate of two thousand four hundred 
francs a year! gave her, for the first time, odbcial rights in her 
husband's laboratory. 

University cf Prance. 

Madame Curie, Doctor of Science, is named chief-of work in 
Physics (Chair of M. Curie) in the Faculty of Science of the 
University of Paris, dating from the first of November, 1904. 

Madame Curie will receive in that capacity an annual salary of 
two thousand four hundred francs, dating from November ist, 
1904. 

Farewell to the shedl Pierre and Marie moved such apparatus as 



234' MADAME CURIE 

remained in the old barracks to the new place in the Rue Cuvier. 
The old shed was dear to them; it represented such days of effort 
and happiness that on several occasions they were to come back, 
arm in arm, to see its wet walls and rotten planks again. 

They adapted themselves to the new life. Pierre prepared his 
new course. Marie, as in the past, gave her courses at Sevres. 1 he 
couple met in the badly arranged rooms of their new realm, where 
Andre Debierne, Albert Laborde, an American, Professor Duane, 
and several assistants or students pursued research. They bent 
over the fragile structure of their experiments of the moment: 

Madame Curie and I are working to dose radium with precision 
by the amount of emanation it gives off [Pierre Curie wrote on 
April i4th, 1906]. That might seem to be nothing, and yet here we 
have been at it for several months and are only now beginning to 
obtain regular results. 

Madame Cnrie and I are narking . . . 

These words, written by Pierre five days before his death, 
express the essence and the beauty of a union which was never to 
be weakened. Each progress of the work, each of their dis- 
appointments and victories, was to link this husband and wife 
more closely together. 

Have I sufficiently pointed out the charm, confidence and 
familiar good humour of their collaboration of genius? Ideas big 
and little, questions, remarks and advice were thrown back and 
forth at every hour of the day between Pierre and Marie. Gay 
compliments, too, and friendly reproaches. Between these two 
equals, who admired each other passionately but could never envy, 
there was a worker's comradeship, light and exquisite, which was 
perhaps the most delicate expression of their profound love. 

In the laboratory in the Rue Cuvier [their assistant, Albert 
Laborde, recently wrote to me] I was working with a mercury 
apparatus. Pierre Curie was there. Mme Curie came, grew 
interested in a detail of the mechanism, and at first did not under- 
stand. The detail was, for that matter, very simple. Nevertheless, 
when the explanation was given she insisted upon refuting it. 



EVERY DAY 235 

Then Pierre Curie launched out with a happy, tender, indignant 
"Well, really, Marie 1" which remained in my ears, and of which 
I wish 1 could convey the nuance. 

Some days later, some comrades entangled in a mathematical 
formula asked for help of the Master. He advised them to wait for 
the arrival of Mmc Curie whose knowledge of integral calculus 
would, he said, soon get them out of the difficulty. And in fact 
Mme Curie found the difficult solution in a few minutes. 

When Pierre and Marie were alone, an affectionate abandon 
softened their faces and manners. These very strong personalities, 
these differing characters he calmer and dreamier, she more 
ardent and more human did not oppress each other. During 
eleven years they had very rarely needed to rely upon those 
' 'reciprocal concessions" \\ithout which, it is said, no marriage can 
last. Naturally, they thought the same way, and even in the 
tiniest circumstances of life they acted only together. 

If a friend Mme Perrin came to ask Pierre if she could take 
Irene to play with her children, he would answer with a timid and 
almost submissive smile: "I don't know . . . Marie is not in yet; 
I can't tell you without asking Marie." If Marie, ordinarily not 
talkative, allowed herself to discuss a scientific point fierily in a 
meeting of scientists, she could be seen to bmsh to interrupt, 
herself in confusion, and to turn towards her husband to give him 
the floor; so lively was her conviction that Pierre's opinion was a 
thousand times more precious than her own. 

He was all I could have dreamed at the moment of our union, 
and more [she wrote later]. My admiration for his exceptional 
qualities, on a level so rare and high, constantly increased, so 
that he sometimes seemed to me like an almost unique being, by his 
detachment from all vanity and from those pettinesses which one 
finds in one's self and in others, and which one judges with 
indulgence, though not without aspiring to a more perfect ideal. 

Radiant weather illumined the Easter holidays in 1906. Pierre 
and Marie gave themselves several days of country air in their quiet 



236 MADAME CURIE 

house at St-R&ny-les-C'hevreuse. They resumed their country 
habits, went to get the milk at the near-by farm with their daughters, 
and Pierre laughed to see the tottering Eve, who was just fourteen 
months old, stubbornly attempt to follow the dried cart tracks 
with her awkward trot. 

On Sunday, with the bells ringing afar off, the couple rode their 
bicycles into the woods of Port-Royal. They brought back 
branches of flowering mahonia and a bunch of big water ranunculi. 
Too tired, the next day, for another jaunt, Pierre stretched out 
la/ily on the grass in a meadow. A light and heavenly sun slowly 
dissipated the morning mist which hung over the valley. Eve was 
squalling, while Irene, brandishing a tiny green net, pursued 
butteniies and greeted her rare captures with gleeful cries. She was 
hot; she had taken off her jumper; and Pierre and Marie, stretched 
out beside each other, admired the grace of their child, oddly 
dressed in a girl's blouse and a boy's knickers. 

Either on that morning or during the evening before, calmed by 
the charm and silence of an intoxicating spring day, Pierre looked 
at his daughters capering on the grass, and at Marie, motionless 
beside him; he touched his wife's cheeks and fair hair and mur- 
mured: "Life has been sweet with you, Marie." 

In the afternoon, taking turns at carrying Eve on their shoulders, 
the couple wandered slowly through the woods. They looked for 
the pond covered with lilies, which they had admired in the days 
of their great wandering, when they were first married. The pond 
was dry; the lilies had disappeared. Around the muddy hollow 
was a resplendent stiff crown of flowering gorse, brilliantly yellow. 
Near there, beside a road, the couple plucked violets and some 
periwinkles. 

After a hasty dinner, Pierre took the return train in the cooler 
air. He left his family at St. Remy, his only companion being the 
bouquet of ranunculi, which he would arrange in a glass and put 
on his desk in the Boulevard Kellermann. 

After another day of sun and country Marie, on Wednesday 
night, brought Irene and Eve back to Paris, left them at home and 
joined Pierre in the laboratory. When she came in she saw him, 
standing as usual before the window of the big room, examining 
apparatuses. He was waiting for her. He put on his overcoat and 



EVERY DAY 237 

hat, and took his wife's arm to go to Foyot's Restaurant, for the 
traditional dinner of the Physics Society. With colleagues whom 
he admired, such as Henri Poincare, his neighbour at table, he 
spoke of the problems which preoccupied him just then: the 
measurement of the emanation of radium, the experiments in 
spiritism at which he had recently been present, the education of 
girls, upon which he had original theories, wishing to turn it 
resolutely in the direction of natural science. 

The weather had changed. One could never have believed that 
summer had seemed so near on the evening before. It was cold, a 
sharp wind was blowing, the rain beat on the glass. The pavement 
was soaked, slippery and shining. 



CHAPTER XVIII 



April 19, 1906 



THURSDAY began sullenly: it was still raining, it was dark, and the 
Curies could not even forget the April showers by absorbing 
themselves in work. Pierre had to go to a luncheon of the 
Association of Professors in the Faculty of Science, and afters ards 
to his publishers', Gauthier-Vi liars, to correct proofs, and finally 
to call at the Institute. Marie had several errands to do. 

In the morning's rush, the couple hardly saw each other. Pierre 
hailed Marie from the ground Hoor and asked if she was going to 
the laboratory. Marie, who was dressing Irene and Eve on the 
first floor, said she would probably not have time but her words 
were lost in the noise. The front door slammed. Pierre had gone 
in a hurry. 

VCTiile Marie was lunching with her daughters and Dr. Curie, 
Pierre was chatting amicably with his colleagues at the Hotel des 
Societes Savantes in the Rue Danton. Me enjoyed these <^uict 
meetings where people talked shop, the Sorbonne and research 
work. The general conversation turned toward the accidents that 
occur in laboratories, and Pierre at once otiered his support to a 
plan for limiting the dangers run by research workers. 

Towards half-past two, smiling, he got up, said good-bye to his 
comrades, and shook hands with jean Perrin, whom he was 
supposed to meet again that evening. On the threshold he looked 
up into the air mechanically and made a face at the clouded sky. 
Opening his big (umbrella, he went out into the downpour and 
walked toward the Seine. 

At Gauthier-Villars' he found closed doors: there was a strike 

238 



APRIL 19, 1906 239 

going on. He left Gauthier-Villars', followed the Rue Dauphine, 
sonorous with the cries of coachmen and the screeching of tram- 
cars which passed along the neighbouring tracks. This overladen 
street in Old Paris was hopelessly encumbered. The pavement 
barely allowed two lines of traffic to pass, and for the numerous 
pedestrians at this hour of the afternoon the sidewalk was very 
narrow. Pierre, by instinct, sought for a free road. He walked 
sometimes on the stone curb, sometimes in the street itself, with 
the uneven step of a man who pursues his thoughts. What was he 
thinking of then, with his eyes concentrated and his face so grave? 
Of an experiment he was making? Of his friend Urbain's work, 
explained in the note to the Academy which he now carried in his 
pocket? Of Marie? . . . 

He had been treading the asphalt for several minutes behind' a 
closed cab which slowly rolled along toward the Pont Neuf. At 
the corner of the street and the Quai, the noise was intense: a 
tramcar going toward the Place de la Concorde had just passed 
along the river. Cutting across its route, a heavy wagon drawn by 
two horses emerged from the bridge and entered the Rue Dauphine 
at a trot. 

Pierre wanted to cross the pavement and reach the other side- 
walk. With the sudden movement of an absent-minded man, he 
abandoned the shelter of the cab, the square box which had been 
obscuring his view, and made a few steps toward the left. But he 
ran into one of the horses of the wagon, which was passing the cab 
at that same second. The space between the two vehicles narrowed 
dizzily. Surprised, Pierre, in an awkward movement, attempted to 
hang on to the chest of the animal, which suddenly reared. The 
scientist's heels slipped on the wet pavement. A cry arose, made 
of a dozen shouts of horror: Pierre had fallen beneath the feet of 
the powerful horses. Pedestrians cried "Stop! Stop!" The driver 
pulled on the reins, but in vain: the team of horses kept on. 

Pierre was down, but alive and unhurt. He did not cry out and 
hardly moved. His body passed between the feet of the horses 
without even being touched, and then between the two front 
wheels of the wagon. A miracle was possible. But the enormous 
mass, dragged on by its weight of six tons, continued for several 
yards more. The left back wheel encountered a feeble obstacle 



240- MADAME CURIE 

which it crushed in passing: a forehead, a human head. The 
cranium was shattered and a red, viscous matter trickled in all 
directions in. the mud: the brain of Pierre Curie! 

Policemen picked up the warm body, from which life had been 
taken away in a flash. They hailed several cabs in succession, but 
no coachman wanted to take into his carriage a dead body covered 
with mud and dripping with blood. Minutes passed; the curious 
assembled and crowded round. A thicker and thicker crowd 
besieged the motionless lorry, and cries of fury broke out against 
the driver, Louis Manin, the involuntary author of the drama. 
Finally, two men brought a stretcher. The dead man was laid on it, 
and, after an unnecessary stop in a pharmacy, was carried to the 
near-by police station, where his wallet was opened and his papers 
examined. When the rumour spread that the victim was Pierre 
Curie, a professor, a celebrated scientist, the tumult doubled and 
the police had to intervene to protect the driver Manin, threatened 
by many fists. 

A doctor, M. Drouet, sponged the bruised face, scrutinised the 
open wound of the head, and counted the sixteen bony fragments 
of what had been, twenty minutes before, a cranium. 1 he Faculty 
of Science was notified by telephone. Soon, in the obscure police 
station in the Rue des Grands- A ugustins, a politely sympathetic 
commissary and secretary looked upon the bent figures of the 
physicist's laboratory assistant, M. Clerc, who was sobbing, and of 
the driver, Manin, whose red face was swollen with tears. 

Between them Pierre was extended, his forehead bandaged, his 
face intact and open, indifferent to everything. 

The wagon, twenty feet long, loaded to the brim with military 
uniforms, was drawn up at the door. Little by little the rain effaced 
the stains of blood on one of its wheels. The heavy young horses, 
vaguely disturbed by the absence of their master, snorted with fear 
and struck the pavement with their hoofs. 

Misfortune charged down upon the Curie household. Motor- 
cars and cabs wandered, undecided, along the fortifications and 
stopped in the deserted boulevard. A representative of the 
President of the Republic rang at the door, and then, learning that 
"Mme Curie was not back yet," went away without delivering his 



APRIL 19, 1906 241 

message. Another ring: the dean of the faculty, Paul Appell, and 
Professor Jean Perrin entered the house. 

Dr. Curie, who was alone in the silent house with a servant, was 
astonished at such important callers. He advanced toward the two 
men and perceived the stricken look on their faces. Paul Appell, 
whose mission it was to notify Marie first, kept an embarrassed 
silence before her father-in-law. But the tragic doubt did not long 
endure. The tall old man looked at these faces for another instant. 
Then, without asking a question, he said: 

"My son is dead I" 

On hearing the account of the accident his dry, wrinkled face 
was furrowed with the bitter tracks of a very old man's tears. His 
tears expressed revolt as much as grief. With vehement tenderness 
and despair, Dr. Curie accused his son of the absentmindedness 
that had cost him his life, and obstinately repeated the same heart- 
broken reproach: "What was he dreaming of this time?" 

Six o'clock: the noise of a key turning in a lock. Marie, gay and 
vivid, appeared in the doorway of the room. She vaguely per- 
ceived, in the too deferential attitude of her friends, the disquieting 
si^ns of compassion. Paul Appell gave an account of the facts 
again. Marie remained so motionkss, so fixed, that one might 
have supposed her to understand nothing of what they said. She 
did not fall into their affectionate arms; she neither moaned nor 
wept. She seemed as inanimate and insensible as a woman of 
straw. After a long, haggard silence, her lips moved at last and she 
asked in a low voice, hoping madly for some sort of denial: 

"Pierre is dead? Dead? Absolutely dead?" 

It is commonplace to say that a sudden catastrophe may trans- 
form a human being for ever. Nevertheless, the decisive influence 
of these minutes upon the character of my mother, upon her 
destiny and that of her children, cannot be passed over in silence. 
Marie Curie did not change from a happy young wife to an 
inconsolable widow. The metamorphosis was less simple and 
more serious. The interior tumult that lacerated Marie, the 
nameless horror of her wandering ideas, were too virulent to be 
expressed in complaints or in confidences. From the moment 
when those three words, "Pierre is dead", reached her conscious- 
ness, a cope of solitude and secrecy fell upon her shoulders for 



24Z ' MADAME CURJE ' 

ever. Mme Curie, on that day in April, became not only a widow 
but at the same time a pitiful and incurably lonely woman. 

The witnesses of the drama felt the invisible wall between her 
and them. Their melancholy words of comfort passed her by. 
With dry eyes and a face grey with pallor, she scarcely seemed to 
hear them and answered the most urgent questions only with 
difficulty. In a few laconic words she refused the autopsy which 
would have completed the judicial inquiry, and asked that Pierre's 
body be brought back to the Boulevard Kellermann. She begged 
her friend Mme Perrin to take in Irene for a time, she sent a brief 
telegram to \Varsaw, saying, "Pierre dead result accident." Then 
she went out into the wet garden and sat down, her elbows on her 
knees and her head in her hands, her gaze empty. Deaf, inert, 
mute, she waited for her companion. 

First they brought her relics found in the pockets of Pierre's 
clothes: a fountain pen, some keys, a wallet, a watch which was 
still going with even its glass intact. Finally, at eight o'clock, an 
ambulance stopped before the house. Marie climbed into it, and, 
in the half darkness, saw the kindly, peaceful face. 

Slowly, painfully, the stretcher was edged through the narrow 
door. Andre Debierne, who had gone to the police station to fetch 
his master, his friend, supported the lugubrious burden. The dead 
man was lying in a room on the ground floor, and Marie remained 
alone with her husband. She kissed his face, his supple body, still 
almost warm, his hand which could still be moved. She was taken 
by force into another room so as not to be present at the dressing 
of the body. She obeyed, as if unconscious, and then, seized by 
the idea that she had allowed herself to be robbed of these minutes, 
that she should not have permitted anybody else to handle these 
sacred remains, she came back and clung to the body. 

On the following day the arrival of Jacques Curie released 
Marie's contracted throat and opened the floodgates of her tears. 
Alone with the two brothers, one living and the other annihilated, 
she abandoned herself at last to sobs. Then, stiffening again, she 
wandered through the house and asked if Eve had been washed 
and combed as usual. Going across the garden, she called for 
Irene, who was playing blocks at the Perrins', and talked to her 
across the railing. She said "Pe" had hurt himself badly in the 



APRIL 19, 1906 243 

head and that he needed rest. Careless, the child returned to her 
game. 

After some weeks had passed, Marie, incapable of speaking of 
her woe before human beings, lost in a silence, a desert which 
som -times made her cry out with horror, was to open a grey note- 
book and hurl on to the paper, with writing which trembled, the 
thoughts that were stifling her. Through these scratchy, tear- 
splotched pages, of which only fragments can be published, she 
addressed Pierre, called upon him and asked him questions. She 
tried to fix every del ul of the drama which had separated them in 
order to torture herself with it for ever afterward. The brief, 
intimate diary the first and the only one Marie ever kept 
reflected the most tragic hours of this woman's life. 

. . . Pierre, my Pierre, you are there, calm as a poor wounded 
man resting in sleep, with his head bandaged. Your face is sweet 
and serene, it is still you, lost in a dream from which you cannot 
escape. Your lips, which I used to call greedy, are livid and 
colourless. Your little beard is grey. Your hair can hardly be 
seen, because the wound begins there, and above the forehead, on 
the right, the bone that has been broken can be seen. Oh! how you 
have suffered, how you have bled, your clothes -are soaked in 
blood. What a terrible shock your poor head has felt, your poor 
head that I have so often caressed in my two hands. I kissed your 
eyelids which you used to close so that I could kiss them, offering 
me your head with a familiar movement. . . . 

. . . We put you into the coffin Saturday morning, and I held 
your head up for this move. We kissed your cold face for the last 
time. Then a few periwinkles from the garden on the coffin and 
the little picture of me that you called "the good little student" 
and that you loved. It is the picture that must go with you into the 
grave, the picture of her who had the happiness of so pleasing you 
that you did not hesitate to offer to share your life with her, even 
when you had seen her only a few times. You often told me that 
this was the only occasion in your life when you acted without 
hesitation, with the absolute conviction that you were doing well. 
My Pierre, f think you were not wrong. We were made to live 
together, and our union Lid to be. 



244' MADAME CURIE 

Your coffin was closed and I could sec you no more. I didn't 
allow them to cover it with the horrible black cloth. I covered it 
with flowers and I sat beside it. 

, . . They came to get you, a sad company; I looked at them, 
and did not speak to them. We took you back to Sceaux, and we 
saw you go down into the big deep hole. Then the dreadful 
procession of people. They wanted to take us away. Jacques and 1 
resisted. We wanted to see everything to the end. They filled the 
grave and put sheaves of flowers on it. Everything is over, Pierre 
is sleeping his last sleep beneath the earth; it is the end of every- 
thing, everything, everything. 

Marie had lost her companion, and the world had lost a great 
man. This atrocious departure, in the rain and mud, had struck the 
popular imagination. The newspapers of all countries described 
in pathetic stories, over several columns, the accident in the Rue 
Dauphine. Messages of sympathy accumulated in the house in the 
Boulevard Kellermann, with the names of kings, ministers, poets 
and scientists mixed with obscure names. Among these bundles of 
letters, articles, telegrams, are to be found some cries of true 
emotion: 

Lord Kelvin: 

Grievously distressed by terrible news of Curie death. When 
will funeral be? We arrive Hotel Mirabeau to-morrow morning. 

Marcelin Eerthelot: 

. . . We have been struck by this terrible news as if by lightning. 
So many services already rendered to science and humanity, so 

many services that we expected from this discoverer of genius ! 

All that vanished in an instant, or already passed into the state of 
memory! 

G. 'L.ippmann: 

It seems to me that I have lost a brother: I did not know by 
what bonds I was attached to your husband, but I know it 
to-day. 

I suffer also for you, madamc. 



APRIL 19, 1906 245 

Charles Cheveneau, Pierre Curie 9 s laboratory assistants 
Some of us had developed a true cult for him. For me he was, 
after my own family, one of the men I loved most; such had been 
the great and delicate affection with which he knew how to 
surround his modest collaborator. And his immense kindness 
extended even to his humblest servants, who adored him: I have 
never seen sincerer or more harrowing tears than those shed by his 
laboratory attendants at the news of his sudden decease. 

On this occasion, as on all others, the woman who was to be 
known hereafter us an "illustrious widow" fled from the attacks of 
feme. To avoid an official ceremony, Marie advanced the date of 
the funeral to Saturday, April zist. She refused processions, 
delegations and speeches, and asked that Pierre be buried as simply 
as possible in the grave where his mother rested at Sceaux. Aristide 
Briand, then Minister of Public Instruction, nevertheless defied 
orders: in a gesture of generosity he joined the relations and 
intimates of the Curies and accompanied Pierre's body in silence 
to the far-off little suburban cemetery. 

Journalists, concealed behind the tombstones, watched the 
figure of Marie hidden under thick rnourning veils: 

. . . Mme Curie, on her father-in-law's arm, followed her 
husband's coffin to the grave hollowed out at the foot of the wall 
of the enclosure in the shadow of the chestnut trees. There she 
, remained motionless for a moment, always with the same fixed, 
hard gaze; but when a sheaf of flowers was brought near the grave, 
she seized it with a sudden movement and began to detach the 
flowers one by one to scatter them on the coffin. 

She did this slowly, composedly, and seemed to have totally 
forgotten the watchers, who, profoundly moved made no noise, no 
murmur. 

The master of ceremonies, nevertheless, thought he must ask 
Mme Curie to receive the condolences of the persons present. 
Then, allowing the bouquet she held to fall to the earth, she 
left the cemetery without saying a word and rejoined her father-in- 
law. - 

(Le Jnrnal, April i*nd, 1906.) 



2 4 6' MADAME CURIE 

During the following days, eulogies of the vanished scientist 
were pronounced at the Sorbonne and in the French and foreign 
scientific societies which counted Pierre Curie among their 
members. Henri Poincare exalted the memory of his friend at the 
Academy of Science: 

All those who knew Pierre Curie know the pleasantness and 
steadiness of his friendship, the delicate charm which exhaled, so 
to speak, from his gentle modesty, his candid uprightness, and the 
fineness of his mind. 

Who could have believed that so much gentleness concealed an 
uncompromising soul? He did not compromise with the generous 
principles upon which he had been nourished, or with the special 
moral ideal he had been taught to love, that ideal of absolute 
sincerity, too high, perhaps, for the world in which we live. He 
did not know the thousand little accommodations with which our 
weakness contents itself. He did not separate the cult of this ideal 
from that which he rendered to science, and he has shown us by a 
brilliant example what a high conception of duty can come out of 
the simple and pure love of truth. It matters little what god one 
believes in; it is the faith, and not the god, that makes miracles. 

Marie's diary: 

. . . The diay after the burial I told Irene everything; she was 
at the Perrins'. . . . She did not understand, at first, and let me 
go away without saying anything; but afterward, it seems, she / 
wept and asked to see us. She cried a great deal at home, and then 
she went off to her little friends to forget. She did not ask for any 
detail and at first was afraid to speak of her father. She made great 
worried eyes over the black clothes that were brought to me. . , . 
Now she no longer seems to think of it at all. 

Arrival of Joseph and Bronya. They arc good, Irene plays with 
her uncles; Eve, who toddled about the house with unconscious 
gaiety all through these events, plays and laughs; everybody talks. 
And I see Pierre, Pierre on his deathbed. 

. . . On the Sunday morning after your death, Pierre, 1 
went to the laboratory with Jacques for the first time. 1 tried 
to make a measurement, for a graph on which we had each 



APRIL 19, 1906 147 

made several points. But I felt the impossibility of going on. 

In the street I walk as if hypnotised, without attending to 
anything. 1 shall not kill myself. I have not even the desire for 
suicide. But among all these vehicles is there not one to make me 
share the fate of my beloved? 

Dr. Curie, his son Jacques, Joseph Sklodovski and Bronya 
observed with terror the movements of this icy, calm, black- 
robed woman, the automaton Marie had become. Even the sight 
of her children did not awaken feeling in her. Stiff, absent- 
minded, the wife wlib had not joined the dead seemed already to 
have abandoned the living. 

But the living busied themselves about her and worried over 
that future in which she believed so little. The decease of Pierre 
Curie had brought up some important problems. What was to 
be the fate of the research work Pierre had left in suspense, and of 
his teaching at the Sorbonne? What was to become of Marie? 

Her relatives discussed these questions in low voices, and 
listened to the suggestions of the representatives of the Ministry 
and the university, who succeeded each other at the house in the 
Boulevard Kellermann. On the morrow of the obsequies the 
government officially proposed to award the widow and children 
of Pierre Curie a national pension. Jacques submitted this plan to 
Marie, who refused flatly. "I don't want a pension," she said. "I 
am young enough to earn my living and that of my children." 

In her suddenly strengthened voice could be heard the first faint 
echo of her habitual bravery. 

Between the authorities and the Curie family the exchanges of 
views wavered somewhat. 1 he university was disposed to keep 
Marie in its faculty. But with what title, and in what laboratory? 
Could this woman of genius be put under the orders of a chief? 
And where was there a professor capable of directing Pierre 
Curie's laboratory? 

Consulted as to her own wishes, Mme Curie answered vaguely 
that she was not able to reflect, that she did not know. . . . 

Jacques Curie and Bronya and the most faithful of Pierre's 
friends, Georges Gouy, felt that they must make the decisions 
and take the initiative in Marie's place. Jacques Curie and Georges 



2 4 8 MADAME CURIE 

Gouy informed the dean of the faculty of their conviction: that 
Marie was the only French physicist capable of pursuing the work 
she and Pierre had undertaken. Marie was the only teacher worthy 
of succeeding Pierre. Marie was the only chief of laboratory who 
could replace him. Traditions and customs must be swept away 
so as to name Mme Curie professor at the Sorbonne. 

On the strong insistence of Marcelin Berthelot, of Paul Appeil 
and Vice-Rector Liard, the public authorities made a frank and 
generous gesture on this occasion. On May i3th, 1906, the council 
of the Faculty of Science unanimously decided to maintain the 
chair created for Pierre Curie and to confide it to Marie^ who would 
take the title of charge de cours. 

University of France 

Mme Pierre Curie, Doctor of Science, chief of research work in 
the Faculty of Science of the University of Paris, is charged with a 
course in physics in the said faculty. 

Mme Curie will receive in this capacity an annual salary of ten 
thousand francs, dating from the first of May, 1906. 

This was the first time that a position in French higher education 
had been given to a woman. 

Marie listened distractedly, almost with indifference, to her 
father-in-law giving the details of the heavy mission she owed it 
to herself to accept. She answered in a few syllables: "I will 
try." 

A phrase pronounced in other days by Pierre, a phrase which 
was a moral testament, an order, came up in her memory and 
formally indicated her course: 

" Whatever happens, even if one has to go on like a body without 
a soul, one must \vork just the same . . ." 

Mark's diary: 

I am offered the post of successor to you, my Pierre: your 
course and the direction of your laboratory. I have accepted. I 
don't know whether this is good or bad. You often told me you 
would have liked me to give a course at the Sorbonne. And I 
would like at least to tpake an effort to continue your work* 



APRIL 19, 1906 249 

Sometimes it seems to me that this is how it will be most easy for 
me to live, and at other times it seems to me that I am mad to 
attempt it. 

May jt&, 1906: 

My Pierre, T think of you without end, my head is bursting with 
it and my reason is troubled. I do not understand that I am to live 
henceforth \vithout seeing you, without smiling at the sweet 
companion of my life. 

For two days the trees have been in leaf and the garden is 
beautiful. This morning I looked at tht children there. I thought 
you would have found them beautiful and that you would have 
called me to show me the periwinkles and the narcissus in bloom. 
Yesterday, at the cemetery, I did not succeed in understanding the 
words "Pierre Curie" engraved on the stone. The beauty of the 
countryside hurt me, and 1 put my veil down so as to see everything 
through my crepe. 

My ii tb: 

My Pierre, 1 got up after having slept rather well, relatively 
calm. That was only a quarter of an- hour ago, and now I want 
to howl again like a wild beast. 

M<<y 1 4th: 

My little Pierre, I want to tell you that the laburnum is in 
flower, the wistaria, the hawthorn and the iris are beginning you 
\vould have loved all that. 

i uant to tell you, too, that I have been named to your chair, 
and that there have been some imbeciles to congratulate me on it. 

1 want to tell you that I no longer love the sun or the flowers. 
1 he sight of them makes me suffer. I feel better on dark days, like 
the day of your death, and if I have not learned to hate fine weather 
it is because my children have need of it. 

May zznd: 

1 am working in the laboratory all day long, it is all I can do: 
I am better off there than anywhere else, I conceive of nothing 
any more that could give me personal joy, ext cpt perhaps scientific 



2 jo MADAME CURIE 

WO rk and even there no, because if I succeeded with it, 1 

could not endure you not to know it. 

]:tnt loth: 

Everything is gloomy. The preoccupations of life do not even 
allow me time to think of my Pierre in peace. 

Jacques Curie and Joseph Sklodovski had left Paris. Soon 
Bronya was to rejoin her husband at their sanatorium in Zakopane. 

One evening, one of the last the two sisters passed together, 
Marie made a sign to her elder sister to follow her. She led 
Bronya into her own bedroom, where, in spite of the summer heat, 
a great wood fire was flaming, and locked the door behind her. 
Bronya, surprised, questioned the widow's face. It was even paler 
and more bloodless than usual. Without a word, Marie took a 
stiff, bulky packet, wrapped in waterproof paper, out of the 
cupboard. Then she sat down before the fire and signed to her 
sister to sit down beside her. She had a pair of strong scissors 
ready on the mantelpiece. 

"Bronya," she murmured, "you must help me." 

Slowly she undid the string and opened the paper. The flames 
lit up her trembling hands. A bundle appeared, carefully knotted 
into a cloth. Marie hesitated an instant then she unfolded the 
white cloth and Bronya restrained a cry of horror: the wrapping 
enclosed a hideous mass of clothing, of linen, of dried mud and 
blackened blood. Marie had been keeping near her, for days past, 
the clothes Pierre had worn when the wagon struck him in the Rue 
Dauphine. 

The silent widow took the scissors and began to cut up the dark 
coat. She threw the pieces one by one into the fire and watched 
them shrivel up, smoke, be consumed and disappear. But suddenly 
she stopped, struggling in vain against the tears that darkened her 
tired eyes. In the half-congealed folds of the cloth appeared some 
viscous fragments of matter: the last scraps of the brain in which, a 
few weeks before, noble thoughts and the discoveries of genius 
had been born. 

Marie contemplated these corrupt remnants fixedly; she touched 
them and kissed them desperately until Bronya dragged the 



APRIL 19, 1906 251 

clothing and the scissors away from her and began in her turn to 
cut and throw the pieces of cloth into the fire. 

The task was finished at last, without a single word pronounced 
between the two women. The wrapping paper, the cloth, the towel 
with which they dried their hands, all in their turn were the prey of 
the flames. 

"I could not have endured having this touched by indifferent 
hands," Marie said at last, in a strangling voice. Then, coming 
near Bronya: 

"And now, tell me how I am going to manage to live. I know 
that I must, but how shall I do it? How can I do it?" 

Breaking down into a horrible outburst of sobs, coughs, tears 
and cries, she hung upon her sister, who supported her, tried to 
calm her and hnally undressed and put to bed this poor human 
creature who was at the end of her strength. 

On the morrow Marie again became the icy automaton that had 
moved in her place since April i9th. Tt was this automaton that 
Bronya was to clasp in her arms as she got into the train for War- 
saw. Bronya was to remain long obsessed by the picture of Marie 
motionless on the platform, in her mourning veils. 

A sort of "normal life" was taken up again in that house, so 
impregnated with the memory of Pierre that on certain evenings, 
when the outside door slammed, Marie had, for the quarter of a 
second, the mad idea that the catastrophe was a bad dream and that 
Pierre Curie was about to appear. On the faces around her, young 
and old, could be read an expression of waiting. Projects, a plan 
for the future, were expected of her. This woman of thirty-eight, 
worn out by grief, was now the head of a family. 

She made her decisions: she would stay in Paris all summer to 
work in the laboratory and to prepare the teaching which she was 
to begin in November. Her course at the Sorbonne must be 
worthy of Pierre Curie's. Marie got together her notes and books, 
and ran through the notes left by her husband. Once again she was 
buried in study. 

During these sombre holidays her daughters skipped about 
in the country: Eve at St-Remy-les-Chevreuse with her grand- 
father, Irene at the seaside at Vaucottes, under the guardianship 
of Hela Szalay, Marie's second sister, who, to offer her affectionate 



252 MADAME CURIE 

help, had come to pass the summer in France. 

In the autumn, Marie, who could not bear to stay in the Boule- 
vard Kellermann, went in search of a new dewelling-place. She 
chose to live at Sceaux, where Pierre had lived when she met him 
and where he now rested. 

When this move was proposed, Dr. Curie, intimidated perhaps 
for the first time in his life, approached his daughter-in-law. 

"Now that Pierre is no longer here, Marie, you have no reason 
to go on living with an old man. I can quite easily leave you, go 
to live alone, or with my elder son. Decide!" 

"No, you decide/' Marie murmured. "If you went away it 
would hurt me. But you should choose what you prefer." 

Her voice was troubled by anxiety. Was she also going to lose 
this friend and faithful companion? It would be natural for Dr. 
Curie to go and live with Jacques, rather than to stay with her 
with a foreign woman, a Pole. . . . But the desired answer came 
at once: 

"What I prefer, Marie, is to stay with you always." 

He added the phrase, "Since you are willing," into which 
penetrated the emotion he did not wish to confess. And, very 
quickly, he turned away and went to the garden, where Irene's 
happy cries called him. 

A widow, an old man of seventy- nine, a little girl and a baby 
this was the Curie family now. 

Mme Curie, widow of the illustrious scientist who died so 
tragically, who has been appointed to the chair occupied by her 
husband at the Sorbonne, will deliver her first lecture on Monday, 
November 5th, 1906, at half -past one in the afternoon. 

Mme Curie, in this inaugural lecture, will explain the theory of 
ions in gases, and will treat of radioactivity. 

Mme Curie will speak in a lecture hall. These halls contain about 
a hundred and twenty seats, most of which will be occupied by the 
students/ The public and the Press, which also have some rights, 
will be obliged to share at most twenty seats between them) On 
this occasion, an occasion unique in the history of the Sorbonne, 
why could the regulations not be abandoned so as to put the great 
amphitheatre at Mme Curie's disposition for her first lecture only? 



APRIL 19, 1906 zj3 

Such extracts from the newspapers of the time reflect the interest 
and impatience with which Paris watched for the first public 
appearance of the "celebrated widow." The reporters, society 
people, pretty women, artists who besieged the secretariat of the 
Faculty of Science and grew indignant when they were not given 
"invitation cards" were moved neither by compassion nor by the 
desire to receive instruction. They cared little indeed about the 
"theory of ions in gases," and Marie's suffering on this cruel day 
was only an added sauce for their curiosity. Even sorrow has its 
snobs. 

For the first time a woman was about to speak at the Sorbonne 
a woman who was at the same time a genius and a despairing wife. 
Here was enough to draw the public of theatrical premieres the 
audience for great occasions. 

At noon, at the hour when Marie, standing before the grave in 
the cemetery at Sceaux, was speaking in an undertone to him whose 
succession she assumed to-day, the crowd had already filled the 
little graded amphitheatre, stopped up the corridors of the Faculty 
of Science, and overflowed even into the square outside. In the 
hall, great and ignorant minds were mixed, and Marie's intimate 
friends were scattered among the indifferent. The worst off were 
the real students, who had come to listen and to take notes, but 
who had to cling to their scats to keep from being dislodged. 

At one -twenty five the noise of conversation grew heavy. 
There were whisperings and questions; necks were craned so as 
not to miss any part of Mme Curie's entrance. All those present 
had the same thought: what would be the new professor's first 
words the first words of the only \voman the Sorbonne had ever 
admitted amon<> its masters? Would she thank the Minister, thank 
the university? Would she speak of Pierre Curie? Yes, un- 
doubtedly: the custom was to begin by pronouncing a eulogy of 
one's predecessor. But in this case the predecessor was a husband, 
a working companion. What a strong situationl The moment was 
thrilling, unique. . . . 

Half-past one. . . . The door at the back opened, and Marie 
Curie walked to the chair amidst a storm ot applause. She inclined 
her head. It was a dry little movement intended as a salute. 
Standing, with her hands firmly holding on to the long table laden 



254 MADAME CURIE 

with apparatus, Marie waited for the ovation to cease. It ceased 
suddenly: before this pale woman, who was trying to compose her 
face, an unknown emotion silenced the crowd that had come for a 
show. 

Marie stared straight ahead of her and said: 

"When one considers the progress that has been made in 
physics in the past ten years, one is surprised at the advance that 
has taken place in our ideas concerning electricity and matter . . ." 

Mme Curie had resumed the course at the precise sentence 
where Pierre Curie had left it. 

What was there so poignant in these icy words: "When one 
considers the progress that has been made in physics . . ."? 
Tears rose to the eyes and fell upon the faces there. 

In the same firm, almost monotonous voice, the scientist gave 
her lesson that day straight to the end. She spoke of the new 
theories on the structure of electricity, on atomic disintegration, 
on radioactive substances. Having reached the end of the arid 
exposition without flinching, she retired by the little door as 
rapidly as she had come in. 



PART THREE 



CHAPTER XIX 



Alone 



WE admired Marie when, supported by a man of genius, she was 
able both to manage her home and to take her part in a great 
scientific task. It did not seem possible to us that she could lead a 
harder life or put forth a more powerful effort. 

Compared to the life that awaited her, this condition was mild. 
The responsibilities of "the widowed Mme Curie" would have 
frightened a robust, happy and courageous man. 

She had to bring up two young children, earn their livelihood 
and her own, and to fill her place as professor with success. 
Deprived of the masterly collaboration of Pierre Curie, she had to 
pursue and carry out the researches undertaken with her com- 
panion, tier assistants and students had to receive orders and 
advice from her. One essential mission also remained: to build a 
laboratory worthy of Pierre's disappointed dreams, where young 
research workers could develop the new science of radioactivity. 

Marie's first care was to give her daughters and father-in-law a 
comfortable existence. At 6 Rue du Chemin de Per, at Sceaux, she 
rented a house without charm, embellished by an agreeable 
garden. Irene, to her joy, entered into possession of a square of 
earth which she acquired the right to cultivate in her own way. 
Under the eyes of her governess, Eve hunted through the tufts of 
grass on the lawn for her favourite turtle and chased the black cat 
or the tabby cat down the narrow walks. 

Mme Curie paid for this arrangement by additional fatigue: a 
half-hour by train separated her from the laboratory. Every 



2 5 '8 MADAME CURIE 

morning she was to be seen going to the station, with her fine, 
hurried step that called to mind some tardiness to be made up, 
some tireless errand. This woman in deep mourning, who always 
got into the same second-class compartment of the same smelly 
train, soon became a familiar figure to the travellers on the line. 

She rarely had time to lunch at Sceaux. She renewed her 
acquaintance with the creameries of the Latin Quarter, where she 
had gone in the old days, alone as she was to-day only then she 
had been young, filled with unconscious hope. Or else, walking 
the length and breadth of her cramped laboratory, she nibbled at a 
piece of bread or some fruit. 

In the evening, often very late, she would take the return train 
home. In winter her first thought was to inspect the big stove in 
the vestibule, to replenish it with coal and regulate its draught. 
The idea was firmly fixed in her head that nobody in the world 
except herself was capable of keeping up a good fire and it was 
true that she knew how to place the paper and kindling, and the 
hard coal or logs above, like an artist or a chemist. When the stove 
purred to her satisfaction Marie would stretch out on a sofa and 
get her breath again after the exhausting day. 

Too reserved to let her grief be seen, she never wept before 
anybody, and she refused to be pitied or consoled. To nobody did 
she confide her cries of despair or the dreadful nightmares that 
persecuted her sleep. But her near ones watched uneasily when her 
dull gaze was vaguely fixed on nothing, her hands agitated by the 
beginning of a tic: the nervous fingers, irritated by numerous 
radium burns, rubbed against each other in an irrepressible and 
obsessing movement. 

It sometimes happened that her physical resistance abandoned 
her so suddenly that she did not have time to send her daughters 
away, to isolate herself. One of my earliest childhood memories is 
that of my mother collapsing to the floor in a faint, in the dining- 
room at Sceaux and of her pallor, her mortal inertia. 

Marie to her friend Ka%fa 9 1907: 

Dear Kazia, I was not able to see your proteg, Monsieur K. The 
day when he came, I was very unwell, which is often the case, and 
also I had a lecture to give the next day. My father-in-law, who is a 



ALONE 259 

doctor, had forbidden me to see anybody at all, knowing that 
conversations tire me a great deal. 

As for the rest, what can 1 tell you? My life is upset in such a way 
that it will never be put right again. 1 think it will always be like 
this, and I shall not try to live otherwise. I want to bring up my 
children as well as possible, but even they cannot awaken life in me. 
Thv y are both good, sweet and rather pretty. I am making great 
efforts to give them a solid and healthy development. When I 
think of the younger one's age, J see it will take twenty years to 
make grown persons of them. 1 doubt if I shall last so long, as my 
life is very fatiguing, and grief does not have a salutary effect upon 
strength and health. 

Financially I am in no difficulty, I earn enough to bring up my 
children, even though, naturally, my circumstances are a great deal 
more modest than they were when my husband was alive. 

In the darkest moments of a solitary life two persons brought 
help to Marie. One was Marya Kamienska, Joseph Sklodovski's 
sister-in-law, a sweet and delicate woman who, at Bronya's request, 
had accepted the post of governess and housekeeper in the Curie 
family. Her presence gave Marie a little of that Polish intimacy of 
which her exile had often seemed to deprive her too much. When 
Mile Kamienska was forced by bad health to go back to Warsaw, 
other Polish governesses, less reliable and less charming, were to 
take her place with Irene and Eve. 

Marie's other ally, and her most precious, was Dr. Curie. 
Pierre's disappearance had been for him a terrible trial. But the 
old man drew a certain kind of courage, of which Marie was not 
capable, from his rigid rationalism. Me scorned sterile regrets and 
the cult of tombs. After the funeral he was never again to return 
to the cemetery. Since nothing remained of Pierre, he refused to 
be tortured by a ghost. 

His stoical serenity had a beneficial effect on Marie. Before her 
father-in-law, who compelled himself to lead a normal life, to talk 
and laugh, she was ashamed of the stupor into which her grief had 
plunged her, and tried in her turn to show a quiet countenance. 

The presence of Dr. Curie, so sweet to Marie, was sheer joy 
to the children. Without the blue-eyed old man their childhood 



266 MADAME CURIE 

would have been stifled in mourning. He was their playmate and 
master far more than their mother, who was ever away from home 
always kept at that laboratory of which the name was endlessly 
rumbling in their ears. Eve was still too young for a true intimacy 
to be created between them, but he was the incomparable friend 
of the elder girl, of that slow, untamed child, so profoundly like 
the son he had lost. 

He was not content with introducing Irene to natural history and 
botany, with communicating to her his enthusiasm for Victor 
Hugo, and with writing her letters during the summer, reasonable, 
instructive and very droll letters, in which his mocking spirit and 
exquisite style were reflected: he polarised her intellectual life in a 
decisive way. The spiritual equilibrium of the present Irene 
Joliot-Curie, her horror of suffering, her implacable attachment to 
the real, her anticlericalism and even her political sympathies come 
to her in the direct line from her grandfather. 

Mme Curie was to pay her debt of gratitude to this excellent man 
by an affectionate and constant devotion. In 1 909 the consequences 
of a lung congestion kept the doctor in bed for a whole year. She 
passed all her free moments at the bedside of the sick man, who 
was both difficult and impatient, trying to distract him. 

On February 25th, 1910, the old man died. At the cemetery of 
Sceaux, frozen and swept bare by winter, Marie demanded an 
unexpected labour from the grave-diggers. She askecl that Pierre's 
coffin be removed from the grave: Dr. Curie's was then placed at 
the bottom, and Pierre's was lowered upon it. Above the husband 
from whom she did not want to be separated in death there was 
an empty place for Marie, which she contemplated, unafraid, for 
a long time. 

Marie Curie was now left to herself to bring up Irene and Eve. 
She had definite ideas on the care and early education of children 
which successive governesses interpreted with more or less success. 

Every day began with an hour's work, intellectual or manual, 
which Marie tried to make attractive. She watched passionately 
for the awakening of her daughter's gifts, and noted in her grey 
notebook Irene's successes in arithmetic, Eve's musical precocity. 

As soon as their daily task was finished, the little girls were sent 
into the open air. In all weathers they took long walk* and 



ALONE 261 

physical exercises. Marie had a cross-bar installed in the garden at 
Sceaux, with a trapeze, flying rings and a slippery cord. After 
these exercises at home, the two girls became enthusiastic pupils 
at a gymnasium from which they brought home some flattering 
first prizes for their prowess on the rigging. 

Their hands and limbs were constantly in service. They did 
gardening, modelling, cooking and sewing. Marie, however tired 
she might be, compelled herself to accompany them on their jaunts 
on bicycles. In the summer she went into the water with them 
and supervised their progress as swimmers. 

She could not leave Paris for long, and it was under the 
guardianship of their aunt Hela Szalay that Irene and Eve passed 
the greater part of their holidays. They were to be seen, in the 
company of one or several of their cousins, disporting themselves 
upon the less frequented beaches of the Channel or the ocean. 
In 1911 they made their first journey to Poland with their mother; 
Bronya welcomed them at her sanatorium at Zakopane. The little 
girls learned to ride horseback, made excursions of several days' 
duration into the mountains, and slept at mountaineer cabins. 
Sack on back and shod with hobnailed boots, Marie preceded them 
on the trails. 

She did not encourage her children to acrobatic imprudence, 
but she wanted them to be hardy. There was never to be any 
question of being "afraid of the dark" with Irene and Eve or 
of hiding their heads under a pillow when a storm broke, or 
being afraid of burglars or epidemics. Marie had known all these 
terrors of old: she saved her children from them. Even the 
memory of Pierre's fatal accident did not make a nervous watcher 
out of her. The little girls were to go out alone very early, at 
eleven or twelve years of age; soon they were to travel without 
an escort. 

Their spiritual health was no less dear to her. She tried to 
preserve them from nostalgic reverie, from regret, from the 
excesses of sensibility. She took a singular decision: that of never 
speaking of their father to the orphans. This choice was, above 
all/due to a physical impossibility in her. Until the end of her 
days it was with the greatest difficulty that Marie could pronounce 
"Pierre" or "Pierre Curie" or "your father" or "my husband," 



26* MADAME CURIE 

and her conversation, in order to get round the little islets of 
memory, was to employ incredible stratagems. She did not judge 
this silence to be blameworthy with regard to her daughters. 
Rather than plunge them into an atmosphere of tragedy, she 
deprived them, and deprived herself, of noble emotions. 

And as she had not established the cult of the vanished scientist 
in her house, neither did she establish the cult of martyred 
Poland. She wished Irene and Eve to learn Polish, and for 
them to know and love her native land. But she deliberately made 
true Frenchwomen of them. Ah, let them never feel torn between 
two countries, or suffer in vain for a persecuted race! . . . 

She did not have her daughters baptized and gave them no sort 
of pious education. She felt herself incapable of teaching them 
dogmas in which she no longer believed: above all, she feared for 
them the distress she had known when she lost her faith. There 
was no anticlerical sectarianism in this. Absolutely tolerant, Marie 
was to affirm on many occasions to her children that if they 
wanted to give themselves a religion later on, she would leave 
them perfectly free. 

Mme Curie was content that her daughters should know 
nothing of the uneasy childhood, drudging adolescence and 
poverty-stricken youth that had been hers. At the same time she 
did not wish for them to live in 1 usury. On several occasions 
Marie had had the opportunity of assuring a great fortune to 
Irene and Eve. She did not do so. When she became a widow she 
had to decide what to do with the gramme of radium that she and 
Pierre had prepared with their own hands, which was her private 
property. Against the advice of Dr. Curie and of several members 
of the family council, she decided, sharing the views of him who 
was no more, to make to her laboratory a gift of this precious 
particle, which was worth more than a million gold francs. 

In her mind, if it was inconvenient to be poor, it was superfluous 
and shocking to be very rich. The necessity for her daughters to 
earn their living later on seemed healthy and natural to her. 

The programme of education so carefully drawn up by Marie 
had but one thing lacking: education itself good manners. In the 
house of mourning only intimate friends were received: the Perrins, 
the Chavannes. On Sundays, Andre Debierne brought books and 



ALONE 263 

toys to the girls and for hours he patiently amused a taciturn Irene, 
drawing for her on white sheets of paper processions of animals, 
elephants of all sizes. . . . Irene and Eve did not see anybody 
other than indulgent and affectionate friends. When Irene met 
strangers, she was panic-stricken, became completely mute, and 
obstinately refused to "say how do you do to the lady." She would 
never completely get over this habit of hers. 

To smile, to be amiable, to pay visits, to receive people, to say 
words of politeness, to accomplish the ritual gestures imposed by 
ceremony: Irene and Eve were ignorant of all this. In ten years', 
twenty years' time they would perceive that life has its exactions, 
its laws, and that to "say how do you do to the lady" is, unfortu- 
nately, a necessity. 

When Irene had won her study certificate and reached the age for 
going to school, Marie anxiously sought for a means of instructing 
her daughter above and beyond routine. 

This whole-souled worker was haunted by the idea of the over- 
work to which children were condemned. It seemed to her 
barbarous to install young beings in ill- ventilated schoolrooms 
and to steal innumerable sterile "hours of attendance" from them 
at the age when they should be running free. She wanted Irene to 
study very little but very well. How was she to set about it? 

She reflected, she consulted her friends professors at the 
Sorbonne like herself, and, like herself, heads of families. Under 
her impetus was born the original idea of collective teaching, in 
which great minds would share the task of instructing all their 
children according to new methods. 

An era of excitement and intense amusement opened for some 
ten little monkeys, boys and girls, who, dispensing with school, 
went every day to hear one single lesson given by a chosen master. 
One morning they invaded the laboratory at the Sorbonne where 
Jean Perrin taught them chemistry; the next day the little battalion 
moved to Fontenay-aux-Roscs: mathematics taught by Paul 
Langevin. Mmes Perrin and Chavannes, the sculptor Magrou, and 
Professor Mouton taught literature, history, living languages, 
natural science, modelling and drawing. Last of all, in an unused 
room in the School of Physics, Marie Curie devoted Thursday 



264 MADAME CURIE 

afternoons to the most elementary course in physics that these 
walls had ever heard. 

Her discipJes some of whom were future scientists were to 
retain a dazzling memory of these fascinating lessons, of her 
familiarity and kindness. Thanks to her, the abstract and boring 
phenomena of the manuals were most picturesquely illustrated: 
bicycle ball-bearings, dipped in ink, were left on an inclined plane 
where, describing a parabola, they verified the law of falling bodies. 
A clock inscribed its regular oscillations on smoked paper. A 
thermometer, constructed and graduated by the pupils, consented 
to operate in agreement with the official thermometers, and the 
children were immensely proud of it. ... 

Marie transmitted her love of science and her taste for work to 
them. She also taught them the methods which a long career had 
developed in her. A virtuoso in mental arithmetic, she insisted or 
having her proteges practise it: "You must get so that you never 
make a mistake," she insisted. "The secret is in not going too fast." 
If one of the apprentices created disorder or dirt in constructing an 
electric pile, Marie grew red with anger. "Don't tell me you will 
clean it ///> nvards! One must never dirty a table during an 
experiment." 

The laureate of the Nobel Prize sometimes gave these ambitious 
infants simple lessons in good sense. 

"What would you do to keep the liquid contained in this jug 
hot?" she asked one day. 

At once Francis Perrin, Jean Langevin, Isabelle Chavannes, and 
Irene Curk the scientific stars of the class proposed ingenious 
solutions: to wrap the jug in wool, to isolate it by refined and 
impracticable processes. 

Marie smiled and said: 

"Well, if 1 were doing it, I should start by putting the lid on." 

On these homely words ended the lesson for that Thursday. 
The door was already opening, a servant was bringing in the 
enormous stock of rolls, chocolate bars and oranges for their 
collective tea; still chewing and arguing, the children tumbled out 
into the courtyard of the school. 

On the watch for Mme Curie's slightest gesture, the newspapers 
of the day seized upon these lessons to make merry fun of the 



ALONE *6s 

intrusion very discreet and carefully supervised of the scien- 
tists' sons and daughters into official laboratories: 

This little company which hardly knows how to read or write 
[said a gossip writer], has permission to make manipulations, to 
engage in experiments to construct apparatus and to try reactions. 
. . . The Sorbonne and the building in the Rue Cuvier have not 
exploded yet, but all hope is not yet lost. 

The collective teaching, fragile as other human enterprises, came 
to an end after two years. The parents were overworked by their 
personal tasks; the children, for whom the trials of the bacca- 
laureate examination were in store, had to work according to the 
official programmes. Marie chose for Irene a private establish- 
ment, the College Sevigne, where the number of classroom hours 
was somewhat restricted. It was in this excellent school that the 
elder girl was to finish her secondary education and it was there 
that Eve was to make her studies later on. 

Were Marie's touching efforts to protect her daughters' person- 
alities from their earliest childhood successful? Yes and no. 
"Collective teaching" gave the elder girl, in default of a complete 
literary equipment, a first-class scientific education which she could 
not have obtained in any secondary school. Spiritual education? 
It would be too much to expect it to modify the intimate nature of 
young people, and I do not think we became a great deal better 
under our mother's wing. Several things, nevertheless, were 
permanently imprinted upon us: the taste for work a thousand 
times more victorious in my sister than in me! a certain in- 
difference toward money, and an instinct of independence which 
convinced us both that in any combination of circumstances we 
should know how to get along without help. 

The struggle against sorrow, active in Irene, had little success in 
my case: in spite of the help my mother tried to give me, my young 
years were not happy ones. In one single sector Marie's victory 
was complete: her daughters ow^ to her their good health and 
physical address, their love of sports. Such is, in this matter, the 
most complete success achieved by that supremely intelligent and 
generous woman. t 



266 MADAME CURIE 

It is not without apprehension that I have striven to grasp the 
principles that inspired Marie Curie in her first contacts with us. I 
fear that they suggest only a dry and methodical being, stiffened by 
prejudice. The reality is different. The creature who wanted us to 
be invulnerable was herself too tender, too delicate, too much 
gifted for suffering. She, who had voluntarily accustomed us to be 
undemonstrative, would no doubt have wished, without confessing 
it, to have us embrace and cajole her more. She, who wanted us to 
be insensitive, shrivelled with grief at the least sign of indifference 
Never did she put our "insensibility" to the test by chastising u 
for our pranks. The traditional punishments, from a harmless box 
on the ear to "standing in the corner" or being deprived of 
pudding, were unknown at home. Unknown, too, were cries and 
scenes: my mother would not allow anybody to raise his voice, 
whether in anger or in joy. One day when Irene had been imper- 
tinent, she wanted to "make an example" and decided not to speak 
to her for two days. These hours were a painful trial for her and 
for Irene but, of the two of them, the more punished was Marie: 
unsettled, wandering miserably about the mournful house, she 
suffered more than her daughter. 

Like a great many children, we were probably selfish and in- 
attentive to shades of feeling. Just the same we perceived the 
charm, the restrained tenderness and the hidden grace of her whom 
we called in the first line of our letters spotted with ink, stupid 
little letters which, tied up with confectioners' ribbons, Marie kept 
until her death "Darling Me," "My sweet darling," "My sweet," 
or else, most often, "Sweet Me." 

Sweet, too sweet "Me," who could hardly be heard, who spoke 
to us almost timidly, who wanted to be neither feared nor respected 
nor admired. . . . Sweet M who, along the years, neglected 
completely to apprise us that she was not a mother like every other 
mother, not a professor crushed under daily tasks, but an excep 
tional human being, an illustrious woman. 



CHAPTER XX 



Successes and Ordeals 



EVERY morning a woman who was very thin, very pale, whose 
face was getting a little worn and whose fair hair was suddenly 
turning grey, entered the narrow rooms of the school in the Rue 
Cuvier, took a coarse linen smock down from its peg to cover 
her black dress, and set to work. 

Although Marie was not aware of it, it was during this dull 
period of her life that her physical aspect was to attain its perfec- 
tion. It has been said that as they grow older human beings 
acquire the faces they deserve. HQW true this was of my mother! 
If the adolescent Manya Sklodovska had been simply "nice/' if the 
student and the happy wife had had much charm, the matured and 
grief- stricken scientist she had now become showed striking 
beauty. Her Slavic features, illuminated by the life of the mind, 
had no need of such superfluous ornaments as freshness and gaiety. 
An air of melancholy courage, a more and more evident fragility, 
were her noble adornments soon after her fortieth year. It was this 
ideal appearance that Marie Curie was to retain in the eyes of Irene 
and Eve for many long years up to the day when they were to 
perceive with terror that their mother had become a very old 
woman. 

Professor, research worker and laboratory director, Mme Curie 
worked with the same incomparable intensity. She continued to 
teach at Sevres. At the Sorbonne where she had been promoted 
to the titular professprship in 1908 she was giving the first, and 
for the moment the only, course on radioactivity in the world. 
Great cflbrtsl Although secondary education in France seemed to 

267 



268 MADAME CURIE 

her defective, she regarded French higher education with lively 
admiration. She wanted to make herself the equal of the masters 
who once had dazzled a young Pole. 

After two years of professorship, Marie undertook to write 
down her lessons. She published in 1910 a masterly Treatise on 
Radioactivity. Nine hundred and seventy-one pages of text barely 
sufficed to sum up the knowledge acquired in this realm since the 
day, not so long ago, when the Curies had announced the discovery 
of radium. 

The portrait of the author did not figure as frontispiece for this 
work. Opposite the title-page Marie had placed a photograph of 
Pierre. Two years earlier, in 1908, this same photograph decorated 
the title of another volume of six hundred pages: the \\urks of 
Pierre Curie, collected, put in order and corrected by Marie. 

The widow composed, for this latter book, a preface which 
retraced Pierre's career. She lamented his unjust death with 
restraint: 

The last years of Pierre Curie's life were very productive. His 
intellectual faculties were in full development, as well as his 
experimental skill. 

A new period of his life was about to open :it would have been, 
with more powerful means of action, the natural prolongation of 
an admirable scientific career. Fate did not wish it thus, and we 
are obliged to bow before its incomprehensible decision. 

The number of Mme Curie's students grew larger every day. 
The American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie had bestowed on 
her in 1907 a series of annual scholarships which permitted her to 
welcome some novices in the Rue Cuvier. They joined the 
assistants paid by the university and some benevolent volunteer 
workers. A tall boy, remarkably gifted, Maurice Curie, son of 
Jacques Curie, was among them. Marie was proud of his successes. 
She was always to give her nephew a maternal love. Over this 
squad of eight or ten persons an old collaborator, a sure friend 
and a first-class scientist, watched with Marie: Andre* Debierne. 

Mme Curie had a programme of new researches. She performed 
them in spite of the steady deterioration to her health. 



SUCCESSES AND ORDEALS 269 

She purified a few decigrammes of chloride of radium and made 
a second determination of the atomic weight of the substance. She 
then undertook the isolation of radium metal. Up to now, every 
time she had prepared "pure radium," it had been salts of radium 
(chlorides or bromides) which constituted its only stable form. 
Marie collaborated with Andre Debierne in bringing the metal 
itself to light, undamaged by alterations due to atmospheric agents. 
The operation one of the most difficult known to science was 
never to be repeated. 

Andre Debierne also helped Mme Curie to study polonium and 
the rays it emitted. Finally, Marie, in independent work, dis- 
covered a method of measuring radium by the measurement of the 
emanation it disengaged. 

The universal development of Curietherapy made it necessary 
to separate tiny particles of the precious matter with rigorous 
precision. When the thousandth part of a milligramme is in 
question, balances are not of much use. Marie had the idea of 
" weighing" radioactive substances by the rays that they emitted. 
She brought this difrcult technique to the point ot practicability 
and created a "service of measures" in her laboratory where 
scientists, doctors and even ordin.try citizens might have active 
ores or products examined and receive a certificate indicating their 
radium content. 

At the time when she was publishing a Classification of the 
Radiocle'wnts and a Tahle of Rad;<>a(;th>e Constants, she was perform- 
ing another work of general importance: the preparation of the 
first international standard of radium. This light glass tube which 
Marie, with emotion, had closed with her own hands, contained 
twenty one milligrammes of chloride of pure radium. It was to 
serve as a model for the standards afterward dispersed through 
the live continents, and was solemnly deposited at the office of 
Weights and Measures at Sevres, near Paris. 

After the fame of the Curie couple, the personal fame of Mme 
Curie mounted and spread like a rocket. Diplomas of doctor 
honons f&iSti or of corresponding member of foreign academies 
arrived by the dozen to encumber the desks at the house in Sceaux, 
though the laureate never dreamed of making a show of them or 
even of drawing up a list of them. 



270 MADAME CURIE 

France has only two ways of honouring her great men during 
their lifetime: the Legion of 1 lonour and the Academy. The cross 
of chevalier was offered to Marie in 19 fo, but, inspired by the 
attitude of Pierre Curie, she refused it. 

Why did she not oppose the same resistance to the over-zealous 
adherents who persuaded her, a few months later, to present herself 
for the Academy of Sciences? Had she forgotten the humiliating 
bailors to which her husband had been subjected in defeat, and 
even in victory? And was she unaware of the network of envy 
all about her? 

Yes, she was unaware of it. And above all, like a naive Polish 
woman, she was afraid of seeming pretentious or ungrateful by 
refusing the distinction which she imagined her adopted 
country was offering her. 

F.douard Branly, a scientist of high rank and a well known 
Catholic, was her competitor. Between "Curistes" and "Bran- 
lystes," between freethinkers and clericals, between partisans and 
adversaries of that sensational novelty, the admission of a women 
to the Academy, a struggle broke out on all ironts. Marie, 
powerless and dismayed, beheld these controversies, which she 
had not foreseen. 

The greatest scientists, Henri Poincare, Dr. Roux, Fmile Picard, 
Professor* Uppmann, Bouty and Darboux at their head, conducted 
a campaign in her favour; but the other camp prepared a vigorous 
defence. 

"Women cannot be part of the Institute of France," said M. 
Amagat with virtuous indignation that same M. Amagat who 
had been, eight years earlier, the successful competitor of Pierre 
Curie. Kindly informers declared to the Catholics that Marie 
was a Jewess, and recalled to the freethinkers that she was a 
Catholic. On January 23rd, 191 1, the day of the election, the presi- 
dent, when he opened the meeting, said very loudly to the 
ushers: 

"Let everybody come in, women cxcepted." 

And an almost blind academician, a lively partisan of Mme 
Curie, complained that he had very nearly voted against her, with 
a false ballot which had been slipped into his hand. 

At four o'clock the excited journalists rushed off to write 



SUCCESSES AND ORDEALS 271 

"stories" of disappointment or of victory: Marie Curie had missed 
being elected by one vote. 

Jn the Rue Cuvier her assistants, even her laboratory servant, 
awaited the verdict with more impatience than the candidate. 
Certain of success, they had bought a big bunch of flowers in the 
morning and had hidden it under the table which held the precision 
balances. Defeat left them stupefied. Louis Kagot, the mechani- 
cian, his heart heary, caused the useless bouquet to disappear. 7 he 
young workers silently prepared words of comfort, but they had no 
need to pronounce them. Marie appeared from the little room 
which served as her working office. She was not to comment by so 
much as a word upon this set-back which in no wise afflicted her. 

In the story of the Curies, it seems that foreign countries were 
constantly correcting the attitudes of France. In December the 
Swedish Academy of Sciences, wishing to recognise the brilliant 
work accomplished by the woman scientist since her husband's 
death, awarded her the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the year 1911. 
No other laureate, man or woman, had been, or was to be, judged 
worthy of receiving such a recompense twice. 

Weakened and ill, Marie asked Bronya to make the journey to 
Sweden with her. Sne also took her elder daughter, Irene, with 
her. The child was present at the solemn meeting. Twenty four 
years later, in the same hall, she ^as to receive the same prize. 

Apart from the customary receptions and the King's dinner, 
special rejoicings had been organised in Marie's honour. She was 
to retain a delightful memory of one peasant festival, in which 
hundreds of women, dressed in vivid colours, wore crowns of 
lighted candles on their heads like trembling diadems. 

In her public address, Marie offered the homage which had been 
lavished upon her to the shade of Pierre Curie. 

Before approaching the subject of the lecture, I wish to recall 
that the discovery of radium and that of polonium were made by 
Pierre Curie in common with me. We also owe to Pierre Curie, in 
the domain of radioactivity, some fundamental studies which he 
carried out either alone or in common with me or in collaboration 
with his pupils. 
' The chemical work which had as its aim the isolation of radium 



2 7 i MADAME CURIE 

in the state of pure salt and its characterisation as a new element 
was carried out especially by me, but is intimately linked with the 
work in common. I therefore believe I shall interpret exactly the 
Academy's thought in admitting that the high distinction bestowed 
upon me is motivated by this work in common and thus constitutes 
a homage to the memory of Pierre Curie. 

A great discovery, universal celebrity, and two Nobel prizes 
had fixed the admiration of a great many contemporaries upon 
Marie and therefore the animosity of a great many others. 

Malice burst upon her in a sudden squall and attempted to 
annihilate her. A perfidious campaign was set going in Paris 
against this woman of forty- four, fragile, worn out by crushing 
toil, alone and without defence. 

Marie, who exercised a man's profession, had chosen her friends 
and confidants among men. And this exceptional creature cxer 
cised upon her intimates, upon one of them particularly, a profound 
.influence. No more was needed. A scientist, devoted to her work, 
whose life was dignified, reserved, and in recent years especially 
pitiable, uas accused of breaking up homes and of dishonouring 
the name she bore with too much brilliance. 

It is not for me to judge those who gave the signal for the attack, 
or to say with what despair and often with what tragic clumsiness 
Marie floundered. Let us leave in peace those journalists who had 
the courage to insult a hunted woman, pestered by anonymous 
letters, publicly threatened with violence, with her life itself in 
danger. Some among these men came to ask her pardon Liter on, 
with words of repentance and with tears. . . . But the crime was 
committed: Marie had been led to the brink of suicide and of 
madness, and, her physical strength forsaking her, she had been 
brought down by a very grave illness. 

Let us retain only the least murderous but the basest of these 
knife thrusts, the one which was to be levelled at her all along the 
way. Every time an occasion orlcred to humiliate this unique 
woman, as during the painful days of 191 1, or to refuse her a title, 
a recompense or an honour the Academy, for instance her 
origins were basely brought up againSt her: called in turn a 
Russian, a German, a Jewess and a Pole, she was "the foreign 



SUCCESSES AND ORDEALS 273 

woman" who had come to Paris like a usurper to conquer a high 
position improperly. But whenever, by Marie Curie's gifts, science 
was honoured, every time she was acclaimed in another country 
and unprecedented praise heaped upon her, she at once became, in 
the same newspapers and over the signatures of the same writers, 
"the ambassadress of France," the "purest representative of our 
race's genius," and a "national glory." With ec^ual injustice, the 
Polish birth of which she was proud was then passed over in 
silence. 

Great men have always been subjected to the attacks of those 
who long to discover imperfect human creatures beneath the 
armour of genius. VC-itliout the terrible magnet of renown which 
had drawn sympathies and hatreds upon her, Marie Curie would 
never have been criticised or calumniated. She now had another 
reason for hating fame. 

Friends can be counted in adversity. Hundreds of letters, signed 
by names known and unknown, came to tell Marie how her trials 
were arousing pity and indignation. Andre Debierne, M. and Mme 
Jean Perrin, M. and Mme Chavannes, a charming English friend, 
Mrs. Ayrton, and many others as well, among them her assistants 
and pupils, fought for Marie. In the university world, persons who 
hardly knew her drew near in this cruel moment such as the 
mathematician fimile Bore! and his wife. Along with her brother 
Joseph, with Bronya and Mela, who had hurried to France to help 
her, her firmest defender was Pierre's brother, Jacques Curie. 

These evidences of affection restored some of Marie's courage. 
But her physical depression grew more marked every day. She no 
longer felt strong enough to make the journey to Sceaux, and she 
had taken an apartment in Paris, at 36 Quai de Bethune, where she 
intended to live from January 1912. She was not able to stay so 
long as she had intended, and on December 29 she was taken 
dying, condemned to death to a nursing home. She conquered 
the illness, however, but the profound lesions, by which her kid- 
neys were attacked demanded an operation. Marie, who had been 
carried on stretchers from her house to the clinic several times in 
two months and was only a bloodless creature now, asked that the 
operation should be performed in March and not before: she 



274 MADAME CURIE 

wanted to be present at a congress of physicists at the end of 
February. 

She was operated upon and marvellously cared for by the great 
surgeon Charles V( alther, hut her health was compromised for a 
long time. Marie was pitifully thin and could hardly stand up. The 
crises of fever and kidney pains which she was enduring without 
complaint would have obliged any other woman to lead an 
invalid's life. 

Tracked down by physical ills and human baseness, she hid her- 
self like a beast at bay. Her sister had taken a little house for her at 
iBrunoy, near Paris, under the name of "Dluska"; the patient passed 
some time there, and then installed herself incognito at Thonon for 
some melancholy weeks of cure. In the summer her friend, Mrs. 
Ayrton, received her and her daughters in a peaceful house on the 
English coast. There she found care and protection. 

At the moment when Marie was considering the future with the 
utmost discouragement, an unexpected proposal came to fill her 
with emotion and uncertainty. 

Since the Revolution of 1905 Tsarism, slowly crumbling, had 
made some concessions to liberty of thought in Russia, and even in 
Warsaw the conditions of existence had lost some of their rigour. 
A society of sciences, very active and relatively independent, had 
named Marie "honorary member" in 191 1. A few months later a 
grandiose plan was formed among the intellectuals: to create a 
laboratory of radioactivity at Warsaw, to offer its directorship to 
Mme Curie, and to bring the greatest woman scientist in the world 
back to her fatherland. 

In May 1912 a delegation of Polish professors presented itself 
at Marie's house, and the writer Menryk Sienkiewicz, the most 
celebrated and the most popular man in Poland, addressed to her, 
without knowing her personally, an appeal in which a pathetic 
familiarity was mixed with the formulas of respect: 

Dei^n, most honoured madame, to transport your splendid 
scientific activity to our country and our capital. You know the 
reasons why, in these later times, our culture and science have 
declined.* We are losing confidence in our intellectual faculties, 



SUCCESSES AND ORDEALS 275 

we arc being lowered in the opinion of our enemies, and we are 
abandoning hope for the future. 

. . . Our people admire you, but would like to see you working 
here, in your native town. It is the ardent desire of the whole 
nation. Possessing you in Warsaw, we should feel stronger, we 
should lift our heads now bent under so many misfortunes. May 
our prayers be granted. Do not repulse our hands which are 
stretched out to you.* 

For a less scrupulous person, what an opportunity to leave 
France with effect, to turn one's back on calumny and cruelty! * 

But Marie never adopted the counsels of rancour. She anxiously 
and honestly tried to find where her duty lay. The idea of returning 
to her own country attracted and frightened her at the same time. 
In the state of physiological misery in which this woman found 
herself, any decision became terrifying. There was something else: 
the construction of the laboratory the Curies had so long wanted 
had at last been decided upon, in 1909. To renounce Paris and rice 
from France was to reduce this plan to nothing, to kill a great 
dream. 

At a moment in her life when she felt hardly strong enough for 
anything, Marie was torn between two duties which excluded each 
other. After how many homesick hesitations, with what suffering, 
she addressed her letter of refusal to Warsaw! Still, she accepted 
the task of directing the new laboratory from afar and placed it 
under the practical ;cntroi of two of her best assistants: the Poles 
Danysz and Wertenstein. 

Marie, still very ill, went to Warsaw in 191 3 for the inauguration 
of the radioactivity building. The Russian authorities deliberately 
ignored her presence: no otfidal took part in the fetes organised in 
her honour. The welcome given by her native land was therefore 
all the more tumultuous. For the first time in her life, Marie pro- 
nounced, in a hall packed to i;s limits, a scientific lecture in Polish. 

I am doing my best to render the most possible service here 
before I go away again [she wrote to one of her colleagues]. On 

*The first paragraph here quoted is in the formal style of address in Polish 
and the second paragraph in the familiar, with "thee" and "thou." 



zj6- MADAME CURIE 

Tuesday I made a public lecture. I have also been present, and shall 
be present again, at various meetings. I find a good will which 
must be put to use. This poor country, massacred by an absurd 
and barbarous domination, really does a great deal to defend its 
moral and intellectual life. A day may come perhaps when 
oppression will have to retreat, and it is necessary to last out until 
then. But what an existence! What conditions! 

I have seen again the places to which my memories of childhood 
and youth are attached. 1 have seen the Vistula again, and the tomb 
in the cemetery. These pilgrimages are at the same time sweet 
and sad, but one can't help making them. 

One of the ceremonies took place in the Museum of Industry 
and Agriculture, in the very building where, twenty two years 
earlier, Marie had made her hrst experiments in physics. On the 
next day a banquet was offered to "Mme Sklodovska Curie" by the 
Polish women. In one of the rows of guests was seated a very old 
lady with white hair who contemplated the scientist in ecstasy: it 
was Mile Sikorska, the directress of the boarding school where, in 
the old days, the tiny fair-haired Manya had begun her education. 
Leaving her place, Marie made her way between the beflowered 
tables, joined the old lady, and with a timid impulsiveness, as on 
the far-oH" days of prize-giving, she kissed her on both cheeks. 
Poor Mile Sikorska dissolved into tears while the audience 
applauded frantically. 

Marie's health grew sufficiently better for her to resume her 
normal life. During the summer of 191 3 she tried her strength by a 
walking tour in the Engadine, rucksack on back. Her daughters 
accompanied her with their governess, and the group of excur- 
sionists also included the scientist Albert Einstein and his son. A 
charming comradeship of genius had existed for several years 
between Mme Curie and Einstein. They admired each other; their 
friendship was frank and loyal; and sometimes in French, some- 
times in German, they loved to pursue interminable palavers in 
theoretical physics. 

In the vanguard gambolled the young ones, who were enor- 
mously amused by this journey. A little behind, the voluble 



SUCCESSES AND ORDEALS 277 

Finstein, inspired, would expound to his confrere the theories 
which obsessed him, and which Marie, with her exceptional 
mathematical culture, was one of the rare persons in Europe to 
understand. 

Irene and Eve sometimes caught words on the rly which seemed 
to them rather singular. Einstein, preoccupied, passed alongside 
the crevasses and toiled up the steep rocks without noticing them. 
Stopping suddenly, and seizing Mane's arm, he would exclaim: 
"You understand, what I need to know is exactly what happens 
to the passjn^crs in a lift when it falls into emptiness." 

Such a touching preoccupation made the younger generation 
roar with laughter, far from suspecting that the imaginary fall in 
a lift posed problems of transcendent "relativity." 

After this brief holiday Marie went to England, where she was 
called for scientific ceremonies. Again she received a degree of 
doctor honoris causa , at Birmingham. For once in a way she endured 
the ceremony with good humour and described it to Irene in 
picturesque style: 

They dressed me in a fine red robe with green facings, the same 
as my companions in misery, whjch is to say the other scientists 
who were to receive the doctor's degree. We each heard a little 
speech celebrating our merits, and then the vice-chancellor of the 
university declared to each of us that the university awarded us the 
degree. Then we took our places on the platform. Afterward we 
\\ent off again, taking part in a sort of procession composed of all 
the professors and doctors of the university, in costumes rather 
similar to our own. All this was rather amusing. I had to take the 
solemn engagement to observe the laws and customs of the 
University of Birmingham. 

Irene was carried away with enthusiasm. She wrote to her 
mother: 

DARLING, 

I can see you in your fine red robe with green facings; how 
beautiful you must be in it! Did you keep this fine robe, or was 
it only lent you for the ceremony? 



27* MADAME CURIE 

In France, all storms forgotten, the scientist was at the zenith of 
her fame. For the past two years the architect Nenot had been 
building the Institute of Radium for her on the ground allotted 
in the Rue Pierre Curie. 

Things did not arrange themselves easily; just after the death of 
Pierre, the public authorities had proposed to Marie the opening 
of a national subscription for the building of a Curie institute. The 
widow, not wishing to turn the fatal accident of the Rue Dauphine 
into money, had refused. The authorities fell back into their 
lethargy.* But in 1909 Dr, Roux, director of the Pasteur Institute, 
had the generous and bold idea of building a laboratory for Marie 
Curie. Jf this had happened, she would have left the Sorbonne 
and become a star of the Pasteur Institute. 

The heads of the university suddenly pricked up their ears. . . . 
Let Mme Curie go? Impossible? Cost what it may, she must be 
retained on the official staff! 

An understanding between Dr. Roux and Vice-Rector Liard put 
an end to the discussions. At their common expense 400,000 gold 
francs each the university and the Pasteur Institute founded the 
Institute of Radium, which was to comprise two parts: a laboratory 
of radioactivity, placed under the direction of Marie Curie; and a 
laboratory for biological research and Curietherapy, in which 
studies on the treatment of cancer and the care of the sick would be 
organised by an eminent physician, Professor Claude Regaud. 
These twin institutions, materially independent, were to work in 
co-operation for the development of the science of radium. 

Now Marie was to be seen scurrying from the Rue Cuvier to the 
builders' scaffoldings, where she drew plans and argued with the 
architect. The greying woman was brimful of new and modern 
ideas. She was thinking of her own work; but above all she wanted 
to create a laboratory which could still be used in thirty years, in 
tifty years, long after she was dead. She demanded vast rooms, big " 
windows which would inundate the research halls with sunlight. 
And even though the costly innovation might make the govern- 
ment's engineers indignant, she had to have a lift. 

As for the garden the pet worry of that eternal peasant she 
was to compose it with love. Deaf to the arguments of those who 
wanted to "save space/' she eagerly defended every square foot of 



SUCCESSES AND ORDEALS 279 

the ground that separated the buildings. She picked out young 
trees one by one, like a connoisseur, and had them transplanted 
under her own eyes, long before the foundations had been laid. 
She confided to her collaborators: 

"By buying my plane-trees and my lime-trees right away I arn 
gaining two years. When we open the laboratory the trees will 
have grown and whole clumps will be in bloom. But don't say a 
word! I haven't spoken about it to M. Nenot!" 

And a little flame of youth and gaiety reappeared in her grey 
eyes. 

She planted the rambler roses herself, wielding the spade and 
tamping down the earth with her hands at the foot of the un- 
finished walls. Every day she watered them. When she straight- 
ened up it seemed that there, standing in the wind, she watched 
alike the growth of the dead stones and of the living plants. 

One day when Marie was absorbed in an experiment in the Rue 
Cuvier her former laboratory servant, Petit, came to her, much 
moved. Work- halls were being built also at the School of Physics; 
and the shed, Pierre's and Marie's poor damp barrack, was about 
to fall beneath the wrecker's axe. 

With that humble friend of the past, Marie arrived in the Rue 
Lhomond for her last farewell. The shed was there, still intact. 
The blackboard, by pious care, had been preserved untouched, and 
bore some lines in Pierre's handwriting. It seemed as though the 
door was about to open, to give entrance to a tall, familiar figure. 

Rue Lhomond, Rue Cuvier, Rue Pierre Curie. . . . Three 
addresses, three stages. On this day Marie had retraced, without 
even noticing it, the road of her beautiful yet painful life as a 
scientist. Before her the future was clearly outlined. In the 
biological laboratory, which had just been finished, Professor 
Regaud's assistants were already at work, and lighted windows 
were to be seen at night shining from the new building. In a few 
months Marie, in her turn, would leave the P.C.N. and transfer 
her apparatus to the Rue Pierre Curie. 

This victory came upon its heroine when she was no longer 
cither young or strong, and when she had lost her happiness. 
What did it matter, since she was surrounded by fresh forces, 



2o MADAME CURIE 

since enthusiastic scientists were at hand to aid her in the struggle? 
No, it was not too late. 

The glaziers were singing and whistling on every floor of the 
little white building. Above the entrance could already be read 
these words, cut into the stone: INSTITUT DU RADIUM, PA VILLON 
CURIE. 

Before these sturdy walls and this exalting inscription Marie 
evoked the words of Pasteur: 

If conquests useful to humanity touch your heart; if you stand 
amazed before the surprising effects of electric telegraphy, the 
daguerreotype, anaesthesia and so many other admirable dis- 
coveries; if you are jealous of the part your country can claim in the 
further flowering of these wonders take an interest, I urge upon 
you, in those holy dwellings to which the expressive name of 
laboratories is given. Ask that they be multiplied and adorned. 
They are the temples of the future, of wealth and well-being. It is 
there that humanity grows bigger, strengthens and betters itself. 
It learns there to read in the works of nature, works of progress 
and universal harmony, whereas its own works are too often those 
of barbarity, fanaticism and destruction. 

In that wonderful month of July the "temple of the future" in 
the Rue Pierre Curie was at last finished. It was ready now for 
its radium, its workers and its director. 

Only, this July was the July of 1914. 



CHAPTER XXI 



War 



MARIE had rented a little villa in Brittany for the summer. Irene 
and Kve were already there, with a governess and a cook, and 
their mother had promised to join them there on the third of 
August. 7'he end of the university year had kept her in Paris. She 
was used to staying alone like this, during the dog-days, in the 
empty apartment in the Quai de Bcthunc without even a house- 
maid to take care of her. She passed her d lys at the laboratory 
and returned home, where the concierge had presumably done 
some sketchy cleaning, only late at night. 

Al>,r:e ft far d Might -rs^ August u*/, 1914: 

Dear Irene, dear Eve, Things seem to be getting worse: we 
expect mobilisation from one minute to the next. 1 don't know if 
I shall be able to leave. Don't be afraid; be calm and courageous. 
If war does not break out, I shall come and join you on Monday. 
If it does, 1 shall stay here and send for you as soon as possible. 
You and I, Irene, will try to make ourselves useful. 

sl'tg'/jf znd: 

My dear daughters, Mobilisation has begun, and the 
Germans have entered France without a declaration of war. We 
shall not be able to communicate with each other easily for 
some time. 

Paris is calm and gives a good impression, in spite of the grief 
of the farewells. 

281 



282 MADAME CURIE 

Aright 6t>: 

My dear Irene, I, too, want to bring you back here, but it is 
impossible for the moment. Be patient. 

The Germans are crossing Belgium and righting their way. 
Brave little Belgium did not allow them to pass without defending 
itself. . . . All the French are hopeful, and think that the struggle, 
although it may be hard, will take a good turn. 

Poland is partly occupied by the Germans. What will be left 
of it after their passage? I know nothing about my family. 

An extraordinary emptiness had been created all around Marie. 
Her colleagues and all her laboratory workers had joined their 
regiments. Only her mechanician, Louis Ragot, who had not been 
mobilised on account of a weak heart, and a little charwoman 
about as high as the table, remained with her. 

The Polish woman forgot that France was only her adoptive 
country; the mother did not dream of going to join her children; 
the frail, suffering creature disdained her own ills, and the scientist 
put off her personal work until better times. Marie had only one 
thought: to serve her second fatherland. In the terrible contin- 
gency her intuition and initiative revealed themselves once more. 

She ruled out the easy solution, which would have been to close 
the laboratory and become, like a great many courageous French- 
women, a nurse in a white veil. . . . Having registered herself at 
once on the organisation of the medical service, she discovered in 
it a blank which did not seem to bother the authorities but which, 
to her, seemed tragic: the hospitals, both at the front and behind 
the front, were almost unprovided with X-ray equipment. 

The discovery of X-rays by Rontgen in 1895 had made it 
possible to explore, without surgical aid, the interior of the human 
body, to "see" and to photograph the bones and the organs; in 
1914 only a limited number of Rontgen machines existed in France 
and were used by radiographic doctors. The wartime Military 
Health Service had provided equipment in certain big centres 
considered worthy of the luxury: that was all. 

A luxury, the magic arrangement whereby, a rifle bullet or a 
fragment of shell could at once be discovered and localised in 
the wound? 



WAR ,83 

Marie's work had never dealt with X-rays, but she had devoted 
several lectures to them every year at the Sorbonne. She knew the 
subject admirably well. By a spontaneous transposition of her 
scientific knowledge, she foresaw what the horrible carnage would 
require: a large number of radiological stations must be en atxl at 
once. And in order to follow the movements of the armies easily, 
light equipment would be necessary. 

Marie had recognised her field and acquired her impetus. In a 
few hours she drew up the inventory of the apparatus existing in 
the university laboratories, her own included, and made a round 
of visits to the manufacturers: all the X-ray material that could be 
used was collected together and distributed to the hospitals in the 
region of Paris. Volunteer operators were recruited from among 
professors, engineers and scientists. 

But how could they help the wounded who were brought in 
crowds, with terrifying frequency, to the still unprovided ambu- 
lances? Some of these were even withbut electric equipment to 
which the apparatus could be attached. 

Mme Curie found the solution. She created, with funds from 
the Union of Women of France, the first "radiological car"; it was 
an ordinary motor-car in which she put a Rontgcn apparatus and a 
dynamo which, driven by the motor of the car, furnished the 
necessary current. This complete mobile station circulated from 
hospital to hospital from August 1914 onward; it was the only one 
to take care of the examination of the wounded evacuated toward 
Paris during the Battle of the Marne. 

The rapid advance of the Germans gave "Marie a difficult problem 
to decide. Should she stay in Paris or go to join her daughters in 
Brittany? And if the enemy threatened to occupy the capital,, 
should she follow the retreat of the medical organisations? 

She calmly considered these alternatives and took her decision: 
she would remain in Paris, whatever happened. It was not only the 
benevolent task she had undertaken that kept her; she was thinking 
of her laboratory, of her delicate instruments in the Rue Cuvier and 
of the new halls of the Rue Pierre Curie. "If I am there," she 
thought, "perhaps the Germans will not dare plunder them: but 
f I go away, everything will disappear." 



z8 4 MADAME CURIE 

Thus she reasoned, not without some hypocrisy, and discovered 
logical excuses for the instinct by which she was guided. This 
obstinate, tenacious, proud Marie did not like the act of riight. To 
be afraid was to serve the adversary. Nothing in the world would 
induce her to give a triumphant enemy the satisfaction of occupying 
a deserted Curie laboratory. 

She coniided her daughters to her brother-in-law Jacques, 
preparing them for a possible separation: 



Marie to Irw*, August z%tk, 1914: 

. . . They are beginning to face the possibility of a siege of 
Paris, in which case we might be cut off. If that should happen, 
endure it with courage, for our personal desires are nothing in 
comparison with the great struggle that is now under way. You 
must feel responsible for your sister and take care of her if we 
should be separated for a longer time than 1 expected. 

August z<)th: 

* Dear Irene, You know there is nothing to prove that we shall 
be cut orT, but I wanted to tell you that we must be ready for all 
sorts of alternatives . . . Paris is so near the frontier that the 
Germans might very well approach it. That must not keep us from 
hoping that the final victory will be for France. So, courage and 
confidence! Think of your role as elder sister, which it is time 
you took seriously. 

August $TJ'/, 1914* 

I have just received your sweet letter of Saturday, and I wanted 
so much to kiss you that I almost cried. 

Things are not going very well, and \ve are all heavy-hearted and 
disturbed in soul. We need great courage, and I hope that we shall 
not lack it. We must keep our certainty that after the bad clays the 
good times will come again. It is in this hope that I press you to 
my heart, my beloved daughters. 

Although she could look serenely forward to a life in Paris 
besieged, bombarded or even conquered, there was one treasure 
which she wished to protect against the aggressor: the gramme of 



WAR 285 

radium her laboratory possessed. She would not have dared to 
confide the precious particle to any messenger, and decided to take 
it to Bordeaux herself. 

So Marie appeared in one of those groaning trains which were 
carrying away the government officials and important personages 
Marie in a black alpaca dust-coat laden with a small overnight 
bag and a gramme of radium, that is to say, with a heavy case 
wherein were the tiny tubes in the shelter of their leaden covers. 
Mine Curie miraculously found an end of a bench to sit on and was 
able to arrange the heavy packet in front of her. Resolutely deaf 
to the pessimistic talk that filled the carnage, she contemplated the 
sunny countryside through the window: but there, too, everything 
spoke of defeat: on the national road alongside the railway there 
ran an uninterrupted procession of motor cars fleeing to the west. 

Bordeaux was invaded by the French. Porters, taxis and hotel 
rooms were equally difficult to find. When night fell Marie was 
still standing in the station square, near her burden which she was 
not strong enough to carry. The crowd shoved and pushed about 
her without impairing her good nature: she was amused by her 
situation. Was she going to have to mount guard all night over 
this case which was worth a million francs? No: an employee of 
one of the ministries, her travelling companion, saw her and came 
to her rescue. This saviour obtained a room for her in a private 
apartment. The gramme of radium, weighing twenty kilogrammes 
in 'its case, was given shelter. On the following morning Marie 
deposited her troublesome treasure in the safety vault of a bank 
and, freed from this anxiety, took the road to Paris again. 

She had passed unnoticed on her journey down, but he 
departure toward the capital excited lively comment. A crowd 
collected around the phenomenon: "the woman who is going back 
there." The "woman" took care not to reveal her identity, but, 
more talkative than usual, she tried to calm the alarming rumours 
and asserted gently that Paris would hold out, that its inhabitants 
were incurring no danger. 

The troop train into which she, the only civilian, 
made its way with incredible slowness. It was 
fields several times for hours at a stretch, 
accepted a big piece of bread that a soldierpM^ed out of his 




z86 MADAME CURIE 

knapsack for her. Since the day before, when she left the labora- 
tory, she had not had time to eat anything. % 

Paris, silent and threatened, seemed to her, in this exquisite light 
of early September, to have a beauty and a value never before 
attained. Must such a jewel be lost? But already news was 
spreading in the streets with the violence of a tidal wave. Mme 
Curie, covered with the dust of her journey, hurried to enquire: 
the German advance was broken, the Battle of the Marne had 
begun. 

Marie joined her friends Appell and Borel at the Superior 
Normal School: she wanted to oifer her services without delay to 
the medical organisation they had founded, the National Aid. 
Paul Appell, president of the charity, was filled with pity for this 
poor exhausted woman. He made Marie lie down on a sofa and 
urged her to take some rest during the coming days. She was not 
listening to him. She wanted to act, to do something. . . . "On 
that sofa, with her face so pale and her eyes so big, she was all 
flame," Appell was to say of her later. 

Marie to Irlnc, September 6tb, 1914: 

. . . The theatre of war is changing at the moment: the enemy 
seems to be going farther away from Paris. We are all hopeful, 
and we have faith in final success. 

. . . Make young Fernand Chavannes do his problems in 
physics. If you cannot work for France just now, work for its 
future. Many people will be gone, alas, after this war, and their 
places must be taken. Do your mathematics and physics as well as 
you can. 

Paris was saved. Marie sent for her daughters, who were 
protesting energetically against their exile. Eve went back to 
school, while Irene took her course for the nurse's diploma. 

Mme Curie had foreseen everything that the war would be 
long and murderous, that the wounded would have to be operated 
upon more and more in the places where they were found, and that 
the surgeons and radiologists would have to be at hand in the front 
ambulances; that it was urgently necessary to organise the intensive 



WAR 287 

manufacture of Rontgen apparatus and, finally, that the radio- 
logical cars would be called upon to render invaluable service. 

These cars, nicknamed "little Curies" in the army zones, were 
equipped by Marie at the laboratory, one by one, regardless of the 
indifference or the latent hostility of the bureaucrats. Our timid 
woman had suddenly become an exacting and authoritative 
personage. She nagged at the lazy officials, demanded passes from 
them, visas and requisitions. They made difficulties, brandished 
the regulations at her. . . . "Civilians mustn't bother us!" such 
was the spirit that animated many among them. But Marie hung 
on, argued and won. 

She held up individual citizens mercilessly. At her request such 
generous women as the Marquise de Ganay and the Princess Murat 
gave or lent her their limousines, which she immediately trans- 
formed into radiological stations. "I shall give you back your 
motor car after the war," she would promise with slightly mocking 
assurance. "Truthfully, if it's not useless by then, 1 shall give it 
back to you!" 

Of the twenty cars which she thus put into service, Marie kept 
one for her personal use: a flat-nosed Renault with a body like that 
of a lorry. Aboard this chariot of regulation grey, ornamented by a 
red cross and a French flag painted on its plates, she led the lite of 
an adventurer, of a great captain. 

A telegram or a telephone call would notify Mme Curie that an 
ambulance laden with wounded demanded a radiological post in a 
hurry. Marie would immediately verify the equipment of her car 
and attach her apparatus and dynamo. While the military chauffeur 
took on petrol, she would go home and ^et her dark cloak, her 
little travelling hat, soft and round, which had lost both form and 
colour, and her baggage: a yellow leather bag, cracked and peeling. 
She climbed in beside the driver, on the seat exposed to the wind, 
and soon the stout car was rolling at full speed namely, the 
"twenty-miles-an-hour average," which was its best toward 
Amiens, Ypres, Verdun. 

After various stops and palavers with untrustful sentries, the 
hospital appeared. To work! Mmc Curie rapidly, chose one room 
as a radiological hall and had her cases brought in there. She 
unpacked the instruments and assembled them from their separate 



288 MADAME CURIE 

pieces. The cable which connected the apparatus with the dynamo 
in the motor car was rolled out: the chauffeur, at a given signal! 
started the dynamo, and Marie tested the intensity of the current. 
Before beginning the examination of the wounded she prepared 
the radioscopic screen and ranged her protecting gloves and 
glasses near at hand, along with special marking pencils and the 
leaden indicator which found the projectiles. She darkened the 
room by stopping up the window with the black curtains she had 
brought, or even with ordinary hospital blankets. At one side, in 
an improvised photographic dark-room, were placed the baths of 
chemicals where the plates would be developed. I lalf an hour after 
Marie's arrival, everything was ready. 

The melancholy procession began. The surgeon shut himself 
and Mme Curie into the dark-room, where the apparatus in action 
was surrounded by a mysterious halo. One after the other the 
stretchers laden with suffering bodies were brought in. The 
wounded man would be extended on the radiological table. Marie 
regulated the apparatus focused on the torn flesh so as to obtain a 
clear view. The bones and organs showed their precise outlines, 
and in the midst of them appeared a thick dark fragment: the shot 
or piece of shell. 

An assistant wrote down the doctor's observations while Marie 
made a quick copy of the picture or took a photograph which 
would guide the surgeon in extracting the projectile. Sometimes 
the operation was made immediately "under the rays," and on the 
radioscopic screen the surgeon could follow the picture of his 
pincers probing the wound and going round the obstacles of the 
skeleton to seize upon the bit of shell. 

Ten wounded men, fifty, a hundred. . . . Hours passed, and 
sometimes clays. So long as there were any patients Marie re- 
mained almost constantly shut into the dark-room. Before leaving 
the hospital she studied means of installing a fixed radiological 
post there. Then, having packed up her material, she would climb 
into the front seat of her magic chariot and start back to Paris. 

This ambulance station would see her again very soon: she had 
moved heaven and earth to find an available apparatus and came 
out to install it. A manipulator would accompany her, a man 
whom she had found somehow or other and had instructed 



WAR 289 

somehow or other in his work. From now on the hospital, 
furnished with an X-ray room, would have no need of her. 

Apart from the twenty motor cars she equipped, Marie installed 
two hundred radiological rooms. The total number of wounded men 
examined by these 220 posts, fixed or mobile posts created and 
started going by Mme Curie personally rose to above a million. 

Her science and her courage were not her only support. Marie 
possessed in the highest degree that humble, precious gift of 
"getting on with it," and she made masterly use of the super- 
method which the French in war time called "System D" the 
defeat of red tape by ingenuity. She imposed systematic training 
on herself: at a time when she was perfecting her technique with 
Rontgen apparatus and reading anatomical treatises to acquire the 
culture of a perfect medical radiologist she was also learning how 
to drive a car, passing for her licence, and initiating herself into 
mechanics. She wanted to avoid what she hated most: calling for 
help, or having herself waited upon. 

If her chauiieur was not available she would take the wheel of 
the Renault herself and drive it, somehow or other, over the bad 
roads. She could be seen in the coldest weather energetically 
turning the crank of the recalcitrant* motor. She was to be seen 
putting her weight on the jack to change a tyre, or cleaning a dirty 
carburettor with scientific thoroughness, her brows frowning with 
attention. If she had apparatus to carry by train, she would put it 
into the van herself, and on arrival it was she who unloaded and 
unpacked it, watching to see that nothing went astray. . . . 

Indifferent to the lack of comfort, she asked for no particular 
consideration and no favourable treatment. Never was a famous 
woman less troublesome. She would eat no matter how and sleep 
anywhere in a nurse's room or else, as in the Hoogstade hospital, 
under a tent in the open air. She, the student who once had 
chattered with cold in a garret, now became a soldier of the Great 
War without an effort. 

Marie to Paul Langtvin, January u/, 1915: 

The day I leave is not fixed yet, but it can't be far off. I have had 
a letter saying that the radiological car working in the Saint-Pol 
region has been damaged. This means that the whole northern 



*9<> MADAME CURIE 

area is without any radiological service! I am taking the necessary 
steps to hasten my departure and am resolved to put all my 
strength at the service of my adopted country since I cannot do 
anything for my unfortunate native country just now, bathed as it 
is in blood after more than a century of suffering. 

In Paris, Irene and Eve were living more or less like the 
daughters of combatants. Their mother gave herself "leave" only 
when a kidney attack forced her to stay in bed for several days. If 
she was at home, it meant that she was ill. If she was not ill, she was 
at Suippes, at Reims, Calais, Poperinghe in one of the three or 
four hundred French and Helgian hospitals that she was to visit 
while hostilities lasted. Fve's letters to her mother announcing her 
successes in history or French composition were sent to strange 
and changing addresses: 

"Mme Curie, Hotel de la Noble Rose, Furnes." 

"Mme Curie, Auxiliary Hospital 11, Morviilars, Haut-Rhin." 

"Mme Curie, Hospital 112." 

Post cards hastily scribbled by the wanderer at various stops 
brought laconic news to Paris: 



Janttay zdtb, 1915: 

Dear children, Here we are at Amiens, where we slept. We 
have only burst two tyres. Greet everybody. MiL 

Tbs sar t day: 

Arrived at Abbeville. lean Perrin, with his car, ran into a tree, 
Luckily no great harm done. Continuing to Boulogne. Ali. 



4/,, 1915: 

Dear Irene, After various incidents we have arrived a 
Poperinghe, but we can't work until we have had some changes 
made at the hospital. They are building a shelter for the car and a 
partition to enclose the radiological room inside a big ward of 
wounded. All this delays me, but it is diHFlcult to do otherwise. 

Some German aeroplanes dropped some bombs at Dunkirk; a 
few people were killed, but the population showed no great fright 
At Poperinghe, too, such accidents happen, but less often. We caa 



WAR 291 

hear the cannon rumbling almost constantly. It is not raining; it 
has frozen a little. I was received with extreme cordiality at the 
hospital: I have a nice room and they give me a fire in a stove. I 
am better off than at Furnes. I take my meals at the hospital. I 
embrace you tenderly. JM& 



I 9 I 5 

Earling, I had to wait at CMlons for eight hours and only 
reached Verdun this morning at five. The car also arrived. We 
are organising! M. 

One evening in April, 1915 Marie came home a little paler and a 
little less agile than usual. Without answering the worried 
questions that arose, she shut herself in her room to sulk. 

She was sulking because, on her way back from the hospital at 
Forges, a sudden twist of the wheel by the chauffeur had thrown 
her car into a ditch. The car overturned, and Marie, who was 
travelling inside, seated arrong her apparatus, was buried under- 
neath the crashing cases. She was very vexed, not because she was 
so badly bruised, but to think as she did at once that her 
radiological plates must be shattered.* But, underneath the cases 
which were gradually crushing her, she could not help laughing 
just the same, when she heard her little chauffeur, who had lost ail 
his presence of mind and all his logic, running around the wrecked 
car inquiring in a whisper: "Madame! Madame! Are you dead?" 

Without telling the story of her adventure, she hid herself to 
treat her wounds, which were slight. An account of the accident 
appeared in a newspaper, and some bits of blood-stained linen 
found in her dressing-room gave her away to the family; but she 
was already off again with her yellow bag and her round hat, with 
the wallet in her pocket the big black leather wallet, man's size 
which she had bought "to go to war." 

In 1918 she was to leave this wallet forgotten in a drawer, and it 
was not touched again until 1934, after her death. It then yielded 
up an identity card made out to "Mme Curie, director of the 
Service of Radiology," a paper from the under-secretariat of state 
for artillery and munitions "authorising Mme Curie to make use of 
military cars," and about ten "special-mission" orders from the 



292 MADAME CURIE 

Union of the Women of France. Four photographs: one of Marie, 
one of her father, and two of her mother, Mme Sklodovska; ana 
two little empty bags which had contained seeds seeds which she 
had no doubt planted, between trips, in the flower-beds at the 
laboratory. On these little bags were inscribed the following 
words: "Officinal rosemary, to be sown from April to June, in the 
nursery." 

iMme Curie adopted no special costume for this surprising life of 
hers. All her old clothes, in turn, were ornamented by an arm- 
band of the Red Cross. She never wore a nurse's \cil, but worked 
with bare head in the hospitals, dressed in an ordinary white 
laboratDry blouse. 

Irene tells me you are in the neighbourhood of Verdun [her 
nephew Maurice Curie, an artilleryman at Vaucjuois, wrote her]. 
I stick my nose into every medical car that passes along the road, 
but I never see anything but much-striped caps, and I don't 
imagine that the military authorities have taken steps to regularise 
your coiffure, which is hardly according to regulations. . . . 

This nomad could not take care of her own house. A certain 
disorder reigned there. Irene and Eve continued their studies, well 
or badly, knitted sweaters for their adopted soldiers, and followed 
the march of operations by sticking little flags into strategic points 
on the big map on the wall of the dining-room. Marie made her 
children take holidays without her but her care stopped at that. 
She allowed Irene and Lwe to stay in bed during bombardments 
instead of going down to shiver in the cellar, and she let them 
enlist in the gang of harvest workers in Brittany in 1916 to replace 
men who had gone to the front. For a fortnight they cut and 
bound sheaves and worked as threshers. In 1918 they remained in 
Paris in spite of the bombardment of Big Bertha. I think Marie 
would not have liked her daughters to be too prudent or too 
exacting. 

Eve could not make herself useful yet, but Irene, at seventeen, 
had been initiated in radiology without giving up her work for a 
school certificate and her courses at the Sorbonne. She had been 
her mother's "manipulator" at first, and then been given some 



WAR 293 

missions. Marie sent her to the hospitals and found it only natural 
that Irene, charged with responsibilities for which she was very 
young, should stay in the army zones at Furnes, Hoogstade and 
Amiens. An intimate and charming comradeship linked M me Curie 
and this young girl. The Polish woman was solitary no longer. 
She was able to talk of her work or of her personal worries now 
with a collaborator and friend. 

During the first months of the war she had had an important 
consulatation with Irene. 

"The government has asked citizens to bring in their gold, and 
soon there will be some loans floated," she said to her daughter. 
"I am going to give up the little gold I possess. I shall add to this 
the scientific medals, which are quite useless to me. There is 
something else: by sheer laziness I had allowed the money for my 
second Nobel Prize to remain in Stockholm in Swedish crowns. 
This is the chief part of what we possess. I should like to bring it 
back here and invest it in war loans. The State needs it. Only, I 
have no illusions: this money will probably be lost. I don't want to 
commit such 'nonsense/ therefore, unless you approve." 

Changed into francs, the Swedish crowns became bonds, 
"national subscriptions" or "voluntary contributions," and were 
frittered away as Marie had foreseen. She took her gold to the 
Bank of France: the official who received her accepted the money 
but indignantly refused to send the glorious medals to be melted 
down. Marie was not flattered: she judged such fetishism absurd, 
and took her collection back to the laboratory with a shrug of the 
shoulders. 

When an hour's respite was accorded her, Mme Curie some- 
times sat down on a bench in the garden in Rue Pierre Curie 
where her lime-trees were growing. She looked at the Radium 
Institute, new and deserted. She thought of her collaborators, all 
at the front, of her favourite'assistant, the Pole Jan Danys/, who 
had died like a hero. She sighed. When would this bloody horror 
come to an end? And when would she be able to get back to 
physics again? 

She did not waste time with empty dreams, and without ceasing 
to "make war," she slowly and quietly prepared for peace. She 
found time to strip the laboratory in the Rue Cuvier and install it 



294 MADAME CURIE 

in the Rue Pierre Curie. Packing, loading and unloading, driving 
her old radiological car from one building to another, she accom- 
plished this patient work, of which the result soon appeared: the 
new laboratory was ready! Marie completed the installation by an 
impressive fortification of sandbags around the annex which 
contained radioactive substances. As early as 191 s she had 
brought the gramme of radium back from Bordeaux and had put it 
at the country's disposal. 

Like X-rays, radium had various therapeutic effects upon the 
human body. In 1914 no effort had yet been made by the State to 
organise medical treatment, so that Marie once more had to create 
and improvise. She consecrated her gramme of radium to an 
"emanation service": every week she "milked" radium for the gas 
it gave off, and enclosed this emanation in tubes which were 
afterward sent to the Hospital of the Grand -Palais and to other 
sanitary centres. It was to serve in curing "vicious" sores and 
many skin lesions. 

Radiological cars, radiological stations, emanation service. . . . 
There was still more to come. The lack of trained manipulators 
worried Marie. She proposed to found and conduct a course of 
instruction in radiology. Before long about twenty nurses 
gadiered at the Radium Institute for the first course. The pro- 
gramme included theoretical lessons on electricity and X-rays, 
practical exercises, and anatomy. The professors were Mme Curie, 
Irene Curie, and a charming and learned woman, Mile Klein. 

"The hundred and fifty technicians trained in this way by Marie 
fu>m 1916 to 1918 were recruited from all classes: some among 
them were very poorly educated. The prestige of Mme Curie 
intimidated them at first, but they were quickly won over by the 
cordial and familiar welcome tfye scientist gave them. Marie had a 
prodigious gift for making science accessible to simple minds. 'I he 
taste for work properly done was so strong in her that when one of 
the apprentices a former chambermaid succeeded for the first 
time in developing a radiographic plate like an artist, Mme Curie 
was as delighted as if it had been her own triumph. 

France's allies called upon her in their turn. Since 1914 she had 
been making frecjuent visits to the Belgian hospitals. In 1918, at 
the request of the Italian government, she went on a mission to 




MXK'II H 'KM! x i AYOK'MI IMx 1 IK \l I < >l I II Iv I II XU \\l ) 



WAR 295 

northern Italy, where she studied the country's resources in 
radioactive substances. A little later she was to welcome into her 
laboratory some twenty soldiers from the American Expeditionary 
Forces, whom she was to initiate to radioactivity. 

Her new profession brought her into contact with the most 
varied types of human being. Certain surgeons, understanding the 
usefulness of the X-ray, treated her as a great colleague and a 
precious fellow-worker. Others, more ignorant, regarded her 
apparatus^with deep distrust. After a few conclusive radioscopic 
experiments, they were astonished that "it worked" and could 
hardly believe their eyes when, at the spot indicated by the rays and 
pointed out by Marie, their scalpel encountered the bit of shell 
which had been vainly sought for in suffering flesh. Suddenly con- 
verted, they commented upon the event as upon a miracle. . . . 

Fashionable women, the guardian angels of the hospitals, needed 
only one glance to classify this grey-haired woman, so indifferently 
dressed, who neglected to mention her name; and sometimes they 
treated her like a subordinate. Marie was amused by their mis- 
understandings. \X hen such trivial manifestations of vanity had 
annoyed her a little, she purified her soul by remembering a nurse 
and a soldier, silent and tenacious, who were her working comrades 
at the hospital in Hoogstade: Queen Elizabeth and King Albert of 
Belgium. 

Marie, often cold and distant, was charming to the wounded. 
Peasants and workmen sometimes grew frightened of the Rontgen 
apparatus and asked if the examination would hurt them. Marie 
reassured them: "You'll see, it's just the same as a photograph." 
She had what could be sweetest to them: a pleasing tone of voice, 
light hands, a great deal of patience, and an immense religious 
respect for human life. To save a man's life or to spare him 
suffering, an amputation or an infirmity, she was ready for the most 
exhausting efforts. She gave up only when every chance had been 
tried in vain. 

She was never to speak of the hardships and dangers to which 
she exposed herself during these four years. She spoke neither of 
her tremendous fatigues, of the risk of death, nor of the cruel effect 
of X-rays and radium upon her damaged organism. She showed 



z 9 6 MADAME CURIE 

her working companions a careless and even a gay face gayer 
than it had ever been. The war was to teach her that good humour 
which is the finest mask of courage. 

She had very little joy in her soul, just the same. To the intimate 
anguish that distressed her when she thought of her interrupted 
work, or of her Polish family from whom she heard nothing, there 
was added her horror at the absurd frenzy that had taken possession 
of the world. The memory of the thousands of hacked-up bodies 
she had seen, of the groans % and shrieks she had heard, was to 
darken her life for a long time. 

The guns of the armistice surprised her in her laboratory. She 
wanted to dress flags on the institute, and took her collaborator 
Marthe Klein with her to search the shops of the neighbourhood 
for French flags. There were none left anywhere, and she ended 
by buying some bits of stuff in three colours which her char- 
woman, Mme Bardinet, hastily sewed together and displayed at 
the windows. Marie, trembling with nervousness and joy, could 
not keep still. She and Mile Klein got into the old radiological car, 
battered and scarred by four years of adventure. An attendant 
from the P.C.N. acted as chauffeur and drove them up and down 
the streets, to and fro, through the eddying mass of a people both 
happy and grave. In the Place de la Concorde the crowd stopped 
the car. People clambered on the fenders of the Renault and 
hoisted themselves on to the roof. When Marie's car took 
up its route again, it carried off a dozen such extra pas- 
sengers who continued to occupy this position for the rest of 
the morning. 

For Marie there were two victories instead of one: Poland was 
born again from the ashes, and after a century and a half of slavery 
became a free country once more. 

She who had been Mile Sklodovska saw her oppressed child- 
hood again and all the struggles of her youth. It was not in vain 
that she had attacked the Tsar's officialdom by dissimulation and 
ruse as a small child; that she had secretly joined her comrades of 
the Floating University in their meeting places in poor rooms in 
Warsaw; that she had taught little peasants of Szczuki to read. . . . 
The "patriotic dream" in the name of which she had once almost 



WAR. 297 

sacrificed her vocation, and even the love of Pierre Curie, was 
becoming a reality under her eyes. 

Marie to Joseph Sklodwski, December ', 1920: 

So now we, "born in servitude and chained since birth,"* we 
have seen that resurrection of our country which has been our 
dream. We did not hope to live until this moment ourselves; we 
thought it might not even be given to our children to see it -and 
it is here! "It is true that our country has paid dearly for this 
happiness, and that it will have to pay again. But can the clouds of 
the present situation be compared with the bitterness and dis- 
couragement that would have crushed us if, after the war, Poland 
had remained in chains and divided into pieces? Like you, 1 have 
faith in the future. 

This faith and these dreams consoled Marie Curie for her 
personal troubles. The war had disorganised her scientific work, 
the war had used up her health, the war had ruined her. The 
money she had entrusted to the country had melted like snow, and 
when she examined her material situation she was anxious indeed: 
at the age of fifty and more, she \vas almost poor. For her living 
and that of her daughters she had only her salary as professor 
twelve thousand francs a year. Would her strength allow her to 
pursue her teaching, to take care of her work as laboratory 
director for the years that separated her from the age of retirement? 

Without abandoning her war work (for two years more, 
apprentices in radiology continued to come to the Institute of 
Radium for instruction) Marie threw herself again into the passion 
of her life: Physics. She was asked to write a book on Radiology in 
War: in it she exalted the good work of scientific discovery, 
eternal research and its human value. She had^ drawn from her 
tragic experience new reasons for adoring science. 

The story of radiology in war offers a striking example of the 
unsuspected amplitude that the application of purely scientific 
discoveries can take under certain conditions. 

X-rays had had only a limited usefulness up to the time of the 

* Adam Mickievicz: Messcr Tbaddtus. 



* 9 8' MADAME CURIE 

war. The great catastrophe which was let loose upon humanity, 
accumulating its victims in terrifying numbers, brought up by 
reaction the ardent desire to save everything that could be saved 
and to exploit every means of sparing and protecting human life. 

At once there appeared an effort to make the X-ray yield its 
maximum of service. What had seemed difficult became easy and 
received an immediate solution. The material and the personnel 
were multiplied as if by enchantment. All those who did not 
understand gave in or accepted; those who did not know learned; 
those who had been indifferent became devoted. Thus the 
scientific discovery achieved the conquest of its natural field of 
action. A similar evolution took place in radium therapy, or the 
medical application of radiations emitted by the radioactive 
elements. 

What are we to conclude from these unhoped-for developments 
revealed to us by science at the end of the nineteenth century? It 
seems that they must make our confidence in disinterested research 
more alive and increase our reverence and admiration for it. 

It is very nearly impossible to discern in this drily technical 
little book how important were Marie Curie's own initiatives. 
What fiendish ingenuity she used to find impersonal formulas, 
what a rage for effacing herself, for remaining in the shadows! 
The "I" was not detestable to Marie: it did not exist. Her work 
seems to have been accomplished by mysterious entities which she 
names by turn "the medical organisations," or else "they," or, in 
cases of extreme necessity, "we." The discovery of radium itself 
is dissimulated among "the new radiations revealed to us by 
science at the end of the nineteenth century." And when she is 
compelled to speak of herself, Mme Curie attempts to merge into 
the nameless crowd: 

Having wished, like so many others, to put myself at the service 
of the national defence during the years we have just traversed, I 
was at once directed toward radiology. 

One detail, just the same, proves to us that Marie was" con- 
scious of having helped France as best she could. She had 



WAR 299 

formerly refused- and later was to refuse again the cross 
of the Legion of Honour. But her intimate friends know that 
if she had been proposed for the rank of chevalier in 1918 as 
a soldier* she would have accepted this and no other ribbon. 
This slight departure from her principles was spared her. A 
great many "ladies" received decorations and rosettes. She was 
given nothing. After some weeks, the part she had played in the 
great drama was effaced from all memories. And in spite of 
services which had been somewhat exceptional, nobody dreamed 
of pinning the little cross of a soldier on Mme Curie's dress. 



A titrt *tiJi/air*thc Legion of Honour gained on the field of battle is 
unlike the civil order. 



CHAPTER XXII 



Peace Holidays at Larcouest 



THE world found its calm again. Marie, with a confidence and 
hope which were to grow weaker and weaker, followed from afar 
the labours of those who were organising the peace. 

Very naturally, this idealist was bound to be attracted by the 
Wilsonian doctrines, and to have faith in the League of Nations. 
She obstinately sought remedies for the barbarity of the peoples 
and dreamed of a treaty which would truly efface rancour and 
hatred. "Either the Germans must be exterminated to the last man, 
which I could scarcely advocate," she sometimes said, "or else they 
must be given a peace which they can endure." 

Relations between the scientists of the conquered and the 
conquering countries were resumed. Mme Curie showed a sincere 
will to forget the recent struggle. At the same time she refrained 
from the premature manifestations of fraternity and enthusiasm in 
which some of her colleagues engaged. She was inclined to ask 
before she would see a German physicist: "Did he sign the 
Manifesto of the Ninety-Three?" If he did, she would be polite 
and no more. If not, she was more friendly, and talked freely of 
science with her confrere as if the war had not taken place. 

This fact, of only temporary consequence, illustrates Marie's 
very high idea of the role and duties of intellectuals in times of 
trouble. She did not think that great minds could remain "above 
the battle"; for four years she had served France loyally, she had 
saved human lives. But there were certain acts in which she could 
not acknowledge the intellectuals* right to complicity. Mmc Curie 
blamed the writers and scientists of beyond the Rhine for signing 

joo 



PEACE HOLIDAYS AT LARCOUEST 301 

the Manifesto, just as, later on, she was to blame the Russian 
scientists who publicly approved the procedure of the Soviet 
police: an intellectual betrayed his mission if he was not the most 
constant defender of civilisation and freedom of thought. 

Marie had become neither a war-monger nor a partisan by 
taking her part in the great struggle. It is a pure scientist that we 
find, in 1919, at the head of her laboratory. 

She had looked forward with fervour to the moment when the 
buildings in the Rue Pierre Curie would hum with activity. Her 
first care was not to spoil the exceptional work accomplished 
during the war: the service of emanations, the distribution of 
"active" little tubes to the hospitals, continued under the direction 
of Dr. Regaud, who had taken possession of the biological 
building again on demobilisation. In the physical section, Mme 
Curie and her fellow- workers applied themselves to the ex- 
periments interrupted in 1914 and began some new ones. 

A more normal life allowed the ageing woman to give more 
time to the future of Irene and Eve two sturdy girls, bigger than 
she was. The elder, a student of twenty-one, calm and mar- 
vellously balanced, had never hesitated for an instant over her 
vocation: she would be a physicist, and she wanted, very definitely, 
to study radium. The fame and the achievement of her parents 
neither discouraged nor intimidated her. With a simplicity and 
naturalness worthy of admiration, Irene Curie set out on the road 
that had been followed by Pierre and Marie. She did not ask 
whether her career would be as brilliant as her mother's or not; 
she did not feel oppressed by a name too great. Her sincere love 
of science, her gifts, inspired in her only one ambition: to work for 
ever in that laboratory which she had seen go up, and in which, as 
early as 1918, she had been named assistant.* 

Marie's personal experience and the happy example of Irene 
made it too easy for her to believe that young creatures can find 
their direction in the labyrinth of life without trouble. She was 
disconcerted by Eve's anguish, her veering and tacking about. A 
noble and excessive respect for the freewill of the young, an over- 
estimate of their wisdom, kept her from exercising her authority 

* Prtparateur diltgut another laboratory position without an exact equiva- 
lent in English or American practice. 



3 o* MADAME CURIE 

upon this adolescent. She would have liked Eve, well gifted in 
science, to become a doctor and to study the medical applications 
of radium. Nevertheless, she did not impose that course upon the 
child. With tireless sympathy she supported each of her daughter's 
capricious plans in turn, rejoiced to see her studying music, and 
left the choice of her teachers and her methods of work to herself. 
. . . She was bestowing too much freedom upon a being under- 
mined by doubt, who would have done better to obey firm 
indications. How could she perceive her error, she who had been 
led to her destiny, in spite of immense obstacles, by the infallible 
instinct of genius? 

Her tenderness was to watch to the very end over these very 
different daughters whom she had brought into the world, without 
ever showing a preference between them. Irene and Eve were to 
find in her, in all circumstances of their lives, a protector and an 
ardent ally. Later on, when Irene was married and had children in 
her turn, Marie was to surround the two generations with her 
loving care: 

Marie to Irine andFrfdtric Joliot-Citrie, December zyfb, 1928: 
My dear children, 1 send you my best wishes for a happy New 
Year that is to say, a year of good health, good humour and good 
work, a year in which you will have pleasure in living every day, 
without waiting for the days to be gone before finding charm in 
them, and without putting all hope of pleasure in the days to come. 
The older one gets the more one feels that the present must be 
enjoyed: it is a precious gift, comparable to a state of grace. 

I am thinking of your little I ielene, and forming wishes for her 
happiness. It is so moving to see the evolution of this little 
creature who expects everything from you with unlimited con- 
fidence, and who certainly believes that you can interpose between 
her and all suffering. One day she will know that your power 
does not extend so far nevertheless one could wish to be able 
to do that for one's children. At the very least one owes them 
every effort to give them good health, a peaceful and serene 
childhood in surroundings of affection, in which their fine con- 
fidence will last as long as possible. 



PEACE HOLIDAYS AT LARCOUEST 303 

Mane to her daughters > September 3^, 1919: 

... I often think of the year of work that is opening before us. 
I think also of each of you, and of the sweetness, joys and cares you 
give me. You are in all truth a great fortune to me, and I hope life 
still holds for me a few good years of existence in common with 
you. 

Whether it was that her health had grown better after the 
exhausting years of the war, or that the appeasement of age was 
beginning, Marie became more serene after her fiftieth year. The 
grip of sorrow and illness was relaxed and the torments of old were 
deadened by time: Marie did not find her happiness again, but she 
learned to love the little joys of daily life. Irene and Eve, who had 
grown up in the shadow of a woman for ever struggling against 
illness, discovered a new companion now, with an older face but a 
younger heart and body. Irene, an indefatigable sportswoman, 
encouraged her mother to imitate her exploits, took long ex- 
cursions on foot with her, and carried her off to skate, to ride 
horseback, and even to ski a little. 

In the summer Marie joined her daughters in Brittany. In the 
village of Larcouest, in a part of the country undisturbed by the 
vulgar crowd, the three friends passed enchanted holidays. 

The population of this hamlet on the Channel coast near 
Paimpol was composed entirely of sailors, peasants and of pro- 
fessors at the Sorbonne. The discovery of Larcouest by the 
historian Charles Seignobos and the biologist Louis Lapique in 
189^ assumed the importance of Christopher Columbus's first 
journey, to the group of university people. Mms Curie, a late- 
comer in this colony of learned men which a witty journalist was to 
nickname 'Tort Science/' lived at first in the house of one of the 
villagers, then rented a villa and finally bought one. She had 
chosen the most isolated and windswept place on the moor, 
dominating a tranquil sea dotted with innumerable large or tiny 
islands which kept the waves of the open sea from approaching the 
coast. She had a love for lighthouses; the summer dwellings she 
rented and those which she was later to build all looked alike: a 
narrow house on a big field, rooms badly arranged, almost poorly 
furnished and a sublime view. 



3 o4 MADAME CURIE 

The rare passers-by whom Marie met every morning stoop- 
shouldered Breton women, slow-moving peasants, children whose 
smiles showed spoiled teeth pronounced a sonorous "Bon jour, 
Madame Cu-u-urie," in which the Breton accent made the syllables 
drag. And oh, miracle! Marie, without attempting to run 
away, smiled and answered in the same tone: "Borijour, Madame 
I.e Goff. . . . Bonjour, Monsieur Quintin," or simply "bonjour" 
if, to her shame, she did not recognise her interlocutor. It is only 
after due consideration that the natives of a village accord these 
tranquil greetings, from equal to equal, in which there is neither 
indiscretion nor curiosity, but friendship alone. The mark of 
esteem had not come to Marie because of radium or because "her 
name was in the papers." She had been judged worthy of it after 
two or three seasons, when the women with their hair tight drawn 
under pointed white caps had recognised in her one of their own, a 
peasant. 

Mme Curie's house was only a dwelling like all others. The 
house in Larcouest that really counted, the centre of the colony, 
the palace of fashion, was a low, thatched cottage dressed to the 
roof in Virginia creeper, passion flowers and giant fuchsia. The 
cottage was called, in Breton, Taschen- Vihan: "the little orchard." 
Taschen possessed a sloping garden in which the flowers, planted 
without apparent design, formed long rows of bursting colour. 
Except when the cast wind blew, the door of the house was always 
wide open. There dwelt a young sorcerer of seventy, Charles 
Seignobos, professor of history at the Sorbonne. He was a very 
small, very active old man, a trifle humpbacked, perpetually 
dressed in a suit of white flannel with thin black lines, patched and 
discoloured. The people of the country called him "Monsieur 
Seigno" and his friends called him "Captain." Words cannot 
indicate the charming devotion of which he was the object, nor, 
above all, by what characteristics of his nature he had deserved the 
veneration, tenderness and comradeship that surrounded him. 
This elderly bachelor had always had all men's friendship, and 
more wives than* any pasha: thirty, forty companions, of ages from 
two to eighty. . . . 

Marie went down to Taschen by a steep trail dominating the bay 
of Launay. Some fifteen initiates were already collected in front of 



PEACE HOLIDAYS AT LARCOUEST 305 

the house, dawdling as they waited for the daity embarkation for 
the islands. The appearance of Mme Curie aroused no emotion in 
this assembly, which was a sort of cross between a convoy of 
emigrants and a troupe of gipsies. Charles Seignobos, whose 
charming eyes were concealed behind the glasses of the near- 
sighted, saluted her with crusty friendliness: "Ah! Here's 
Madame Curie! Bonjour, bonjour!" A few other "bonjours" 
echoed, and Marie, sitting down on the ground, took her place in 
the circle. 

She wore a hat of washed-out linen, an old skirt and the 
indestructible swanskin pea-jacket which the woman "tailor" of 
the village, I.Jisa l.cfT, made according to a model which was the 
same for men and women, scientists and fishermen. Her feet were 
bare, in sandals. She placed in front of her a bag like fifteen other 
bags scattered about the grass, swollen with her bath-robe and 
bathing suit. 

A reporter suddenly finding himself in the midst of the peaceful 
group would have been overjoyed. He would have had to take 
great care not to step on some member of the Institute of France, 
lazily stretched out on the ground, or not to kick a Nobel Prize 
winner. Intellect was abundantly represented. . . . If you wanted 
to talk physics there were Jean Perrin, Marie Curie, Andr 
Debierne, Victor Auger. Mathematics, integral calculus? Apply 
to fimile Borel, draped in his bath-robe like a Roman emperor in 
his toga. Biology, astrophysics? Louis Lapique or Charles 
Maurain could answer you. And as for the enchanter, Charles 
Seignobos, the numerous children of the colony whispered to each 
other in terror that he "knew all his history." . . . 

But the miraculous thing about this assembly of scholars was 
that nobody ever talked physics, history, biology, or mathematics. 
Respect, hierarchies and even the conventions of politeness were 
forgotten here. Here, humanity was no longer divided into 
pontiffs and disciples, old and young: it was composed of exactly 
four categories of individuals. These were: the "philistines," the 
uninitiate strangers who strayed into the clan and had to be 
expelled as soon as possible; the "elephants," who were friends 
without great gifts for a nautical life, tolerated but made the 
victims of endless jokes; and then the Larcouestians who were 



3 o6 MADAME CURIE 

worthy of that name, the "sailors." Last of all came the super- 
sailors, technical experts on the currents in the bay, virtuosi of the 
crawl and of the rudder, denominated "crocodiles." Mme Curie, 
who had never been a "philistine," could hardly hope to attain the 
title of "crocodile." She had become a "sailor" after a short term 
as "elephant." 

Charles Seignobos counted his flock and gave the signal for 
departure. From the flotilla anchored near the sho.e two sail- 
boats and five or six rowboats Eve Curie and Jean Maurain, the 
cabin boys on duty, had detached this morning's choice, the "big 
boat" and the "English boat," and had sculled them alongside, 
where the capriciously cut rocks served as a natural landing place. 
The troop of navigators was already on the bank Seignobos, in his 
abrupt, gay and sarcastic voice, cried out: "All aboard! All 
aboard!" And, as the boats filled with passengers: "Which is the 
first crew? Pll row stroke! Madame Curie will row bow, Perrin 
and Borel go to the oars, and Francis will steer." 

These orders, which would have left many intellectuals per- 
plexed, were immediately followed. Four oarsmen all four 
professors at the Sorbonne and celebrities settled themselves 
on the banks and waited submissively for the orders of young 
Francis Perrin, the omnipotent master on board, since he was 
at the tiller. Charles Seignobos gave the first stroke and indi- 
cated the rhythm to his crew. Behind him, Jean Perrin pulled 
on his oar with such force that he made the boat swirl around. 
Emile Borel was behind Perrin, and behind Borel, in the bow, 
was Marie Curie. 

The white-and-green boat advanced regularly across the sunny 
sea. Severe but just criticisms by the young coxswain broke the 
silence: "Number two is slacking!" (fimile Borel tried to deny his 
fault, but soon resigned himself, and, forgetting his laziness, pulled 
harder at the oar.) "Bow is not following stroke!" (Marie 
Curie, confused, corrected her error and applied herself to the 
rhythm.) 

Mme Charles Maurain's beautiful, warm voice started the first 
notes of a "rowing song," soon taken up in chorus by the pas- 
sengers packed in behind: 



PEACE HOLIDAYS AT LARCOUEST 307 

"My father had a house built 
(Pully pull en your oars!) 
By tighty young masons . . ."* 

A light north-west wind the wind for fine weather carried 
the slow, cadenced melody toward the second boat, which had 
made headway and could be seen on the other side of the bay. The 
oarsmen in the English boat in their turn set up a chant, one of 
those three or four hundred old songs which formed the colony's 
repertory, and which Charles Seignobos taught to each new 
generation of Larcouesdans. 

Two or three songs brought the big boat to the point of La 
Trinite*. The helmsman consulted his watch and cried: ''The 
relief!" He did not care whether the oarsmen were tired or not, but 
the regulation ten minutes had passed since the start, and Marie 
Curie, Perrin, Borel and Seignobos gave up their places to four 
other members of the higher educational system. A new crew was 
nefccled to cut across the violent current in the channel and reach 
Roch Vras, the big violet-coloured rock, the deserted island 
where, nearly every morning, the Larcouesdans came to bathe. 

The men undressed near the empty boats, on the beach covered 
with brown seaweed, the women in a corner carpeted with slick, 
rubbery weeds, which had been called "the ladies' cabin" since the 
beginning. Marie reappeared among the first, in her black bathing 
suit, and made for the sea. The bank was steep, and no sooner had 
one plunged into the water than one was out of one's depth. 

1 he picture of Marie Curie swimming at Roch Vras in that cool 
deep water of ideal purity and transparence is one of the most 
delightful memories 1 have of my mother. She did not practise the 
"crawl" her daughters and their comrades loved. Methodically 
trained by Irene and Eve, she had learned an overarm stroke in 
good style. Her innate elegance and grace had done the rest. You 
forgot her grey hair, hidden under the bathing cap, and her 
wrinkled face, in admiring the slim, supple body, the pretty white 
arms and the lively, charming gestures of a young girl. 

* "Mpn prc a fait bfttir maison 
(Tirons done sur nos avironst) 
Par quatrc-vingt jcuncs masons . . ," 



5 o8 MADAME CURIE 

Mme Curie was extremely proud of her agility and of her 
aquatic talents; between her colleagues at the Sorbonne and herself 
there existed a concealed rivalry in sport. Marie observed scientists 
and their wives, in the little cove of Roch Vras, who swam with a 
respectable overhand stroke, or who floated in one place, flopping 
desperately, powerless to advance. She implacably counted the 
distances covered by her adversaries, and, without ever openly 
proposing a race, she put herself in training to break the records of 
speed and distance held by the university teaching body. Her 
daughters were at the same time her teachers and her confidants: 

"I think I can swim better than Monsieur Borel," Marie 
sometimes remarked. 

"Oh, a lot better, M6. There isn't any comparison!" 

"Jean Perrin gave a fine performance to-day. But I'd been 
farther than that yesterday, do you remember?" 

"I saw you. It was very good. You've made great progress 
since last year." 

She adored these compliments, which she knew to be sincere. 
At more than fifty years of age, she was one of the best swimmers of 
her generation. 

After her swim she would warm herself in the sun, eating a bit of 
dry bread as she waited for the moment to go back. She made 
little happy exclamations: "flow good it is!" Or else, before the 
thrilling picture of rocks, sky and water: "i low beautiful!" Such 
brief judgments were the only comments upon Larcouest that its 
colonists would tolerate. It was so well understood that this was 
the most delightful place in the world, that the sea was bluer here 
yes, blue, as blue as in the Mediterranean and more hospitable, 
more varied than anywhere else, that nobody ever spoke of it, any 
more than one could have spoken of the scientific genius of the 
notable I.arcoufcstians. Only "philistines" would wax lyrical over 
these subjects, and that not for long in the face of the general irony. 

Noon: The tide ebbed and the boats navigated prudently by the 
"Anterren channel" between blocks of weeds that looked like wet 
pastures. For the thousandth time the passengers noted the exact 
spot where the same boat, coming back from the same trip, had 
been caught by the ebb tide and marooned for four hours while its 
famished crew explored the deserted weeds in the hope of finding 



PEACE HOLIDAYS AT LARCOUEST 309 

smelts or shellfish. Song succeeded song, relief followed relief. 
Here at last, below the house of Taschen, was the shore, the 
landing place or rather the bank of seaweed which served as 
landing place at low tide. Feet and legs bare, sandals and bath-robe 
brandished aloft, Marie lifted her skirt and made her way bravely 
toward dry land through a black, smelly ooze in which she sank 
above the ankles. Any LarcouSstian who, through deference for 
her age, should have offered her help or asked to carry her bag, 
would have provoked her astonishment and disapproval. Nobody 
helped anybody here, and Article i of the law of the clan enjoined: 
"Take care of yourself !" 

The sailors separated and went to lunch. At two o'clock they 
would meet again at Taschen for the daily trip on the "Eglantine* 
the white-sailed yacht without which Larcoust would not be 
Larcoue*st. Mme Curie, this time, failed to answer the call. The 
idleness of a sailing boat wearied her. Alone in her lighthouse, 
deserted by her daughters, she would correct some scientific 
publication or else, getting out her tools, her spade and her 
pruning scissors, she would work in the garden. From these 
combats with gorse and briars, these mysterious plantation 
labours, she emerged scratched lintil the blood came, her legs 
striped with cuts, her hands earthy and full of thorns. It was a 
lucky day when the damage was no worse. Irene and Eve some- 
times found their enterprising mother with a sprained ankle or a 
finger half crushed by a misdirected blow of the hammer. 

Toward six o'clock Marie went down the landing for a second 
bathe and then, dressed again, she would go into Taschen by the 
ever-open door. In an arm-chair, behind the wide window which 
gave on the bay, was seated a very old, very witty and very pretty 
woman, Mme Marillier. She lived in the house and, from this 
place, watched every evening for the navigators' return. Marie 
waited with her, until the sails of the Eglantine appeared on the 
paling sea gilded by the setting sun. After the work of dis- 
embarkation the troop of passengers climbed up the rail. There 
were Irene and Eve, with- bronzed arms, in their cheap little dresses, 
their hair ornamented by red pinks from the garden which Charles 
Seignobos, according to an unalterable tradition, had given them 
before the trip started. Their shining glances spoke of the in- 



3 io MADAME tCURlE 

toxication of an excursion to the mouth of the Trieux or to the isle 
of Modez, where the short grass incited to exhausting games of 
prisoner's base. Everybody, even the seventy-year-old captain, 
took part in this game, in which diplomas and Nobel prizes 
counted for nothing. Scientists who were swift kept all their 
prestige, but the less agile ones had to endure the condescension of 
the "leaders" on each side and, in the exchange of prisoners, were 
treated like a rabble of slaves. 

These customs of children or savages, living half-naked in the 
water and the wind, were later to become the fashion and to 
intoxicate all classes from the richest to the poorest. But in those 
years just after the war they aroused the shocked criticisms of the 
uninitiate. In advance of the fashion by some fifteen years, we 
discovered beach life, swimming races, sun-bathing, camping out 
on deserted islands, the tranquil immodesty of sport. Little 
thought was given to appearance: a bathing suit a hundred times 
mended, a pea-jacket, two pairs of sandals, and two or three cotton 
dresses made at home, formed the summer wardrobe of Irene and 
Eve. Later on, in a decadent Larcouest invaded by "philistines" 
and oh, horror! robbed of its poetry by belching motor-boats, 
coquetry was to make its first appearance. 

After dinner Mme Curie, wrapped in a shaggy monk's cloak that 
she had owned for fifteen or twenty years, strode up and down, arm- 
in-arm with her daughters. By dark trails the three figures reached 
Taschen always Taschen! In the common room, for the third 
time in the day, the Larcouestians were assembled. They were 
playing "letters" around the big table. Marie, one of the cleverest 
at forming complicated words with paper letters drawn from a 
sack, was rated as a champion: the others quarrelled over which 
side should claim her. Other colonists, grouped around the 
paraffin lamps, read or played draughts. 

On gala days, amateur actor-authors played charades, songs with 
action, and revues in which the heroic events of the season were 
celebrated: an exciting race between two rival crews; the dangerous 
transportation of an enormous rock which had obstructed the 
landing place an operation on a big scale, carried out by a body of 
highly excited technical experts; the misdeeds of the east wind, 



PEACE- -HOLIDAYS AT LARCOUEST 311 

reviled by all; a tragic-comic shipwreck; the crimes of a ghostly 
badger, periodically accused of devastating the kitchen garden at 
Taschen. . . . 

How is one to suggest the unique charm made of light, of songs 
childish laughter, fine silences, of a free and unconstrained 
comradeship between young people and their eiders? This 
existence in which hardly anything ever happened, which cost 
almost nothing, and in which every day was like the day before, 
was to leave the richest of memories to Marie Curie and her 
daughters. In spite of the simplicity of the setting, it was always to 
represent to them the last word in luxury. No millionaire, on any 
beach, has been able to make the ocean yield up pleasures more 
vivid, rarer or more delicate than the clear-eyed sportsmen of the 
Sorbonne did in this corner of Brittany. And since the setting for 
the adventure was only a charming village charming like a great 
many others, no doubt the merit of the striking success must be 
attributed to the scientists who met there every year. 

Several times, in writing this biography, I have asked myself if 
the reader, thinking of other things he has read, will not stop to 
murmur, with a smile of irony: "Lord, what 'nice people' they all 
are! What candid hearts, what sympathy and confidence!" 

\Xell, yes. "Sympathetic characters" abound in this story. It is 
not my fault: they existed, and just as I have tried to depict them. 
Marie's companions, from those who witnessed her birth to the 
friends of her last days, would furnish very poor subjects for 
analysis to our novelists with their liking for dark colours. Strange, 
abnormal families, these Sklodovskis and Curies, in which parents 
and children did not hate each other, in which human beings were 
guided by tenderness, in which nobody listened at doors or 
dreamed of treacheries and inheritances, in which nobody mur- 
dered anybody in which everybody was, in fact, perfectly 
honest! Strange circles, these groups of French and Polish 
university people, imperfect like all human groups, but devoted to 
one ideal which was never to be altered by bitterness or perfidy. . . . 

I have spread the trump card of our Breton happiness upon the 
table. Perhaps shoulders may be shrugged at the thought that 
neither snobbishness nor quarrels ever secretly animated these 
enchanted summers. At Larcoue'st the most penetrating observer 



3i2 MADAME CURIE 

would have been quite incapable of distinguishing the great 
scientist from the modest research worker, the rich man from the 
poor. Never once, in the sun and waves of Brittany, did I hear 
anybody speak of money. Our elder, Charles Seignobos, set us the 
finest example: without proclaiming himself the champion of 
theories or of doctrines, this liberal old man had made his property 
the property of us all. The house with the open door, the yacht 
Egljntiiift the rowing boats, all belonged to him and still belong to 
him, but nobody is less their proprietor than himself. And when 
there was a dance in his dwelling, lighted by Huted paper lamps 
with candles inside, and the accordion played polkas, lancers and 
Breton peasant dances, the whirling couples were mixed without 
distinction of servants and employers, members of the Institute of 
France and the daughters of farmers, Breton sailors and Parisiennes. 
Our mother was a silent witness of these festivals. Her friends, 
who knew the vulnerable point of her timid character, so reserved 
and almost severe to approach, never faiku to tell her that Irene 
danced well or that Eve had on a pretty dress. And then suddenly, 
on the worn face of Marie Curie, there would appear an ingenuous 
and exquisite smile of pride. 



CHAPTER XXIII 



America 



OME morning in May, 1920, a lady was ushered into the tiny 
waiting-room of the Institute of Radium. She was called Mrs. 
William Brown Meloney, and she edited a great magazine in New 
York. It was impossible to see her as a business woman: she was 
small, very frail, almost an invalid; a childhood accident had made 
her slightly lame. She had grey hair and immense, poetic black 
eyes set in a lovely pale face. Trembling, she asked the servant who 
opened the door if Mme Curie had not forgotten the appointment 
with her. 

She had been waiting for this appointment for years. Mrs. 
Meloney was one of those beings, more and more numerous, 
whose imaginations were exalted by the life and work of Marie 
Curie. The scientist represented the highest vision of womanhood 
to her. And, as this American idealist was at the same time a great 
reporter, she made determined efforts to draw near to her idol. 

After several unanswered requests for an interview, Mrs. 
Meloney had sent Marie, through a scientist they both knew, a final 
letter of appeal containing the following words: 

"My father, who was a medical man, used to say that it was im- 
possible to exaggerate the unimportance of people. But you have 
been important to me for twenty years, and I want to see you for a 
few minutes." 

The next morning Marie received her at the laboratory. Mrs. 
Meloney afterwards wrote:.* 

In her preface to the American edition of Mme Curie's brief biography, 
PMITV Cur it. 

3*3 



3 i4 MADAME CURIE 

The door opened and I saw a pale, timid little woman in a black 
cotton dress, with the saddest face I had ever looked upon. Her 
kind, patient, beautiful face had the detached expression of a 
scholar. Suddenly I felt like an intruder. 

My timidity exceeded her own. I had been a trained interrogator 
for twenty years, but I could not ask a single question of this 
gentle woman in a black cotton dress. I tried to explain that 
American women were interested in her great work, and found 
myself apologising for intruding upon her precious time. To put 
me at my ease Mme Curie began to talk about America. 

"America," she said, "has about fifty grammes of radium. Four 
of them are in Baltimore, six in Denver, seven in New York." 
She went on, naming the location of every grain. 

"And in France?" J asked. 

"My laboratory has hardly more than a gramme." 

"}'?// have only a gramme?" 

"I? Oh, I have none. It belongs to my laboratory." 

... I suggested royalties on her patents. The revenue from 
such patents should have made her a very rich woman. Quietly, 
she said: 

"Radium was not to enrich anyone. Radium is an element. It 
belongs to all people." 

"If you had the whole world to choose from," I asked im- 
pulsively, "what would you take?" 

It was a silly question perhaps, but, as it happened, a fateful one. 

. . . That week I learned that the market price of a gramme of 
radium was one hundred thousand dollars. I also learned that 
Mme Curie's laboratory, although practically a new building, was 
without sufficient equipment; that the radium held there was used 
only for cancer treatment. 

The surprise, the amazement of this cultivated American woman 
must have been .extreme. Mrs. MeJoney knew the powerful 
laboratories of the United States from having visited them 
above all that of Edison, like a palace. After such grandiose 
establishments the Radium Institute, new and decent, but built on 
the modest scale of French university buildings, seemed very poor. 
Mrs. Mcloney also knew the Pittsburgh factories where the radium 



AMERICA 315 

ores were treated in mass. She remembered their plumes of black 
smoke and their long lines of cars laden with the carnotite which 
contained the precious matter. . . . 

Here, in Paris, in a badly furnished office, face to face with the 
woman who had discovered radium, she asked: "What would you 
like to possess most?" And Mme Curie replied gently: "I need a 
gramme of radium to continue my researches, but I cannot buy it: 
radium is too dear for me." 

Mrs. Meloney conceived of a magnificent plan: she wanted her 
compatriots to offer a gramme of radium to Marie Curie. On her 
return to New York she tried to persuade ten very rich women to 
give ten thousand dollars each to buy this present, but without 
success: she found only three Lady Bountifuls disposed to make 
such a gift. "But why look for ten rich women?" she then said to 
herself. "Why, not organise a subscription among all the women 
of America, rich and poor?" 

Nothing is impossible in the United States. Mrs. Meloney 
formed a committee whose active members were Mrs. William 
Vaughan Moody, Mrs. Robert G. Mead, Mrs. Nicholas F. Brady, 
and Drs. Robert Abbe and Francis Carter Wood. They launched a 
national campaign for the Marie Curie Radium Fund in all the 
cities of the New World, and less than a year after her visit to the 
"woman in the black cotton dress," Mrs. Meloney wrote to Mme 
Curie: "The money has been found, the radium is yours." 

The generous American women offered Marie Curie inestimable 
help; but in exchange they asked her gently, amicably: "Why 
should you not come to see us? We want to know you." 

Marie hesitated. She had always fled from the crowd. The trials 
and display of a visit to America, to the one country in the world 
which most thirsted after publicity, terrified her. 

Mrs. Meloney insisted and swept her objections away one by 
one. 

"You say you don't want to leave your daughters? We invite 
your daughters too. Ceremonies tire you? We shall draw up the 
most reasonable and limited programme of receptions. Come! 
\\ e shall make it a fine journey for you, and the gramme of radium 
will be solemnly presented to you at the White House by the 
President of the United States in person." 



3 i6 MADAME CURIE 

Mmc Curie was touched. To collect her gramme of radium and 
to thank America for it she conquered her fears and accepted for 
the first time in her life, at the age of fifty-four, the obligations of a 
great official journey. 

Her daughters, delighted with the adventure, made their 
preparations for departure. Eve made her mother buy a dress or 
two and persuaded her to leave her favourite costumes in Paris 
the most worn and faded ones. Everybody around Mme Curie was 
excited. The newspapers described the ceremonies which awaited 
Marie on the other side of the Atlantic, and the public authorities 
wondered what distinctions they could bestow upon the scientist 
so that she might arrive in the United States with official titles 
worthy of her great reputation. It was hardly comprehensible to 
Americans that Mme Curie should not be part of the Academy of 
Sciences of Paris. It was surprising that she did not have the cross 
of the Legion of Honour. . . . The cross of the Legion was 
quickly offered to her, but for the second time she refused it. She 
was later on to ask that the rank of chevalier be accorded to Mrs. 
Meloney. 

On the initiative of the periodical Je Sais Tnt a farewell cele- 
bration was given in Marie's honour at the Paris Grand Opera on 
April 2yth, 1921, for the benefit of the Radium Institute. 

Leon B6rard, Professor Jean Perrin and Dr. Claude Rcgaud 
made speeches, and afterward a programme was performed by the 
illustrious actors and musicians whom Sacha Guitry, the organiser 
of the ftte, had got together: Sarah Bernhardt, then aged 
and infirm, and Lucien Guitry associated themselves in this 
tribute. 

Some days later Mme Curie was on board the Olympic. Her two 
daughters were travelling with her. For the three women, for all 
their clothing, one trunk sufficed; but they occupied the most 
sumptuous apartment on the ship. Marie appreciated its comfort; 
nevertheless she made the instinctive grimace of a distrustful 
peasant before over- luxurious furniture and over-complicated 
food. Locked in her stateroom to escape those who would not 
leave her alone, she tried to forget her official mission by calling 
up the humble, peaceful memory of her ordinary life: 



AMERICA 317 

M me Curie to Mme Jean Perrin, May i otb y 1921: 
DEAR HENRIETTE, 

I found your sweet letter on board, and it did me good, for it is 
not without apprehension that I have left France to go on this 
distant frolic, so little suited to my taste and habits. 

I didn't like the crossing; the sea was gloomy, dark and tur- 
bulent. Without being sick, I was diz^y, and I stayed in my cabin 
most of the time. My daughters seem to. be very corftented. Mrs. 
Meloney, who is travelling with us, does everything she can to get 
friendly with them. She is as amiable and as kind as it is possible to 
be. 

... I think of Larcouest, of the good time we shall soon be 
having there with our friends, of the garden where you will come 
to spend a few peaceful hours, and of the sweet blue sea that we 
both love, which is more hospitable than this cold, taciturn ocean. 
I am thinking, too, of the child your daughter expects, who will be 
the youngest member of our group of friends, the first of the new 
generation. After this one, I hope, there will be born a great many 
more children of our children. ... 

New York, delicate, bold and lavishing, appeared through a 
haze of fine weather. Mrs. Meloney, who had crossed with the 
Curie family, came to warn Marie that the journalists, photo- 
graphers and cinema operators were waiting for her. An enormous 
mob, massed upon the landing pier, was on the watch for the 
scientist's arrival. These countless curious ones were to paw the 
ground for five hours before they saw her whom the newspapers, 
in giant headlines, were calling the "benefactress of the human race" 
Battalions of Girl Scouts and schoolgirls could be distinguished 
and a delegation of three hundred women waving red and white 
roses: they represented the Polish organisations of the United 
States. The bla/ing colours of the American, French and Polish 
flags floated above thousands of crowded shoulders and eager 
faces. 

On the boat deck of the Olympic Marie was installed in a big arm- 
chair. Her hat and handbag were taken away from her. Imperious 
shouts from the photographers "Look this way, Mmc Curiel 
Turn your head to the rightl Lift your headl Look this wayt This 



3 r8 MADAME CURIE 

way!" rose above the incessant clicking of the forty photographic 
and cinematographic machines focused in a threatening semi-circle 
upon that astonished and tired face. 

Irene and Fve served as bodyguard throughout these exhausting 
and fascinating weeks. The t\vo girls were not able to form a very 
clear idea of the United States from their journeys in a private car, 
dinners for five hundred people, the ovations of mobs and the 
assaults of reporters. More freedom and more calm are needed 
before the charm of such a great country can be penetrated. This 
tour in the Barnum manner could teach them little about America: 
but in compensation it gave them certain revelations on their own 
mother. . . . 

The determined efforts of Mmc Curie to stay in the shadows 
had been partially crowned with success in France: the patient 
enemy to fame had succeeded in convincing her compatriots, and 
even those who came nearest her, that a great scientist was not an 
important personage. From the time of their arrival in New York 
the veil fell and the reality appeared: Irene and Eve discovered all 
at once what the retiring woman with whom they had always lived 
meant to the world. 

Every speech, every movement of the mob, every article in the 
newspapers brought the same message; even before knowing her, 
the Americans had surrounded Mme Curie with an almost 
religious devotion and had placed her in the first rank of living 
men and women. Now that she was here among them, thousands 
of beings were subjected to the "SIMPLE CHARM OF TIRED 
VISITOR," and felt the pangs of love at first sight for the "JusT 
TIMID LITTLE WOMAN/' the "PLAINLY DRESSED SCIENTIST." 

I cannot dream of pretending to define the soul of a people, and 
it goes without saying I do not judge America by its news- 
paper headlines. Just the same, the irrepressible rush of enthusiasm 
with which the men and women of the United States welcomed 
Marie Curie was not without its profound meaning. The Latin 
peoples grant the Americans practical genius, but at the same time, 
by singular vanity, reserve to themselves a monopoly regarding 
idealism, sensibility and the dream world. Nevertheless it was a 
wave of idealism that broke at the feet of Marie Curie. A Mmc 



AMERICA 319 

Cijrie sure of herself, haughty, enriched by her scientific dis~ 
coveries might perhaps have provoked curiosity in the United 
States; but she would not have aroused this collective tenderness. 
Above and beyond the frightened scientist, the Americans were 
acclaiming an attitude to life which moved them deeply: the scorn 
for gain, devotion to an intellectual passion, and the desire to 
serve. 

In Mrs. Meloney' s apartment, overflowing with flowers a 
horticulturist who had been cured of cancer by radium had been 
lovingly at work for two months growing the magnificent roses he 
now sent Marie a council of war drew up the programme for the 
journey. All the cities, all the colleges and all the universities of 
America had invited Mme Curie to visit them. Medals, honorary 
titles, and doctorates honoris caitta were awaiting her by the 
dozen. . . . 

"Naturally you've brought your cap and gown?" Mrs. Meloney 
asked. " They are indispensable for these ceremonies." 

Marie's innocent smile provoked general consternation. She 
had not brought a university gown, for the excellent reason that 
she had never owned one. The masters of the Sorbonne are 
obliged to have a gown, but MmeCurie, the only professor of her 
sex, had left the pleasures of ordering such dress to the gentlemen. 

A tailor, called in without delay, hastily ran up the majestic 
vestment of black silk with velvet facings on which were to be 
placed the brilliant hoods which accompany the doctor's degree. 
When she tried it on Marie grew agitated, snorted impatiently, 
asserted that the sleeves embarrassed her, that the stuff was too hot 
and above all that the silk irritated her poor fingers, ruined by 
radium. 

On May 1 3th, at last everything was ready. After a luncheon at 
Mrs. Andrew Carnegie's and a rapid tour of New York, Mme 
Curie, Mrs, Meloney, Irene and Eve departed on their meteoric 
journey. 

White-robed girls in line along the sunny roads; girls running by 
the thousand across grassy slopes to meet Mme Curie's carriage; 
girls waving flags and flowers, girls on parade, cheering, singing in 
chorus. . . . such was the dazzling vision of the first days, 



320 MADAME CURIE 

devoted to the women's colleges, Smith, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, 
Mount Holyoke. It had been a good, a very good idea to domesti- 
cate Marie Curie by introducing her first of all to an enthusiastic 
youth, to the girl students, her equals. 

Delegates from these same colleges appeared some days later at 
Carnegie Hall in New York at the huge gathering of the As- 
sociation of University Women. They bowed before Marie and 
each offered her a flower, one an "American Beauty" rose, and the 
next a lily. In the presence of American professors, the French and 
Polish ambassadors, and Ignace Padercwski, who had come to 
applaud his comrade of the old days, Mme Curie received titles, 
prizes, medals and what was then an exceptional distinction, the 
freedom of the city of New York. 

At the ceremonies on the next two days, when five hundred and 
seventy- three representatives of the American scientific societies 
were gathered at the Waldorf Astoria to greet her, Marie was 
already staggering with fatigue. Between the robust, noisy, 
ardently demonstrative crowd and a frail woman who had left the 
life of a convent the struggle was unequal. Marie was stunned by 
the noise and the acclamations. 1 he staring of innumerable people 
frightened her, as did the violence with which the public jostled to 
get a look when she passed through. She was vaguely afraid of 
being crushed in one of these terrible eddies. A fanatic was soon to 
injure her hand badly by an over-fervent shake, and the scientist 
was to complete her journey with one wrist bandaged and the arm 
in a sling a casualty of fame. 

The great day arrived. "PAY TRIBUTE TO HER WORK . . . 
HOMAGE TO GENIUS . . . BRILLIANT COMPANY AT WHITE HOUSE 
HONOURS NOTED WOMAN" . . . On May 2oth, in Washington, 
President Harding presented Mme Curie with her gramme of 
radium or rather with its symbol. A lead-lined casket had been 
specially built to contain the tubes; but these tubes were so precious 
and also so dangerous, by their radiation that they had been 
left safe in the factory. It was a coffer containing "imitation 
radium" that was exposed on a table in the middle of the East 
Room, where the diplomats and high officials of the magistracy, 
army and navy gathered with representatives of the universities. 



AMERICA 321 

Four o'clock. A double door opened for the entrance of the 
procession: Mrs. Harding on the arm of M. Jusserand, the French 
ambassador; Mme Curie on President Harding's arm; then Mrs. 
Meloney, Irene and Eve Curie, and the ladies of the "Marie Curie 
Committee." 

The speeches began. The last was that of the President of the 
United States. He addressed himself cordially to the "noble 
creature, the devoted wife and loving mother who, aside from her 
crushing toil, had fulfilled all the duties of womanhood." He 
presented Marie with a roll of parchment tied with a tri-colour 
ribbon, and passed over her head a slight silken cord on which was 
hanging a tiny gold key: the key to the coffer. 

Marie's brief words of gratitude were listened to religiously; 
then, in a happy rustle of commotion, the guests passed into the 
Blue room to file in front of the scientist. Mme Curie, seated in a 
chair, smiled silently at those who, one by one, advanced toward 
her. Her daughters shook hands in her place, and pronounced the 
formulas of politeness in English, Polish or French, according to 
the nationalities of the persons Mrs. Harding presented to them. 
Afterwards the procession formed again and went out on to the 
steps, where an army of photographers waited. 

The privileged ones who were present at this celebration and 
the journalists who proclaimed that the "Discoverer tf ^adiunt Is 
G : ven Priceless Treasure by American Friends" would have been 
surprised to learn that Marie Curie had got rid of her gramme of 
radium before President Harding presented it to her. On the eve 
of the ceremony, when Mrs. Meloney submitted the deed of gift 
for her approval, she read the document carefully. Then she said 
with composure: 

"This paper must be modified. The radium offered me by 
America must belong to science. So long as I am alive, it goes 
without saying that I shall use it only for scientific work. But if 
we leave things in this state, the radium would become the 
property of private persons after my death of my daughters. 
This is impossible. I want to make it a gift to my laboratory. Can 
we call in a lawyer?" 

"Well, yes, of course," said Mrs. Meloney, a little taken aback. 
"If you like, we can sec to these formalities next week," 



322 MADAME CURIE 

"Not next week. Not to-morrow. To-night The act of gift 
will soon be valid, and I may die in a few hours." 

A man of law, discovered with some difficulty at this late hour, 
drew up the additional legal paper with Marie. She signed it at 
once. 

Before leaving the capital Mme Curie had to inaugurate the new 
low- temperature Laboratory of Mines in Washington. At the last 
moment the engineers were warned that she would be too tired to 
go down into the engine rooms, and, by quick improvisation, they 
created an ingenious arrangement for her use: she was to press an 
ordinary electric switch and all the motors would start at the same 
time. The ceremony took place as scheduled. The speaker, in 
front of a microphone said what he had to say, and then added in a 
loud voice: "Now Mme Curie will start the machines in this 
laboratory." 

There were a few seconds of waiting. The assistants made 
despairing signs at the scientist without attracting her attention. 

Marie was absorbed in the contemplation of a magnificent 
specimen of carnotite which had been offered her five minutes 
earlier, which she was turning over and over in her hands in order 
to admire it from all sides. In thqught she must have been already 
choosing the exact spot, the shelf in the Radium Institute of Paris 
where tliis very rare specimen would be placed. 

A renewed announcement from the speaker and some respectful 
digs of the elbow were necessary to bring her back from Paris to 
Washington. Embarrassed, she hastily pressed the magic button 
and thus reassured the thousands of invisible listeners who had 
been surprised by the unexpected hitch. 

Philadelphia. Honorary titles. Doctorates. Presents were 
exchanged between Mme Curie and the scientific and industrial 
notables of the city: the owner of a factory gave the scientist fifty 
milligrammes of mesothorium. 7 he members of the American 
Philosophical Society bestowed the John Scott Medal on her. Asa 
mark of gratitude, Marie presented this society with a "historic" 
piezoelectric quartz, made and used by her during her first years of 
research. 

She visited the radium factory in Pittsburgh, where her famous 



AMERICA 323 

gramme had been isolated. Another doctor's degree at the uni- 
versity. . . . Marie wore her university gown, which was be- 
coming and comfortable, but she refused to cover her grey hair 
with the traditional mortar-board, which she thought hideous and 
accused of "not staying on." She remained bareheaded, hat in 
hand, in the midst of the crowd of students and professors crowned 
with their stiff black mortar-boards. The most experienced 
coquette could not have calculated her effect better. Marie had no 
idea of the immaterial beauty of her face among all these black- 
framed faces. 

She stiffened in order not to fall during the ceremony; she 
received bouquets, listened to speeches, hymns and choruses. . . . 
But on the next morning the news that had been feared was made 
public: Mme Curie was too weak to continue her journey. On the 
advice of her doctors, she gave up her tour in the cities of the West, 
where the receptions arranged in her honour were cancelled. 

The American journalists, in an effervescent mea cu1pa y imme- 
diately accused their country of having inflicted trials beyond her 
strength upon an aged and delicate woman. Their articles were 
charming in spontaneity and picturcsqueness. 

"Too MUCH HOSPITALITY," one newspaper proclaimed in 
enormous letters-. "The American women showed fine intelligence 
when they came to the aid of the scientist, but bitter critics might 
well say that we had made Mme Curie pay with her own tiesh for 
our gift, for the mere satisfaction of our pride." Jn another paper 
it was boldly asserted that "any circus or variety manager would 
have offered Mme Curie much more money for half as much 
work." Pessimists took the event tragically. "We have already 
almost killed Marshal Joffre by our excess of enthusiasm. Are we 
going to kill Mme Curie too?" 

Marie had been frank and unreserved with her American 
admirers and these latter had won the first round. From now on 
the organisers of the journey were to use every ruse to conserve 
her strength. Mme Curie acquired the habit of getting out of trains 
by the back way and crossing the rails in order to avoid the excited 
crowd that awaited her on the platform. When her arrival was 
announced at Buffalo she stopped at the station before Niagara 
Falls to visit the celebrated cascade in peace. It was a short 



5 i4 MADAME CURIE 

respite. The reception committee in Buffalo had not given up hope 
of seeing Marie Curie. Motor cars streamed toward Niagara Falls 
and caught the fugitive there. . . . 

Irene and Eve, who were at first simple members of the escort, 
became what in theatrical slang is calk J "doubles." Irene, dressed 
in the university gown, received degrees honoris causa in place of 
Mme Curie. Grave orators addressed to Eve a girl of sixteen 
the speeches they had prepared for the scientist, speaking to her 
of her "magnificent work," of her "long life of toil," and expected 
a pertinent reply from her. In cities where several ladies of the 
committee were disputing the honour of sheltering Marie, the 
Curie family was split asunder, and Irene and Eve were given as 
hostages to the most insistent hostesses. 

When they were not representing their over- famous mother, the 
girls were sometimes offered amusements suited to their age: a 
party of tennis or boating, an elegant week-end on Long Island, 
an hour's swimming in Lake Michigan, a few evenings at the 
theatre, and a night of wild delight at the colossal amusement park 
at Coney Island. 

But the most thrilling days were those on the journey to the 
West. Mrs. Meloney, who had given up the idea of having Mme 
Curie visit the whole of America, nevertheless wanted to show her 
the most astonishing marvel of the continent: the Grand Canyon 
of the Colorado. Marie was too tired to show her pleasure very 
strongly, but her daughters were carried away by enthusiasm. 
Everything amused them: the three days on the train by the Santa 
FC* line, across the sands of Texas: the exquisite meals in solitary 
little stations under a Spanish sun; the hotel at the Grand Canyon, 
an islet of comfort on the edge of that extraordinary gash in the 
earth's crust a precipice sixty-five miles long and ten miles wide, 
of which the first sight, grandiose and almost terrifying, leaves the 
spectator voiceless. 

Irene and Eve, mounted on hard Indian ponies, wandered 
along the crest of the chasm, and, from on high, watched the 
motionless chaos of mountains, rocks and sand pass from violet 
to red, from orange to pale ochre, enriched by rough shadows. 
Unable to resist, they soon adopted the classic itinerary and 
went down on mule-bade to the bottom of the canyon, where, 



AMERICA 3*5 

over mud and stones, the young Colorado rolled impetuously. 

Only the most important ceremonies, the indispensable ones, 
had been carried out and yet they would have sufficed to exhaust 
the most robust athlete. On May z8th, in New York, Mme Curie 
became a doctor honoris causa of Columbia University. In Chicago 
she was made an honorary member of the University of Chicago, 
received several degrees and was present at three receptions. At 
the first of these a large ribbon, stretched like a barrier, separated 
Mme Curie and her daughters from the crowd which filed past 
before them. At the second, in which the "Marseillaise," the 
Polish national hymn, and the "Star-Spangled Banner" were sung 
in turn, Marie almost disappeared under the heaps of flowers her 
admirers had brought. -The last reception surpassed all others in 
fervour: it was given in the Polish quarter of Chicago for a public 
entirely composed of Poles. These imigrtt were acclaiming one 
who was no longer a scientist, but the symbol of their far-away 
fatherland. Men and women in tears tried to kiss Marie's hands 
or to touch her dress. 

On June i?th Mme Curie had to own herself beaten for the 
second time and interrupt her course. Her blood-pressure, which 
was terribly low, disturbed the doctors. Marie obtained some rest 
and recuperated enough to go to Boston and New Haven, to the 
universities of Harvard, Yale, Wellesley, Simmons and Radclifle. 
On June 2 8th she embarked on the Olympic^ where her cabin was 
piled high with telegrams and masses of flowers. 

The name of another great "star" from France was soon to 
replace hers in the headlines of the newspapers: tne boxer Georges 
Carpenticr, preceded by his immense reputation, had just arrived 
in New York, and the reporters were in despair at their inability 
to extract from Mme Curie the slightest opinion upon the probable 
result of his match with Dempsey. . . . 

Marie was very tired and, to tell the truth, very content. In her 
letters she rejoiced at having "made a very small contribution to 
the friendship of America for France and Poland," and quoted the 
phrases of sympathy for her two fatherlands which had been 
pronounced by President Harding and Vice-President Coolidge. 
But the most stubborn modesty could not conceal from her the 



3 26 MADAME CURIE 

feet that her personal success in the United States had been 
enormous, that she had conquered the heart of millions of 
Americans and the sincere affection of all those who had come near 
her. Mrs. Meloney was to remain for her, up to the last day, the 
tenderest, most devoted of friends. 

Marie Curie retained confused impressions of her exceptional 
expedition, lighted up brilliantly here and there by certain 
memories of special vividness. She was struck by the activity 
of American university life, by the brilliance and gaiety of the 
traditional ceremonies, and above all by the excellent conditions 
under which the students of the colleges practised sport and 
physical development. 

She was impressed by the colossal power of the associations of 
women which had feted her throughout her journey. 

Finally, the perfect equipment of the scientific laboratories, and 
that of the numerous hospitals in which Curietherapy was utilised 
for the cure of cancer, left a little bitterness in her. She thought 
with discouragement that in this very year 1921 France still did 
not possess a single hospital given over to radium treatment. 

The stock of radium which she had come to seek left America 
on the same ship with her, well sheltered behind the complicated 
locks of the purser's safe. This symbolic gramme inspires certain 
reflections upon the career of Marie Curie. In order to buy the tiny 
particle, it had been necessary to organise a campaign of magnifi- 
cent begging across a whole continent. Marie had to appear in 
person in the philanthropic cities and offer her thanks. . . . 

How can one not be obsessed bv the idea that a simple signature 
given on a patent years ago would have been altogether more 
effective? How can one avoid tninking that a rich Marie Curie 
could have given laboratories and hospitals to her country? I lad 
twenty years of struggle and difficulties given Marie any regret? 
Had they convinced her that by disdaining wealth she had 
sacrificed the development of her work to a chimera? 

In some short autobiographical notes drawn up after her return 
from America Mme Curie asked herself these questions. She 
answered them: 

A large number of my friends affirm, not without valid reasons, 




MAKMI (I'kir WITH 1)1 'AN I'l'r.RAM. Dl'AN ( )l Till' 
S( !!()( )l ol IINC.INI I'RIN(^, AT C'Ol.l'MhlA 



AMERICA 327 

that if Pierre Curie and I had guaranteed our rights, we should nave 
acquired the financial means necessary to the creation of a satis- 
factory radium institute, without encountering the obstacles which 
were a handicap to both of us, and which are still a handicap for 
me. Nevertheless, I am still convinced that we were right. 

Humanity certainly needs practical men, who get the most out 
of their work, and, without forgetting the general good, safeguard 
their own interests. But humanity also needs dreamers, for whom 
the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating 
that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their 
own material profit. 

Without the slightest doubt, these dreamers do not deserve 
wealth, because they do not desire it. Even so, a well-organised 
society should assure to such workers the efficient means of 
accomplishing their task, in a life freed from material care and 
freely consecrated to research. 



CHAPTER XXIV 



Full Bloom 



I BELIEVE the journey to America had taught my mother something. 

Jt had shown her that the voluntary isolation in which she 
coniincd herself was paradoxical. As a student she might shut 
herself in a garret with her hooks, and as an isohted research 
worker might cut herself ofi from the century and concentrate 
entirely on her personal work and indeed she had to do so. But 
Mme Curie at fifty -five was something other than a student or a 
research worker; Marie was responsible for a new science and a 
new system of therapeutics. The prestige of her name was such 
that by a simple gesture, by the mere act of being present, she could 
assure the success of some project of general interest that was dear 
to her. From now on she was to reserve a place in her life for these 
exchanges and these missions. 

J shall not describe all Mane's journeys: they were much alike. 
Scientific congresses, lectures, university ceremonies and visits to 
laboratories called Mme Curie to a large number of capitals. She 
was feted and acclaimed in them all. She tried to make herself 
useful. Too often she was obliged to struggle against the weak- 
nesses of her uncertain health. 

When she had fulfilled her official duties, her best reward was to 
discover new landscapes and to satisfy her curiosity for nature. 
Thirty years of dry work had only viviiied her pagan adoration for 
the beauty of the world. The trip across the South Atlantic on a 
quiet little Italian steamer gave her childlike pleasure: 

We have seen some flying fish [she wrote to Eve]. We have 

328 



FULL BI.OCM 329 

seen that our shadow can be reduced to almost nothing, and we 
have had the sun on our heads. And then we have seen the known 
constellations disappear into the sea: the Polar star, the Big Bear. 
In the south has emerged the Southern Cross, a very beautiful 
constellation. I know hardly anything about the stars one sees in 
the heavens here. . . . 

Four weeks at Rio de Janeiro, where she had gone with Irene to 
deliver some lectures, were an agreeable interlude. Every morning 
incognita she swam in the bay. In the afternoons she made 
excursions on foot, by motor and even in a hydroplane 

Jtaly, Holland and F.ngland welcomed her on several occasions. 
In 1932 she and Eve made a dazzling, never-to-be-forgotten 
journey across Spain. President Masaryk, a peasant like herself, 
invited her to his country house in Czechoslovakia. In Brussels, 
where she regularly attended the Solvay congresses, she was not 
treated as a distinguished stranger but as a friend and neighbour. 
She loved these meetings, in which those whom she called fin one 
of her letters) "the lovers of Physics" discussed discoveries and 
new theories. Usually such sojourns ended with a dinner or a visit 
with the sovereigns: King Albert and Queen Elizabeth, whom 
Marie had known on the Belgian front, honoured her with their 
charming friendship. 

1 here was not a corner of the world where her name was not 
known. In an old provincial capital of China, in the temple of 
Confucius at Taiyuan-fu, there was a portrait of Mme Curie, placed 
there among the "benefactors of humanity" by the wise men of the 
country, along with Descartes, Newton, the Buddhas and the great 
emperors of China. . . . 

On May I5th, 1922, by unanimous vote, the Council of the 
league of Nations named "Mme Curie-Sklodovska" a member of 
the International Committee on Intellectual Co-operation. "Mme 
Curie-Sklodovska" accepted. 

This was an important date in Mane's life. Since she had become 
celebrated, hundreds of charities, leagues and associations had 
asked her for the support of her name. She had never once 
accorded it. Marie did not want to become a member of com- 



33Q MADAME CURIE 

mittees in which she did not have time to do actual work. And, 
above all, she desired to maintain an absolute political neutrality 
in all circumstances. She refused to abdicate her high title as "pure 
scientist" to throw herself into the welter of political controversy 
and even the most inoffensive manifesto could never obtain her 
signature. 

The adherence of Mme Curie to the League of Nations effort 
therefore assumed special significance. It was to be her only 
infidelity to scientific research. 

The International Committee on Intellectual Co-operation 
included brilliant personalities: Bergson, Gilbert Murray, Jules 
Destree, Albert r.instein, Professor Lorentz, Paul Painlcve, and 
many others. Marie was to become its vice-president. She was 
to be a member of several committees of experts, as well as of the 
directors' committee of the Institute of Intellectual Co-operation 
in Paris. 

It would show small knowledge of this practical idealist to 
imagine her in ecstasy before the vain jugglery of general ideas. 
Marie Curie worked at Geneva and once again she succeeded in 
serving science. 

She was struggling against whit she called the "anarchy of 
scientific work" in the world, and tried to obtain an agreement 
among her confreres on a certain number of precise cjuestions, 
humble in appearance, but on which the progress of knowledge 
depended: the international co-ordination of bibliography, to 
permit the worker to familiarise himself with other workers' 
results in his own domain; the unification of scientific symbols and 
terminology, of the format of scientific publications, and of the 
accounts of research work published in reviews; and the creation 
of the Tables of Constants. 

Instruction in universities and laboratories claimed her attention 
for a long time. She would have liked to perfect its methods. She 
advocated "directed work" which should co-ordinate the efforts 
of research workers, and suggested a system of relationship 
between the chiefs, a true general staff which would guide scientific 
operations on the European continent. 

All her life she had been obsessed by a certain thought: that 
of the intellectual gifts ignored and wasted in the classes 



FULL BLOOM 331 

unfavoured by fortune. In this peasant or that workman was 
hidden perhaps a writer, a scientist, a painter, a musician. . . . 
Marie was obliged to limit her activity. She devoted k altogether 
to the development of international scientific scholarships. 

What is society's interest? [she asks in one of her reports]. 
Should it not favour the development of scicntic vocations? Ts it, 
then, rich enough to sacrifice those which are offered? I believe, 
rather, that the collection of aptitudes recnnred for a genuine 
scientific vocation is an infinitely precious and delicate thing, a rare 
treasure which it is criminal and absurd to lose, and over which we 
must watch with solicitude, so as to give it every cnance of fruition. 

And finally paradox of paradoxes! the physicist who had 
always avoided material profit for herself became the champion of 
"scientific property" for her confreres: she wanted to establish a 
copyright for scientists, so as to reward the disinterested work 
which serves as a basis for industrial applications. Her dream was 
thus to find a remedy for the poverty of the laboratories by obtain- 
ing subsidies for pure research from the profits of commerce. 

Once only, in 1933, she abandoned these practical questions and 
went to Madrid to preside over a debate on "The Future of 
Culture," in which writers and artists of all countries took part: 
"Don Quixotes of the spirit, who are fighting their windmills," 
Paul Valery, the initiator of the meeting, called them. She 
astonished her colleagues by her courteous authority and by the 
originality of her interpositions. The members of the congress 
were filled with alarm, denouncing the perils of specialisation and 
standardisation, and they made science in part responsible for the 
"crisis of culture" in the world. Here again we see Marie Curie 
the most quixotic, perhaps, of all the Don Quixotes present 
defending, with the same faith as of old, the love of research and 
the spirit of adventure and enterprise, in short, the passions which 
had guided her life always: 

I am among those who think that science has great beauty [she 
told her interlocutors], A scientist in his laboratory is not only a 
technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena 



332* MADAME CURIE 

which impress him like a fairy tale. We should not allow it to be 
believed that all scientific progress can be reduced to mechanisms, 
machines, gearings, even though such machinery also has its own 
beauty. 

Neither do I believe that the spirit of adventure runs any risk of 
disappearing in our world. If 1 see anything vital around me, it is 
precisely that spirit of adventure which seems indestructible and 
is akin to curiosity. . . . 

The struggle for an international culture, respecting the different 
national cultures; the defence of personality and talent wherever 
they are to be found; the struggle to "strengthen the great spiritual 
strength of science in the world"; the struggle for "moral disarma- 
ment" and for peace such were the combats in which Mme Curie 
eng-. g :d, without having the vanity to hope for an early victory. 

Marie Curie to Ere Curi*, J't/y, 1919: 

I believe international work is a heavy task, but that it is never- 
theless indispensable to go through an apprenticeship in it, at the 
cost of many efforts and also of a real spirit of sacrifice: however 
imperfect it may be, the work of Geneva has a gran leur which 
deserves support. 

Two, three, four journeys to Poland. . . . 

Mme Curie did not return to her own people in search of rest or 
to forget care. Since Poland had become free again, Marie had been 
haunted by a great project: she wanted Warsaw to possess a 
radium institute, a centre for scientific research and the treatment 
of cancer. 

Her stubbornness alone was not enough to conquer the diffi- 
culties. Poland, convalescing from a long enslavement, was poor: 
poor in money and poor in technicians. And Marie had not tinte 
to make all the arrangements herself or to collect the funds. 

The ally who was at her side at the first call hardly need be 
named. Bronya, weighed down by age, but as enthusiastic and 
valiant as thirty years ago, flung herself into the \vork. She was at 
the same time architect, agent and treasurer. . . . The countryside 
was soon flooded with posters and with stamps bearing Marie's 



FULL BLOOM 333 

iice. Money was asked for or rather, bricks: "Buy a brick for the 
Marie Sklodovska- Curie Institute!" was the injunction, on thou- 
sands of postcards reproducing, in facsimile, the written declara- 
tion of the scientist: "My most ardent desire is the creation of an 
institute of radium in Warsaw." This campaign had the generous 
support of the State, of the city of Warsaw and of the most 
important Polish institutions. 

The stock of bricks grew larger . . . and in 1925 Marie went 
to Warsaw to lay the corner stone of the institute. Jt was a 
triumphal visit: memories of the past, promises for the future. 
. . . The fervour of a whole people accompanied the woman who 
was called, by one of the orators, "the first lady-in-waiting of our 
gracious sovereign, the Polish Republic." The universities, the 
academies and the cities bestowed their finest honorary titles on 
her, and Marshal Pilsudski became her cordial friend in a few days. 
On a sunny morning the president of the republic laid the first 
stone of the institute, Mme Curie the second, and the mayor of 
Warsaw the third. . . . 

There was no orficial stiffness in these ceremonies. It was not 
out of simple politeness that the head of the state, Stanislav 
Wojciechowski, expressed his amazement at the perfection with 
which Marie spoke her native language after such a long exile, 
fie had been Mile Sklodovska's comrade in Paris; anecdotes 
tumbled out, one after the other. 

"Do you remember the little travelling cushion you lent me 
thirty-three years ago when I went back to Poland on a secret 
political mission?" the president asked Marie. "It was very useful!" 

"I even remember," Marie answered, laughing, "that you forgot 
to return it to me." 

And M. Kotarbinski, that very old, very celebrated actor, who 
addressed a compliment to Mme Curie from the stage of the 
crowded Popular Theatre, was in fact the same M. Kotarbinski for 
whom the happy adolescent Manya had woven chaplets of field 
flowers long ago at Xwola. . . . 

The years passed; the bricks became walls. Marie and Bronya 
were not at the end of their efforts: although each had given to the 
institute a good part of her savings, money was lacking for the 
& tock of radium with which cancer treatment could be be^un. 



334 MADAME CURIE 

Marie did not lose courage: she explored the horizon and turned 
again toward the West toward the United States where she had 
once been so magnificently helped, and toward Mrs. Meloney. The 
generous American woman knew that the institute in Warsaw was 
as dear to Marie's heart as her own laboratory. She accomplished 
a new miracle, and collected the money necessary for the purchase 
of a gramme of radium the second gramme given by America 
to Mme Curie. The events of 1921 repeated themselves: in October 
1929 Marie took ship again for New York, to thank America in the 
name of Poland. As in 1921, she was overwhelmed with honours. 
In the course of this visit she was the guest of President Ploover 
and stayed at the White House for several days. 

I have been given a little ivory elephant, very sweet, and another 
tiny one [she wrote to Eve]. It seems that this animal is the symbol 
of the Republican party, and the \\ hite I louse is full of elephants 
of all dimensions, isolated or in groups. . . . 

America, devastated by the economic crisis, was in graver mood 
than in 1921, but its welcome was none the less warm. On her 
birthday the scientist received hundreds of presents sent her by 
unknown friends: rlowers, books, objects, cheques intended for 
the laboratory and even -as presents from physicists a galvano- 
meter, some ampoules of "radon," and some specimens of rare 
earths. Before taking the ship again, Marie, piloted fraternally by 
Mr. Owen D. Young, visited St. Lawrence University, where a 
magnificent figure of Mme Curie stands in sculptured low relief 
upon the entrance door. She was present at Edison's jubilee: all 
the speeches, and even the message sent from the South Pole by 
Commander Byrd, contained tributes to her. 

On May 29th, 1952, the work performed in common by Marie 
Curie, Bronya Dluska and the Polish State was brought to its 
crowning point: in the presence of M. Moscicki, president of the 
republic a chemical colleague and friend of Marie's of Mme 
Curie and of Professor Regaud, the imposing Radium Institute of 
Warsaw was inaugurated. Bronya's practical sense and good taste 
had made it spacious, with harmonious lines. For several months it 
had already been admitting patients for treatment by Curictherapy. 



FULL BLOOM 335 

This was the last time Marie was to see Poland, the old streets 
of her native town, and the Vistula, which she went to gaze at 
nostalgically on every visit, almost with remorse. In her letters to 
Eve she describes again and again this water, this land, these stones, 
to which she was attached by the most violent, primitive instinct. 

I went for a \valk alone toward the Vistula yesterday morning. 
. . . The river winds lazily along its wide bed, bluish green near at 
hand but nra^e bluer far or! by the reflection of the sky. The most 
adorable san.lbanLs, sparkling in the sun, are stretched out here 
and there, determining the capricious course of the water. On the 
edges of these banks, a piping of brilliant light marks the limit of 
the deeper water. 1 feel an irresistible desire to go and loiter on one 
of these luminous and magnificent beaches. I admit that this 
aspect of my river is not that of a self-respecting navigable body 
of water. One day it is going to be necessary to restrain its fancies 
a little, to the detriment of its beauty. . . . 

There is a Cracow song in which they sing of the Vistula: "This 
Polish water has within itself such a charm that those who are taken 
by it will love it even unto the grave." This seems to be true, so 
fjr as I am concerned. The river has a profound attraction for me, 
the origins of which I do not know. 

Good-bye, darling. Kiss your sister Irene for me. I embrace 
you both, with all my heart which belongs to you, 

YOUR MOTHER. 

In France . . . 

On the generous initiative of Baron Henri de Rothschild, the 
Curie Foundation was created in 1 920 as an independent institution 
to collect gifts and subsidies and to support the scientific and 
medical work of the Radium Institute. 

In 1922 thirty-five members of the Academy of Medicine of 
Paris submitted the following petition to their colleagues: 

The undersigned members think that the Academy would 
honour itself by electing Mme Curie as a free associate member, 
in recognition of the part she took in the discovery of radium and 
of a new treatment in medicine, Curietlierapy. 



j 3 6 MADAME CURIE 

This was a revolutionary document. Not only was it proposed 
to elect a woman academician but, breaking with custom alto- 
gether, it was proposed to elect her spontaneously, without the 
regular presentation of a candidacy. Sixty-four members of the 
illustrious company signed this manifesto with enthusiasm thus 
giving a lesson to their brethren in the Academy of Sciences. All 
candidates to the vacant chair retired in favour of Mme Curie. 

On February yth, 1922, the election took place. M. Chauchard, 
president of the Academy, said to Marie from the tribune: 

"We salute in you a great scientist, a great-hearted woman who 
has lived only through devotion to work and scientific abnegation, 
a patriot who, in war as in peace, has always done more than her 
duty. Your presence here brings us the moral benefit of your 
example and the glory of your name. We thank you. We are proud 
of your presence among us. You are the first woman of France 
to enter an Academy, but what other woman could have been 
so worthy?" 

In 1923 the Curie Foundation decided to celebrate the twenty- 
fifth anniversary of the discovery of radium. The government 
associated itself with this intention and passed through Parliament, 
by unanimous vote, a law granting Mme Curie an annual pension 
of forty thousand francs as a "national recompense," with the right 
of inheritance to Irene and Eve. 

On December 26th, twenty-five years after the meeting of the 
Academy of Science in 1898 at which the historic report of Pierre 
Curie, Mme Curie and G. Bemont On a New and Strongly 
Radioactive Substance Contained in Pitck-hlctidi> had been read, an 
enormous crowd invaded the great amphitheatre of the Sor- 
bonne. The French and foreign universities, the scientiiic 
societies, the civil and military authorities, Parliament, the great 
schools, the students' associations and the Press were represented 
by delegations. On the platform were Alexandre Millerand, 
president of the republic, Leon Berard, minister of public 
instruction, Paul Appell, rector of the Academy and president of 
the Curie Foundation, Professor Lorents, who was to speak in the 
name of the foreign scientists, Professor Jean Perrin for the 



FULL BLOOM 337 

Faculty of Science and Dr. Antoine Becl^re for the Academy of 
Medicine. 

In this group of eminent personages, could be seen a white- 
haired, serious-faced man and two elderly \\ omen who were wiping 
tears from their eyes: Mela, Bronya and Joseph had come from 
Warsaw to be present at Manya's triumph. The fame that had 
fallen upon the youngest of the Sklodovskis had neither altered 
nor spoiled their fraternal affection. Never were three faces more 
magnificently alight with emotion and pride. 

Andre Dcbierne, the collaborator and friend of the Curies, 
read the scientific communications by which they had announced 
their discoveries concerning radioactive bodies. The chief of the 
staff at the Radium Institute, Fcrnand Hoi week, assisted by Irene 
Curie, made several experiments on radium. The president of the 
republic offered Marie Curie the national pension "as a feeble but 
sincere witness of the universal sentiment of enthusiasm, respect 
and gratitude which follow upon her," and Mr. Leon Bemrd 
pointed out that "in order to propose and pass this law, which 
carries the signature of all the representatives of France, the 
Government and the two Mouses had to resolve to act as if Mme 
Curie's modesty and disinterestedness had no legal existence." 

Last of all, Mmc Curie rose, saluted by interminable ovations. 
In a low voice she thanked those who had given her these tributes, 
taking care not to forget one of them. She spoke of the man who 
was no more, of Pierre Curie. Then she spoke of the future: not 
her own future, so very short, but that of the Radium Institute, for 
which she demanded help and support with insistent passion. 

VC'e have seen Marie Curie in the evening of her life at the mercy 
of the admiration of crowds, received by presidents, ambassadors 
and kings in all latitudes. 

One picture, always the same, dominates the memory of these 
fetes and processions for me: the bloodless, expressionless, almost 
indifferent face of my mother. 

"In science," she had said long ago, "we must be interested in 
things, not in persons." The years had taught her that the public, 
and even the governments, did not know how to be interested in 
things except through persons. Whether she wished to do so or 
not, she had to use her prestige to honour and enrich science to 



338 MADAME CURIE 

"dignify" it, as the Americans said and she allowed her own 
legend to be the agent of propaganda for a cause which was dear 
to her. 

But nothing in her had changed neither the physical fear of 
crowds nor the timidity which froze her hands and dried her 
throat, nor, above all, her incurable inaptitude for vanity. In spite 
of a loyal effort, Made did not succeed in making her pact with 
fame. She could never approve of the evidences of what she called 
"fetishism." 

I find myself a long way from both of you [she wrote to me from 
one of these journeys] and very much exposed to manifestations 
which I neither like nor appreciate, because they wear me out so 
I feel a little sad this morning. 

In Berlin a crowd on the station platform was bustling and 
shouting to acclaim the boxer Dempscy, who got out of the same 
train with me. He looked quite content. After all, is there much 
difference between acclaiming Dempsey and acclaiming me? It 
seems to me that the mere fact of acclaiming in this way has in itself 
something not to be commended, whatever may be the object of 
the manifestation. I don't see, nevertheless, just how one ought to 
proceed, nor to what degree it is permissible to confound the 
person with the idea that person represents. . . . 

How could exuberant tributes to a discovery made a quarter of 
a century ago satisfy the passionate student who survived inside 
this ageing woman? Discouraged words expressed her revolt 
against the premature burial which is called celebrity. "When tb:y 
talk to me about my 'splendid work' it seems to me that I'm already 
dead that I'm looking at myself dead/' she murmured sometimes 
and added: "It seems to me that the services I might still render 
don't mean much to tbe'i and my disappearance would put them 
more at their ease in paying me compliments." 

Her dissatisfaction and her refusal contained, I believe, the secret 
of the exceptional power Mme Curie exercised over crowds. 
Unlike the great "stars" of popularity, politicians, monarchs, actors 
of the stage or cinema, who, the moment they step forward on a 
platform, become the accomplices of their admirers, Marie 



FULL BLOOM 339 

mysteriously escaped from the ceremonials at which she was 
present. And the profound impression produced by this motion- 
less woman dressed in black was created, precisely, by the total 
absence of communication between the public and herself. 

Persons even more amiable, attractive, and celebrated than Mme 
Curie have often been honoured by the world; but none of them, 
perhaps, has shown a face so locked and shuttered, an air of 
absence so complete. In the storm of acclamations, none of them 
can have seemed quite so solitary. 



CHAPTER XXV 



On the lie Saint-Louis 



WHEN Marie came home from some brilliant journey, one of her 
daughters would go to meet her on the station platform, watching 
for the appearance -at a window of the wagon de ltt\e of that busy, 
poverty-stricken figure that Mme Curie was to remain until the 
end. The wanderer had a rirm, cautious grip on her big handbag 
of brown leather, always the same one, given her years ago by an 
association of Polish women. It was swollen with papers, port- 
folios, and eyeglass cases. In the crook of her arm Marie carried a 
bunch of fading flowers, stiff and commonplace, which somebody 
had given her along the way; however troublesome they might be, 
she never dared to throw them out. 

Relieved of her burdens, the scientist climbed up the three high 
storeys without a lift in her house of the lie Saint-Louis. And 
while she examined her mail, Fve, kneeling on the tioor in front 
of her, opened bags and unpacked for her. 

She discovered, mixed in with the familiar clothing, pointed 
copes of velvet and silk, the emblems of new doctorates bonoris 
catha; leather boxes containing medals; rolls of parchment and 
more precious than all the rest the menus of banquets, which 
Marie always cherished jealously. They were so convenient and 
so suitable, being made of thick, hard cardboard, for scribbling 
calculations in mathematics! 

At last, with a crackle of unfolding tissue paper, appeared the 
"souvenirs" and presents for Irene and Eve, purchased by Marie. 
She had picked them out for their strangeness, their humbleness. 

Bits of "petrified wood" from Texas became paper-weights, 

340 



ON THE ILE SAINT-LOUIS 541 

blades of damascene from Toledo served to cut scientific books, 
and carpets of rough wool, woven by Polish mountaineers, were 
used to cover little tables. At the neck of Marie's black blouses 
were hung tiny jewels brought back from the Grand Canyon: 
these bits of crude silver, on which the Indians had cut lines of 
zigzag lightning, were, with a clasp of Bohemian garnet, a chain 
of gold filigree and a very pretty old fashioned amethyst brooch 
the only jewels my mother ever possessed. I doubt if all of them 
put together could have been sold for more than three hundred 
francs. 

That apartment on the Quai de Bethune, very large and not very 
comfortable, all made of corridors and inside staircases, was a 
strange sort of family dwelling: twenty-two years of Mme Curie's 
life were passed there. The imposing rooms of a house dating from 
the time of Louis XIV called in vain for the majestic arm-chairs and 
sofas that would have suited their proportions and their style. The 
mahogany furniture inherited from Dr. Curie was grouped at 
random in the huge drawing-room which was big enough for 
fifty but rarely held more than four upon the skating rink of a 
fine waxed parquet which creaked and complained under one's 
footsteps. Neither carpets nor curtains: the high windows, on 
which the shutters were never closed, were barely veiled by thin 
net. Marie hated hangings, carpets and draperies. She liked a 
shining floor and naked glass windows that could not steal one ray 
of the sun from her. She wanted the Seine, the quais and the 
Ile-de-la-Cite an admirable view complete and unimpaired. 

For years she had been too poor to make a beautiful dwelling 
place for herself. Now she had lost the desire to do so, and for 
that matter had no time to spend in altering the hasty simplicity 
of her life's background. However, successive alluvial deposits 
of gifts came to decorate the light, empty rooms. There were to 
be seen there some water colours of flowers, sent to Mme Curie 
by an anonymous admirer, a Copenhagen vase with bluish 
lights in it the biggest and finest from the factory a green 
and brown carpet given by a Rumanian manufacturer, a silver 
vase with a pompous inscription. . . . The only acquisition 
Marie had made was the grand piano she had bought for Eve, 
upon which the young girl practised for hours at a time, without 



34* MADAME CURIE 

ever causing Mme Curie to complain of the terrible deluge of 
arpeggios. 

Irene had inherited the maternal indifference and, up to the time 
of her marriage, made herself perfectly comfortable in this icy 
apartment. In a big room which was her own lair, Eve made 
attempts at decoration -often disastrous and renewed them as 
frequently as the state of her finances would permit. 

The only room in the house that produced the emotion of life 
was Marie's workroom. A portrait of Pierre Curie, glassed-in 
shelves of scientific books, and a few pieces of old furniture created 
an atmosphere of nobility there. 

This dwelling, chosen from all other possible dwellings for its 
calm, was one of the noisiest in the world. The pianist's scales, 
the strident call of the telephone, the marauding of the black cat 
whose speciality was cavalry charges through the corridors, and 
the robust clangour of the doorbell echoed and were magnified 
between these high walls. The insistent roaring of tugboats on the 
Seine used to draw Eve, young and lonely, to the window where 
she pressed her forehead against the glass and counted the steamers 
by groups. Family group of the Musketeers: Athos, Porthos. . . . 
Family of birds: Martin, Linnet, Swallow. . . . 

In the morning, before eight o'clock, the noisy activity of an 
untrained servant and the light, hurried step of Mmc Curie awoke 
the household. At a quarter to nine Mme Curie's little closed car 
stopped on the quay in front of the house and three honks of the 
klaxon resounded. Marie flung on her hat and coat and hastened 
downstairs. The laboratory was waiting for her. 

The government's national pension and an annuity provided by 
American generosity had dissipated material cares. Mme Curie's 
income, which might have been considered absurdly small by many 
people, sufficed to assure her comfort, although she profited little 
by it. She never learned how to be waited upon by a maid. She 
could never make her chauffeur wait more than a few minutes 
without feeling vaguely guilty. And if she went into a shop with 
Eve, she never looked at the prices, but with infallible instinct she 
would point out, with her nervous hands, the simplest dress and 
the cheapest hat: these were the ones that pleased her. 



ON THE ILE SAINT-LOUIS 343 

She enjoyed spending money only for plants and stones and 
country houses. She built two such houses: one at Larcouest and 
the other in the south. As age came on she went to the Mediter- 
ranean for a more ardent sun and warmer sea than in Brittany. To 
sleep in the open on the terrace of her villa at Cavalaire, to contem- 
plate the view of the bay and of the isles of Hyeres, to plant euca- 
lyptus, mimosa and cypress on hillside gardens, were new joys to 
her. Two friends, two charming neighbours, Mme Sallenave and 
Mile Clement, admired her aquatic feats with a certain fear. Marie 
bathed among jagged rocks, swimming from one to the other, and 
minutely described her adventures for her daughters. 

The bathing is good, but one has to go a long way for it [she 
writes] . To-day I bathed between the rocks that overlook La Vigie 
but what a climb!!! The sea has been calm for three days and I 
observe that I can swim for a long time, covering good distances. 
A distance of three hundred metres does not in the least frighten 
me in a calm sea, and no doubt I could do more. 

Her dream would have been to abandon Paris and pass the 
winter at Sceaux, as in the old days. She bought land there and 
talked of building a house on it. The years passed without a 
decision being made; and every day, at lunch-time, she could be 
seen coming home on foot from the laboratory, crossing the bridge 
of La Tournelle with a step almost as lively as of yore, and, a little 
breathless, climbing the stairs of the old house in the He Saint- 
Louis. 

When Eve was a child and Irene, Mme Curie's young assistant, 
lived and worked constantly with her mother, meals around the 
thick round table were often reduced to scientific dialogues be- 
tween the scientist and her elder daughter. Technical formulae 
struck Eve's ears, and she interpreted these transcendant proposi- 
tions in her own way. The little girl derived great satisfaction, for 
example, from certain algebraic terms employed by her mother and 
sister: BB "prime" (BB) and Bb "square" (Bb 2 ).* These un- 
known "babies" of whom Marie and Irene Curie were for 
ever talking must be charming, Eve thought. ... But why 

* BB, pronounced bibt. 



344 MADAME CURIE 

square babies? And prime babies? What were their privileges? 

One morning in 1926 Irene calmly announced to her family her 
engagement to Frederic Joliot, the most brilliant and the most 
high-spirited of the workers at the Institute of Radium. The 
existence of the household was turned upside down. A man, a 
young man suddenly appeared in this female household where, 
except for a few familiars (such as Andre Debierne, Maurice Curie, 
the Perrins, the Borels and the Mau rains), nobody ever penetrated. 
The young couple at first lived in the Quai de Bethune and then 
migrated to an independent flat. Marie, content at the visible 
happiness of her daughter but disconcerted at not being able to 
live every hour with her working companion, tried in vain to 
conceal her inner dismay. 

And then, when daily intimacy had made her better acquainted 
with Frederic Joliot, the student who had become her son-in-law, 
and she was able to appreciate the exceptional qualities of the 
handsome, talkative boy brimming with vitality, she perceived 
that all was for the best. Two assistants instead of one could share 
her worries, discuss the research under way, receive her advice 
and soon even make suggestions to her, bring her new ideas. The 
Joliots, very naturally, got into the habit of coming to lunch with 
Mme Curie four times a week. 

And again, over the round table, they talked about "babies 
square" and "babies prime." 

"Aren't you going to the laboratory, Me?" 

The ash-grey eyes, which for some years now had been sheltered 
behind shell-rimmed spectacles, turned their gentle, defenceless 
gaze upon Eve. 

"Yes, I'm going there after a bit. But first I've got the Academy 
of Medicine. And since the meeting is not until three o'clock I 

think I shall have time to Yes, I can stop by the flower market, 

and perhaps a minute or two in the Luxembourg Gardens." 

The klaxon of the Ford had already sounded three times in front 
of the house. In a few minutes Marie, wandering among the pots 
of flowers and baskets of slips, would be picking out the plants she 
wanted for the laboratory garden and depositing them with 
caution, well protected by newspapers, on the seat in her car. 



ON THE ILE SAINT-LOUIS 34; 

The gardeners and flower-growers knew her well but she 
practically never went inside a florist's shop. Some undefined 
instinct and the habits of poverty kept her away from precious 
flowers. Jean Perrin, the gayest and most attentive of her friends, 
made his irruptions into Mme Curie's house with his arms laden 
with bouquets. And as if she were admiring jewels, Marie would 
contemplate the big carnations and fine roses with surprise and 
with a little timidity. 

Half-past two. The Ford dropped Marie at the gate of the 
Luxembourg Gardens, and the scientist hastened toward her 
appointment "near the lion on the left." Among the hundreds o 
children who were playing in the garden on this early afternoon 
there was one little girl who, when she saw her, would race toward 
her with all the speed of tiny legs: Helene Joliot, Irene's child. In 
appearance Mme Curie was a reserved and undemonstrative grand- 
mother, but she wasted a great deal of time and made long detours 
in order to spend a few minutes with this baby, dressed in bright 
red, who questioned her tyrannically: "Where are you going, Me? 
Why don't you stay here with me, Me?" 

The clock on the Senate building marked ten minutes to three. 
Marie must leave I lelene and her sand pies. At the austere meeting 
hall in the Rue Bonaparte Marie took her usual place next to her 
old friend, Dr. Roux. And, the only woman among sixty venerable 
colleagues, she participated in the work of the Academy of 
Medicine, 

"Ah! How tired I am!" 

Nearly every evening Marie Curie, her face quite pale, worn and 
aged by fatigue, would murmur this phrase. She left the laboratory 
very late at half-past seven or sometimes at eight o'clock. Her 
car brought her home, and the three storeys seemed harder to climb 
than ever before. She put on her slippers, threw a jacket of black 
wool over her shoulders and wandered aimlessly through the 
house, made more silent by the end of the day, as she waited for 
the maid to announce the meal. 

It would have been no use for her daughter to say: "You work 
too hard. A woman of sixty-five cannot and ought not to work as 
you do, twelve or fourteen hours a day." Eve knew perfectly wel| 
that Mme Curie was incapable of working any less, and tha^ 



346 MADAME CURIE 

working less, becoming reasonable would mean the dreadful 
indication of decrepitude. And the only wish that the young girl 
could formulate was that her mother might find the strength to 
work fourteen hours a day for a long time to come. 

Since Irene no longer lived in the Quai de Bethune, Eve and 
her mother dined alone. The thousand incidents of a long day 
preoccupied Marie, and she could not refrain from commenting 
aloud on them. Evening after evening these scattered remarks 
traced a mysterious and moving picture of the intense activity in 
that laboratory to which Mme Curie belonged, body and soul. 
Apparatus which Eve was never to see became familiar to her 
familiar like those collaborators of whom Marie spoke warmly, 
almost tenderly, with the aid of many possessive adjectives: 

"I am really very well pleased with 'my' young Gregoire. I knew 
he was very gifted! . . ." (Then, having finished her soup:) "Just 
think, to-day I went to see 'my' Chinese, in the Salle de Physique. 
We talk in English, and our conversations last for ever: in China 
it is impolite to contradict anybody, and when I state a hypothesis 
which this young man has just proved wrong by experiment, he 
continues to agree courteously. I have to guess when he has an 
objection to make! In front of these students from the Far East 
I am always ashamed of my bad manners. They are so much more 
civilised than we are!" (Taking some compote:) "Ah, Evette, one 
of these evenings we must invite 'my' Pole, this year's Pole. I am 
afraid he must be very lost in Paris ..." 

Workers of many nationalities succeeded each other in the Tower 
of Babel that was the Radium Institute. There was always a Pole 
among them. When Mme Curie could not bestow a university 
scholarship on one of her compatriots without injustice to some 
better qualified candidate, she paid the expenses of the young man 
from Warsaw out of her own money a generosity of which the 
young man never knew. 

Suddenly Marie interrupted herself, threw off the obsession of 
the laboratory, leaned toward her daughter and said in another 
voice: 

"Now, darling . . . tell me something. Give me some news 
of the world!" 

One could tell her anything, even and above all childish 



ON THE ILE SAINT-LOUIS 347 

things. Eve's satisfied remarks upon the "forty-five-tniles-an-hour 
average" that she got out of her car found the most understanding 
listener in Marie. Mme Curie, a prudent but ardent motorist, 
observed the sporting performances of her own Ford with emo- 
tion. Stories about her granddaughter He* lene, a quotation from the 
child's talk, would make her suddenly laugh to the point of tears, 
with an unexpected laugh of youth. 

She also knew how to talk politics without bitterness. Ah! her 
comforting liberalism! . . . If Frenchmen praised dictatorships in 
front of her, she answered gently: "I have lived under a regime of 
oppression. You have not. You don't understand your own good 
fortune in living in a free country . . ." The partisans of revolu- 
tionary violence met \vith the same opposition: "You can never 
convince me that it was useful to guillotine Lavoisier," 

But she retained the audacity and vehemence of a young Polish 
"progressive." That France should be lacking in hospitals and 
schools, that thousands of families lived in unhealthy lodgings, 
that the rights of women should be precarious all these were 
thoughts that tortured her. 

Marie had never had time to be a perfect educator to her 
daughters. But Irene and Eve received one gift from her that they 
will never be able to appreciate enough: the incomparable benefit 
of living near an exceptional being exceptional not only in her 
genius but by her humanity, by her innafc refusal of all vulgarity 
and littleness. Mme Curie avoided even that element of vanity that 
might most easily have been forgiven her: to let herself be cited as 
an example to other women. "It isn't necessary to lead such an 
anti-natural existence as mine," she sometimes said to calm her 
over-militant admirers. "I have given a great deal of time to 
science because I wanted to, because I loved research. . . . What 
I want for women and young girls is a simple family life and some 
work that will interest them." 

During these calm evening meals it sometimes happened that 
Mme Curie and Eve talked of love. This woman, tragically and 
unjustly maltreated, had no great esteem for the passion of love. 
She would willingly have adopted the formula of one eminent 
French writer: "Love is not an honourable sentiment." 



348 MADAME CURIE 

I think [she once wrote to Eve] that we must seek for spiritual 
strength in an idealism which, without making us vain, would 
oblige us to place our aspirations and our dreams very high and I 
also think it is a source of disappointment to make all the interest 
of one's life depend upon sentiments as stormy as love. . . . 

She knew how to receive all sorts of confidences and to keep 
their secret so delicately and faithfully that it seemed as if she had 
never heard them. She also knew how to hurry to the rescue of her 
own when they were threatened by danger or unhappiness. But, 
with her, conversations on love were never rc:il exchanges. Her 
judgments and her philosophy remained obstinately impersonal, 
and never, under any circumstances, did Marie open the gates of 
her sorrowful past to take lessons or memories from its store. That 
was an intimate realm into which nobody, however near to her 
heart, had the right to venture. 

She allowed her daughter to divine only one thing, her home- 
sickness at growing old far from the two sisters and the brother to 
whom she had remained tenderly attached. First by exile and then 
by widowhood, she had been doubly deprived of the family warmth 
which was sweet to her. She wrote sad letters to the friends she 
regretted seeing so rarely to Jacques Curie, living at Montpeliier, 
to Joseph and to Hela, and to Bronya, whose life had been 
devastated like her own: Bronya had lost her two children and, in 
1930, her husband, Casimir Dluski. 

Mane to Broriya, April izth y 1932: 
DEAR BRONYA, 

I, too, am sad that we are separated. But even though you do 
feel lonely, you have one consolation just the same: there are three 
of you in Warsaw, and thus you can have some company and some 
protection. Believe me, family solidarity is, after all, the only good 
thing. I have been deprived of it, so J know. Try to get some 
comfort out of it, and don't forget your Parisian sister: let us see 
each other as often as possible. . . . 

If Eve was going out after dinner Mme Curie would come into 
her room, lie down on the divan and watch her dress. 



ON THE ILE SAINT-LOUIS 349 

Their opinions upon dress and feminine aesthetics were funda- 
mentally different. But Marie had long since given up hope of 
imposing her principles. Of the two, it was rather Eve who 
oppressed her mother by an imperious insistence on renewing her 
black dresses before they were worn to rags. The discussions of 
the two women therefore remained academic, and it was with 
resignation, or even with gaiety and humour, that the mother 
made her comments to the daughter. 

"Oh, my poor darling! What dreadful heels! No, you'll never 
make me believe that women were made to walk on stilts. . . . 
And what sort of new style is this, to have the back of the dress cut 
out? Decollctage in front was bearable, just; but these miles and 
miles of naked back! First of all, it's indecent; secondly, it makes 
you run the risk of pleurisy; thirdly, it is ugly; the third argument 
ought to touch you if the others don't. . . . However, apart from 
all this, your dress is pretty. But you wear black too much. Black 
isn't suited to your age . . ." 

The most painful moments were those of the make-up box. 
After a prolonged effort toward what she judged to be a perfect 
result, Eve would answer her mother's ironic appeal: "Turn round 
a little so that 1 can admire you!" Mme Curie would examine her 
fairly, scientifically, and m the end with consternation. 

"Well, of course, 1 have no objection in principle to all this 
daubing and smearing. I know it has always been done. In ancient 
Egypt the women invented far worse things. ... I can only tell you 
one thing: I think it's dreadful. You torture your eyebrows, you 
daub at your lips without the slightest useful purpose . . ." 

"But, Me, 1 assure you it's better like this!" 

"Better! Listen here; to console myself I'm coming to-morrow 
morning to kiss you in your bed, before you've had time to put 
those horrors on your face. I like you when you're not so tricked 
out. . . . And now you must run, my dear child. Good night. 
. . . Ah! by the way, you haven't anything you can give me to 
read?" 

"Of course. What would you like?'' 

"I don't know . . . something that won't depress me. One has 
to be young like you to endure all these painful and distressing 
novels." 



3jo MADAME CURIE 

She never re-read the Russians, even Dostoievsky, whom she 
had once adored. Eve and she, in spite of differing literary tastes, 
had certain favourites in common: Kipling, Colette . . . Marie 
Curie was never tired of looking through the ] tingle Book, the 
Naissance du ]onr* Sido* or Kim for the magniiiccnt living re- 
flections of that nature which was always her comfort, her element. 
And she knew by heart thousands of verses in French, German, 
Russian, English or Polish. . . . 

Holding the volume Eve had chosen for her, she would take 
refuge in her study, stretch out on the chaise-longue covered with 
red velvet, place a swansdown cushion under her head, and turn a 
few pages. 

But at the end of half an hour, perhaps an hour, she put the book 
down. She rose, seized a pencil, notebooks, scientific manuals: she 
would work now, as was her habit, until two or three o'clock in 
the morning. 

When Eve came in she would see the light in her mother's study 
through the round window on a narrow corridor; she crossed the 
corridor and pushed at the door. . . . 

The spectacle was the same every night. Mme Curie, sur- 
rounded by papers, calculating rulers, and monographs, was seated 
on the floor. She had never been able to get used to working in 
front of a desk, installed in an arm-chair according to the tradition 
of "thinkers." She had to have limitless space to spread out her 
documents and her sheets of graphs. 

She was absorbed in a difficult theoretical calculation, and 
although she had noticed her daughter's return, she did not lift her 
head. Her brows frowned and her face was preoccupied. 

A notebook was on her knees. She scribbled signs and formula 
on it. From her lips escaped a murmur. 

Mme Curie was pronouncing figures and numbers in an under- 
tone. And like the little girl of sixty years ago in the arithmetic 
class at Mile Sikorska's school, this professor at the Sorbonne was 
counting in Polish. . . . 



9 By Colette. 



CHAPTER XXVI 



The Laboratory 



"Is Mme Curie there?" 

"J am looking for Mme Curie. Has she come?" 

"Have you seen Mme Curie?" 

Young men, young women, persons in white under laboratory 
blouses, questioned each other in the vestibule by which the 
scientist had to pass when she arrived at the Radium Institute. 

Five, ten or a dozen workers would gather in this way every 
morning to wait for her. Each one wanted "without disturbing 
her" to ask advice, to reap a little encouragement or a suggestion 
in passing. Thus was constituted what Marie laughingly called 
'the Soviet." 

The Soviet had not long to wait. At nine o'clock the old car 
passed the gate in the Rue Pierre Curie and turned into the alley. 
The iron door clanged; Mme Curie appeared by the garden en- 
trance. The group of soliciting students collected happily about 
her. Respectful, timid voices announced that such-and-such a 
measurement had just been completed, or gave news of the 
polonium solution, or insinuated that "if Mme Curie could come 
and look at the VC'ilson apparatus for a moment she would see 
interesting results." 

Even though she sometimes complained of it, Marie adored the 
commotion of energy and curiosity that welcomed her from the 
beginning of the day. Far from attempting to slip away toward her 
own work, she would stay there, in coat and hat, standing in the 
middle of her collaborators. Each of the eager faces that met her 
glance recalled to her an experiment upon which she had reflected 
in solitude. 

55* 



352 MADAME CURIE 

"M. Fournicr, I have thought about what you told me. Your 
idea is good, but the procedure you suggest isn't practicable. I 
have found another that ought to succeed. T shall come and talk 
to you about it. Mme Cotelle, what number did you get? Are you 
quite sure that the calculation was exact? Last night 1 did it over 
and I obtained a slightly different answer. However, we shall 
see . . ." 

There was no disorder and no approximation in these remarks. 
During the minutes she devoted to a research worker, Marie Curie 
was entirely concentrated upon the problem he was studying, a 
problem which she knew in its slightest details. An instant later 
she was speaking of other work with another pupil. Her brain 
was marvellously gifted for this singular form of mental gymnastics* 
In the laboratory, where so many young intelligences laboured 
with determ nation, she resembled those chess champions who can 
follow thirty or forty games at a time without even looking at the 
pieces. 

Men passed, saluted and stopped. The Soviet grew larger. 
Marie would end by seating herself on one of the steps of the 
staircase without interrupting this somewhat unorthodox con- 
sultation. Thus seated, looking up at the workers who stood round 
her or leaned against the wall, she did not have the classic attitude 
of a chief. And yet 1 

It was she who had chosen the students of the laboratory after a 
minute examination of their capacities. It was she, almost always, 
who designated their work. It was to her that pupils in distress 
would come, with the certainty that Mme Curie would find the 
experimental error that had put them on the wrong road. 

During forty years of scientific labour this white-haired scientist 
had amassed an immense amount of knowledge. She was the 
living library of radium; she had read, in the five languages of 
which she was a master, all the publications connected with the 
experiments undertaken at the institute. She discovered new 
developments of known phenomena, invented new techniques. 
And, finally of inestimable value in disentangling the mixed 
skeins of knowledge and hypothesis Marie possessed common 
sense. Fine-spun theories, attractive but fantastic suppositions, as 
exposed by certain of her disciples, encountered a rejection from 



THE LABORATORY 353 

her clear glance and her metallic reason. To work with this daring 
but prudent master was security. 

Little by little the group assembled on the staircase was scattered. 
Those to whom Marie had given her day's suggestions made off 
with their loot. Mme Curie would accompany one of them as far 
as the "physics hall" or the "chemistry hall" and continue the 
conversation in front of an apparatus. ... At last, set free, she 
would go into her own laboratory, put on her big black working 
blouse, and become absorbed in her personal work. 

Her solitude was short. Somebody knocked at the door. One of 
the research workers reappeared, with sheets of manuscript in his 
hand. Behind him another was waiting. . . . On this Monday, 
the day of the weekly meeting at the Academy of Sciences, the 
authors of the communications that were to be presented that 
afternoon came to submit their reports to Mme Curie. 

To read these papers Marie went into a very light, narrow, 
ordinary room, in which a stranger would have had difficulty 
recognising the study of an illustrious scientist. An office desk of 
oak, a file, bookshelves, an old typewriter, and a leather arm-chair 
like a hundred other leather arm-chairs, conferred upon it a decent 
anonymity. On the table there were a marble ink-stand, piles of 
brochures, a goblet stuck full of fountain pens and sharpened 
pencils, an "art object" offered by a students' association, and 
surprise! a little urn from the excavations at Ischia, dull brown, 
ravishing. 

The hands which held out the reports to the Academy to Mme 
Curie often trembled with emotion. Their authors knew that the 
examination would be severe. The writing was never clear or chaste 
enough, to Marie's way of thinking. She tracked down not only the 
technical errors; she re- wrote whole sentences and corrected faults 
in syntax. "I think it might do now," she would say to the young 
scientist more dead than alive, as she handed him back his work. 

But if the pupil's work had satisfied Marie, her smile and her 
pleased remarks "Very good! That's perfect!" compensated 
the physicist for his trouble and gave him wings for his journey to 
the laboratory of Professor Perrin. Professor Perrin customarily 
presented the communications of the Radium Institute to the 
illustrious company. 



354 MADAME CUJIIE 

This same Jean Perrin repeated to all and sundry: "Mme Curie 
is not only a famous physicist: she is the greatest laboratory 
director I have ever known." 

What was the secret of this master? First of all and above every- 
thing, the extraordinary chauvinism for the Radium Institute which 
animated Marie. She was the perfervid servant and the natural 
defender of the prestige and interests of the beloved place. 

She made the most determined efforts to obtain the stock of 
radioactive substances necessary to research on a large scale. 
Exchanges of courtesies and compliments between Mmc Curie and 
the directors of the Belgian radium factory, the Union Minicre du 
Ilaut- Katanga, invariably ended in the same way: the Union 
Miniere would kindly send Mme Curie some tons of residue for 
nothing, and Marie, delighted, would immediately undertake the 
extraction of the coveted elements! . . . 

From year to year she enriched her laboratory. She could be 
seen haunting the ministries with Jean Perrin, demanding sub- 
sidies, scholarships. Since she was "Mme Curie" the powers of the 
day listened to her. Thus she obtained, in 1930, an exceptional 
research credit of five hundred thousand francs. 

Sometimes, tired and a little humiliated by all the begging she 
forced herself to do, she described to Eve these waits in ante- 
chambers, these terrors, and concluded with a smile: 

"I think they'll finish by throwing us out like beggars." 

Workers in the Curie laboratory, guided by this sure pilot, 
explored the unexplored compartments of radioactivity one by 
one. From 1919 to i<)$$ fonr hundred and eighty-three scientific com- 
munications, of which thirty-four were theses, were published by 
the physicists and chemists of the Institute of Radium. Among 
these four hundred and eighty- three studies, Mme Curie had thirty- 
one publications to her credit. 

Even though this number may seem high, it requires comment. 
During the last part of her life, Mme Curie was preparing the 
future with too much spirit of sacrifice, perhaps, and gave the 
greater part of her time to her role as director and teacher. 
What might have been her creative activity if she had been 
able to dedicate every one of her minutes to research, like the 
young men around her? And who can ever tell the part 



THE LABORATORY 355 

Marie took in the work she inspired and guided step by step? 
She asked herself no such questions. She rejoiced over the 
victories won by her side and with her aid, by that collective person 
which she did not even call "my laboratory, but, with an in-" 
expressible accent of secret pride, "The Laboratory." When she 
pronounced these two words no other laboratory existed on earth. 

Psychological gifts human ones helped the solitary scientist 
to become an inspiration to and a director of the work of others. 
Mme Curie, so devoid of familiarity, knew how to gain the 
devotion of working companions whom she was still calling 
"Mademoiselle" or "Monsieur" after years of daily collaboration. 

If Marie, absorbed in some scientific discussion, sometimes 
stayed out on a bench in the garden for half an hour at a time, the 
imploring voice of an assistant would recall her to reality. 

"Madame, you'll catch cold! Madame, come in, please! "Discreet 
hands put bread and fruit beside her when she had forgotten to go 
to lunch. . . . 

The laboratory journeymen and the workmen, like the others, 
felt her hidden attraction, an attraction unique in the world. On 
the day when Marie engaged a chauffeur of her own, the factotum 
of the institute Georges Boiteux, who was day labourer, 
mechanic, chauffeur and gardener all in one could be seen weep- 
ing bitterly at the idea that from now on another man would drive 
Mme Curie from the Rue Pierre Curie to the Quai de Bethune every 
day. 

Marie was attached, by an affection, which she seldom showed 
to all those who worked with her; and it enabled her to distinguish 
the highest and most enthusiastic spirits in this big family. I hardly 
ever saw my mother so overwhelmed as she was in August, 1932, 
when she learned of the sudden death of one of her favourite 
pupils: 

I had a great grief when I reached Paris [she wrote]. The 
young chemist Reymond, whom I liked so much, has been 
drowned in a river in Ardeche. I am quite overcome. His mother 
wrote to me to say that he had passed the best years of his life in 
the laboratory. What was the good of it if it had to end like this? 



3 j6 MADAME CURIE 

Such a fine youth, so much grace, nobility and charm, such 
remarkable intellectual gifts all that wiped out because of a 
wretched cold bath. . . . 

Her lucid glance discerned faults as well as qualities, and was 
inexorably arrested on the defects that would keep such-and-such a 
research worker from becoming a great scientist. Even more than 
vanity, she distrusted awkwardness. The material catastrophes 
that awkward hands brought upon the setting up of an experiment 
exasperated her. Of an experimenter without gifts she said one clay 
to her intimates: "If everybody was like him there wouldn't be 
many daring flights in physics!" 

When one of her collaborators passed his thesis, received his 
diploma, or had been judged worthy of a prize, a "laboratory tea" 
was given in his honour. In the summer the reunion took place 
out-of-doors, under the lindens in the garden. In winter the noise 
of crockery would suddenly disturb the peace of the biggest room 
in the building, the library. It was an odd sort of crockery: 
laboratory glasses served for teacups and champagne glasses, 
stirring rods took the place of spoons. The girl students handed 
things round, offering cakes to their comrades and chiefs and to 
the members of the small staff. Among the groups could be seen 
Andre Debierne, who was director of lectures at the Institute of 
Radium, Fernand Hohveck, the chief assistant, and Marie in her 
most animated and talkative mood, protecting her glass of tea 
from the movements of the crowd. 

But suddenly there was a silence Mme Curie was about to 
congratulate the laureate. In a few warm phrases she would praise 
the originality of his work and throw light upon the diihcultics he 
had overcome. There was vigorous applause for the friendly 
remarks that accompanied that sort of compliment: either an 
amiable word for the parents of the hero of the day, or else if he 
was a foreigner for his far-off fatherland. "When you go back to 
your beautiful country, which I know, where your compatriots 
received me so kindly, 1 hope you will retain a pleasant memory of 
the Institute of Podium. You have been able to observe that we 
work hard here, and that we do our best. ..." 

Some of the "teas" had special emotional value for Marie: one of 



THE LABORATORY 357 

them celebrated her daughter Irene's doctor's thesis, another that 
of her son-in-law, Frederic Joliot. Mme Curie saw the gifts of 
these two research workers bloom under her direction. In 1934 
the young couple won a magnificent victory: after working on the 
phenomena of transmutation of atoms, Irene and Frederic Joliot 
discovered artificial radioactivity, by bombarding certain substances 
(aluminium for example) with the rays spontaneously emitted by 
the radio-elements, they succeeded in transforming these sub- 
stances into new radioactive elements unknown in nature, which 
henceforth would be the source of rays. The consequences of this 
surprising creation of atoms upon chemistry, biology and medicine 
can easily be seen: the time is near, perhaps, when bodies possessing 
the properties of radium can be manufactured industrially for the 
requirements of Curietherapy. 

At a meeting of the Physical Society when the couple explained 
their work, Marie, attentive and proud, was among the public. 
Encountering Albert Laborde, who was formerly her assistant and 
Pierre Curie's, she welcomed him with unusual exuberance: 
"Bonjourl They talked well, didn't they? We're back again in the 
fine days of the old laboratory." 

She was too excited and tremulous not to prolong the evening. 
She came home on foot, along the quays, accompanied by several 
colleagues. And she commented endlessly upon the success of 
"her young people." 

On the other side of the garden in the Rue Pierre Curie the 
collaborators of Professor Regaud, whom Marie familiarly called 
"the people across the way," waged their war on cancer by 
research and therapeutics. From 1919 to 193 5, 8,3 19 patients were 
taken care of at the Radium Institute. 

Claude Reguad was also a laboratory patriot. He had patiently 
collected the arms his fight demanded: radium, apparatus, space, a 
hospital. In front of the enormous number of cures obtained, and 
the urgency of the need, he was obliged to borrow radium the 
Union Miniere entrusted up to ten grammes to him! and appeal 
to the government's subsidies and the gifts of citizens: Baron 
Henri de Rothschild and Lazard Freres were his chief bene- 
factors, as well as a magnificent but modest anonymous 
donor who, employing complicated precautions to preserve his 



358 MADAME CURIE 

incognito, presented the Curie Foundation with 3,400,000 francs. 

Thus was created, little by little, the most scientific centre of 
radiotherapy in France. Its prestige was immense: more than two 
hundred doctors came there from the five continents to learn the 
technique of cancer treatment. 

Mme Curie, a physicist and chemist, took no part in the work of 
biology and medicine, but she followed their progress with 
passion. She got along admirably with Professor Regaud, a perfect 
colleague, high-minded and fiercely disinterested. Like Marie, he 
hated the noise of fame. Like her, he had always rejected material 
profits. By building up a practice he could have made a fortune: 
the notion did not even occur to him. 

These two co-directors, who marvelled at the excellence of 
treatment when it was practised by technicians, were alike dis- 
turbed over one thing: exasperated and helpless, they beheld the 
unscrupulous exploitation of radium throughout the world. In 
one place ignorant doctors would treat patients with radioactive 
substances in hit-or-miss fashion, without even understanding the 
danger of such "cures." In another, patent medicines and even 
beauty products "on the basis of radium" were offered to the pullic 
sometimes even under names similar to that of the Curies. 

We need not judge such enterprises. We can simply say that my 
mother, the Curie family, Professor Regaud and the Institute of 
Radium had nothing whatever to do with them. 

"See if there's anything important." 

Marie, harassed and hurried, pointed out last night's mail to a 
gentle, intelligent secretary, Mme Razct. 

The envelopes frequently bore simplified addresses: "Mme 
Curie, Paris," or "Mme Curie, scientist, France." A good half of 
them contained requests for autographs and letters from maniacs. 

A printed card answered the autograph-hunters: "Mme Curie 
does not wish to give autographs or sign photographs and asks you 
to excuse her." To the hysterical writers of many of the other 
letters, in which inks of different colours alternated over eight or 
ten pages misunderstood inventors, persecuted madmen, mad- 
men in love, and threatening madmen there was only one answer 
possible: silence. 




MARIK Cl'Wr AND I'KKSIDI-'.NT HARDING 

I )imnu I Irr Tour <>!' llu> I 'nitrJ Sl.tlrs in 1>-M 




MMI : n'Rir IN III-K omrr AT H II RADII 'M 
INSTITITI-. IN I'AklS. l"j", 




A('.K< HT I 'IK >'!( x'.KAI'll MADI- A'l Till INS Tin 1 IT 
01 KADII'M IN PARIS 

In llir I mnl \\{>\\ Art' Irene ( unc. Manr ( une. ,m<l I neir 
< o \\<iiLci. Amlif I Vlwrnr 




MMr.rrwi AXDIII-'R i>/\rr,iin<.K IKKNK. 



THE LABORATORY 359 

There remained the other letters. Marie conscientiously dictated 
to her secretary messages for her colleagues abroad and answers to 
the desperate appeals of those who imagined that Mme Curie could 
cure any disease or alleviate any suffering. There were also the 
letters to the manufacturers of apparatus; estimates; bills; answers 
to the circulars sent by her hierarchical superiors to "Mme Veuve 
Curie, Professor in the Faculty of Science": an overwhelming 
administrative flood of paper which Marie filed methodically into 
forty- seven folders. 

She conformed strictly to university customs. Her fame and her 
quality as a woman did not count in her eyes, and she naturally 
ended her official letters by the humble formulas of a subordinate: 
"deepest respect" for the dean of the faculty, and "obedient 
servant" to the rector of the university. 

The forty-seven folders did not suffice for the relationship of 
Mme Curie with the outside world. She was harassed by demands 
for interviews. On Tuesday and Friday mornings Marie put on her 
best black dress. "I have to be suitably dressed; it's my day," she 
would say, her face darkening and her eyebrows lowered. In the 
laboratory vestibule there would be petitioners waiting for her, as 
well as journalists, who had been frozen beforehand by Mme 
Razet's warning: "Madame Curie wilhreceive you only if you have 
technical information to ask her for. She does not give personal 
interviews." 

Even though Marie was courtesy itself, nothing encouraged the 
interviewer to prolong the conversation neither the little 
reception room, bare and uncomfortable, the hard chairs, the 
impatient flicking of the scientist's fingers, nor Mme Curie's sly 
glances toward the clock. 

On Mondays and Wednesdays Marie was nervous and agitated 
from the time she got up. At five o'clock on these days she 
lectured. After lunch she shut herself in her study in the Quai de 
Bethune, prepared the lesson, and wrote the heads of chapters of 
her lecture on a piece of white paper. Towards half-past four she 
would go to the laboratory and isolate herself again in a little rest- 
room. She was tense, anxious, unapproachable. Marie had been 
teaching for twenty-five years: yet every time she had to appear in 
the little amphitheatre before the twenty or thirty pupils who rose 



360 MADAME CURIE 

in unison at her entrance she unquestionably had stage fright. 
Tireless and terribly activity! In her "idle moments" Marie 
composed scientific articles and books: a treatise on Isotropy and 
the Isotropes, a brief and touching biography of Pierre Curie, a 
new scientific treatise that would fix in perfect form the lectures of 
Mme Curie. . . . 

These brilliant fertile years were also the years of a dramatic 
struggle: Mme Curie was threatened with blindness. 

The doctor told her in 1920 that a double cataract was going to 
bring the night upon her little by little. Marie did not allow her 
despair to appear. She informed her daughters of this misfortune 
without weakness, and immediately talked of the remedy: the 
operation, which could be attempted in two years, in three years. 
. . . From now to then, during the interminable waiting, thicker 
and thicker crystalline lens were to put between the world and her, 
between her and her work, a perpetual fog. 

Mane to l$ronya> November xo/A, 1920: 

My greatest troubles come from my eyes and ears. My eyes have 
grown much weaker, and probably very little can be done about 
them. As for the ears, an almost continuous humming, sometimes 
very intense, persecutes me. I am very worried about it: my work 
may be interfered with or even become impossible. Perhaps 
radium has something to do with these troubles, but this cannot be 
affirmed with certainty. 

These are my troubles. Above all things, don't speak of them to 
anybody, as I don't want the thing to be bruited about. And now 
let's talk of something else. . . . 

"Don't speak of them to anybody." . . . Such was the leit- 
motif of Marie's conversations with Irene and Eve, with her brother 
and sisters her only confidants. Her fixed idea was to keep the 
news from slipping out by indiscretion, lest a newspaper publish 
some fine day: "Mme Curie is an invalid." 

Her relatives and her physicians, Drs. Morax and Petit, became 
her accomplices. Marie had taken a borrowed name: it was 
"Mme Carr6," an aged, unobtrusive woman, who suffered from a 



THE LABORATORY 361 

i double cataract, and not Mme Curie. It was Mme Carry's glasses 
that Eve went to get at the oculist's. 

If Marie, wandering in a fog which her glance could no longer 
penetrate, had to cross a street or climb a staircase, one of her 
daughters took her by the arm and signalled dangers and obstacles 
to her by an imperceptible pressure of the hand. At table it was 
necessary to pass objects to her: salt-cellars which she was seeking 
by touch on the table-cloth with pathetically assumed confidence. 

But how was this heroic yet terrible farce to be kept up in the 
laboratory? Eve suggested taking her mother's most direct 
collaborators into confidence so that they could manipulate 
microscopes and instruments of measurement for her. Marie 
answered dryly: "Nobody needs to know that I have ruined eyes." 

For her work, so minute, she invented a "blind-man's tech- 
nique." She used giant lenses and put coloured signs, very visible, 
on the dials of her instruments. She wrote the notes she had to 
consult during lectures in enormous letters, and even in the bad 
light in the amphitheatre she succeeded in deciphering them. 

She concealed her trouble with an infinity of ruses. If a pupil was 
obliged to submit to Mme Curie an experimental photograph 
showing fine lines, Marie by hypocritical questioning, prodigiously 
adroit, first obtained from him the information necessary to 
reconstruct the aspect of the photograph mentally. Then, and then 
alone, she would take the glass plate, consider it, and appear to 
observe the lines. . . . 

In spite of these precautions, this noble duplicity, the laboratory 
suspected the drama. And the laboratory was silent, pretending 
not to understand, playing the game as cleverly as Marie. 

Marie Curie to Eve, July 1 3 th y 1 92 3 : 

Darling, I think I shall be operated upon Wednesday morning 
the eighteenth. It would be enough if you arrived here the day 
before. It is terribly hot and I am afraid you would be very tired. 

You must tell our friends at Larcouest that I have not been able 
to get through a piece of editing that we were working on together, 
and that I need you as I have been asked for it in a hurry. 

Many kisses. 

Tell them as little as possible, darlingl M. 



362 MADAME CURIE 

Those were torrid days at the clinic, where Eve spoon-fed the 
motionless, blind "Mme Carre," with her wounded face swathed 
in bandages. The anxiety of unexpected complications followed: 
hemorrhages which destroyed all hope of cure for some weeks. 
Two other operati >ns followed in March, 1924, and a fourth 
operation in 1930. Hardly was Marie released from dressings 
before she began again to use her eyes, although they were badly 
damaged and no longer capable of focussing. 

I am acquiring the habit of going about without glasses and have 
made some progress [she wrote to Eve from Cavalaire some 
months after the first operation]. I took part in two walks over 
awkward, rocky mountain trails. That went otf rather well, and I 
can walk fast without accidents. What bothers me most is double 
vision; that is what keeps me from recognising persons as they 
approach. Every day I do some exercises in reading and writing. 
Up to now it has been more difficult than walking. Certainly you 
will have to help me write the article for the Encyclopedia 



Little by little she triumphed over her ill fortune. Helped by 
thick glasses, she acquired almost norrml sight, went out alone, 
even drove her car, and again succeeded in making delicate 
measurements in the laboratory. As a last miracle in a miraculous 
life, Marie emerged again from the shadows, and found light 
enough to work, to work to the end. 

A short letter from Mme Curie to Bronya, dated September, 
1927, contains the secret of this victory: 

Sometimes my courage fails me and I think I ought to stop 
working, live in the country and devote myself to gardening. But 
I am held by a thousand bonds, and I don't know when I shall be 
able to arrange things otherwise. Nor do I know whether, even by 
writingscientific books , / could live without the- laboratory. 

"I don't know whether I could live without the laboratory." 
To understand this cry of confession we must see Marie Curie in 
front of her apparatus when, having finished her daily tasks, she 



THE LABORATORY 363 

could at last give herself over to her passion. No exceptional 
experiment was necessary to give this hollowed face a sublime 
expression of absorption and ecstasy. A difficult piece of glass- 
blower's work that Marie brought off like an artist, a measurement 
well made, could give her immense joy. An observant and 
sensitive collaborator, Mile Chamie, was to describe this everyday 
Mme Curie, whose enraptured face was never to be caught by 
photography: 

She sat before the apparatus, making measurements in the half- 
darkness of an unheated room to avoid variations in temperature. 
The series of operations opening the apparatus, starting the 
chronometer, lifting the weight, etc. was effected by Mme Curie 
wth admirable discipline and harmony of movement. No pianist 
could accomplish what Mme Curie's hands accomplished with 
greater virtuosity. It was a perfect technique, which tended to 
reduce the coefficient of personal error to zero. 

After the calculations which Mme Curie made with eagerness, to 
compare the results, her sincere, undisguised joy could be seen 
because the margins of difference were much lower than the per- 
mitted limit, which assured the precision of the measurements. 

When she was at this work the rest of the world wab effaced. In 
1927, when Irene was seriously ill and Marie was tormented by 
despair, a friend came to see her in the laboratory to ask for news. 
He received a laconic answer and an icy look. Hardly had he left 
the room when Marie, indignant, said to her assistant: "Why 
can't people leave one alone to work?" 

Here is Mile Chamie's description of her, absorbed in an 
experiment of capital importance: the preparation of actinium X 
for the spectrum of alpha rays the last work Marie accomplished 
before her death: 

Actinium X had to be pure and in such a chemical state that it 
could not disengage its emanation. The working day \vas not long 
enough for the separation. Mme Curie remained at the laboratory 
that evening without dinner. But the separation of this element is 
slow: one had to pass the night at the laboratory, therefore, so that 



364 MADAME CURIE 

the intense source being prepared would not have time to "de- 
crease" much. 

It was two o'clock in the morning, and the last operation 
remained to be done: centrifugation of the liquid for an hour above 
a special support. The centrifuge turned with a tiresome noise, but 
Mme Curie remained beside it without leaving the room. She 
contemplated the machine as if her ardent desire to make the 
experiment succeed could produce the precipitation of actinium X 
by suggestion. Nothing existed for Mme Curie at this moment 
outside the centrifuge: neither her life of the morrow nor her 
fatigue. It was a complete depersonalisation, a concentration of all 
her soul upon the work she was doing. . . . 

If the experiment did not give the hoped-for result, Marie 
suddenly seemed thunderstruck by some unknown disaster. 
Seated on a chair, her arms crossed, her back humped, her gaze 
empty, she suggested some old peasant woman, mute and desolate 
in a great grief. The collaborators who saw her were vaguely 
afraid some accident had happened, and inquired. Marie lugu- 
briously pronounced the words that summed up everything: "We 
haven't been able to precipitate actinium X." Or else, sometimes 
she openly accused the enemy, thus: ''That polonium has a grudge 
against me." 

But success made her light and young, fluttering. She wandered 
cheerfully in the garden, as if she wanted to tell the rambler roses 
and the lindens and the sun how happy she was. She was re- 
conciled to science, she was ready to laugh and to marvel. 

When a research worker, profiting by her evident good humour, 
proposed to show her a current experiment, she followed him 
eagerly, bent over the apparatus where the numeration of atoms 
took place, and admired the sudden irradiation of a willemite ore 
by the action of radium. 

Before these familiar miracles a supreme happiness was set alight 
in her ash-grey eyes. One might have said that Marie was gazing 
at a botticelli or a Vermeer, the most enchanting picture in the 
world. 

"Ah, what a pretty phenomenon!" she would murmur. 



CHAPTER XXVH 



The End of the Mission 



MADAME CURTE often spoke of her own death. She commented 
upon the inevitable event with apparent calm and considered its 
practical consequences. Without emotion j>he would pronounce 
phrases like: "It is evident that I can't live many more years," or 
else: "I am worried about the fate of the Institute of Radium 
when I am no longer there." 

But there was no serenity, no acceptance, in her. She repulsed 
with all her instinct the idea of an end. Those who admired her 
from afar thought she had an incomparable life behind her. In 
Marie's eyes this life was negligible, without proportion to the 
work undertaken. 

Thirty years before, with a foreboding of death, Pierre Curie 
had buried himself in work with tragic ardour. Marie, in turn, 
took up the obscure challenge. Defending herself against the 
aggression that she feared, she feverishly built round her a rampart 
of projects and duties. She scorned a fatigue which became more 
evident every day, and the chronic ills that oppressed her: her bad 
sight, rheumatism in one shoulder, droning murmurs in her ears. 

What did all that amount to? There were other things, more 
important. Marie had just built a factory at Arcueil for the treat- 
ment of ores in mass; she had wanted this factory for a long time 
and had organised the first tests there with enthusiasm. She was 
preoccupied by the writing of her book a monument of science 
which nobody else could write once Mme Curie had disappeared. 
And the research work on the actinium family was not advancing 
rapidly enough. . . . When it was finished she had studies on the 



366 MADAME CURIE 

"'fine structure" of alpha rays to undertake. Marie rose early, 
hurried to the laboratory, and returned there at night after 
dinner. . . . 

She was working with singular haste and also with the singular 
imprudence which was usual with her. She had always scorned the 
precautions which she so severely imposed on her pupils: to 
manipulate tubes of radioactive bodies with pincers, never to 
touch unguarded tubes, to use leaden "bucklers** to ward off the 
harmful radiations. She barely consented to submit to the blood 
tests which were the rule at the Institute of Radium. I ler blood 
content was abnormal. What of it? . . . For thirty- five yea rs M me 
Curie had handled radium and breathed the emanation of radium. 
During the four years of the war she had been exposed to the even 
more dangerous radiation of the Rontc^en apparatus. A slight 
deterioration in the blood, annoying and painful burns on the 
hands, which sometimes dried up and sometimes suppurated, 
were not, after all, such very severe punishments for the number of 
risks she had run! 

In December, 1933, a short illness impressed Mme Curie more 
deeply. The X-ray photographs revealed a rather large stone in 
the gall bladder. The same disease that had carried off M. Sklo- 
dovski! . . . To avoid an operation which frightened her, Marie 
followed a strict regime and took more care of herself. 

All at once the scientist who, for years past, had neglected her 
own comfort, and put off the humble personal plans she had 
nevertheless set her heart on building a country house in Sceaux 
and changing flats in Paris passed suddenly to action. She 
examined estimates, conquered her indecision, and unhesitatingly 
committed herself to heavy expenses. It was settled: the villa at 
Sceaux would be built during the fine weather, and in October, 1934, 
Marie would leave the Quai de Bethune foi a modern apartment 
in a new building in the university city. 

She felt tired and made a point of proving to herself that she was 
not in poor health. She went skating at Versailles and joined Irene 
in the ski fields of Savoy; she was happy to have kept supple and 
agile limbs. At Easter time, profiting by Bronya's visit to France> 
she organised a motoring trip in the south with her elder sister. 

The expedition was disastrous. Marie had wanted to make a 



THE END OF THE MISSION 367 

roundabout journey in order to show her sister some fine land- 
scapes. When she reached her villa at Cavalaire after a journey of 
several stages, she was exhausted and had a cold. Her house was 
icy when they arrived, and the heat, hastily turned on, did not 
warm it fast enough. Marie, shaken by a chill, suddenly abandoned 
herself to an attack of despair. She sobbed in Bronya' s arms like a 
sick child. She was obsessed by her book and was afraid that 
bronchitis might deprive her of the strength to finish it. Bronya 
took care of her and calmed her. On the following morning Marie 
had conquered the spiritual despondency, which was never to recur. 

A few fine days comforted and consoled her. When she returned 
to Paris she felt better. A doctor said she had the flu and like all 
doctors for the past forty years that she was overworked. Marie 
took little account of the light fever which was always with her. 
Bronya vaguely worried, went back to Poland. Beside the 
Warsaw train, on the platform they had so often trod, the two 
sisters embraced for the last time. 

Marie was wavering between illness and health. On the days 
when she was feeling equal to it she went to the laboratory. When 
she was dizzy and weak, she stayed at home and worked on her 
book. She was giving several hours a week to her new apartment 
and to the plans for the villa at Sceaux. 

I feel the need of a house with a garden more and more, and I 
ardently hope that this plan will succeed [she wrote to Bronya on 
May 8th, 1934]. The price of the building has been brought down 
to a sum suitable to my means. Therefore it will be possible soon 
to lay the foundations. 

But her secret enemy was gaining rapidly on her. The fever 
became more insistent and the chills more violent. Eve had to 
employ patient diplomacy to make her mother consent to see a 
doctor again. On the pretext that men of the medical art were 
"boring," and that "it was never possible to pay them" no 
French practitioner had ever accepted a fee from Mme Curie 
Marie constantly abstained from having a regular doctor. This 
scientist and friend of progress was as refractory to treatment as 
any peasant. 



568 MADAME CURIE 

Professor Regaud came to pay Marie a friendly visit, and sug- 
gested asking the advice of his friend Dr. Raveau, who himself 
recommended Professor Boulin, a doctor of the hospitals. His 
first words, when he saw Marie's bloodless face, were: "You must 
stay in bed. You must rest." 

Mme Curie had heard these exclamations so often beforel She 
paid little attention to them. She went down and up the tiring 
stairs in the Quai de Bethune, working nearly every day at the 
Radium Institute. On one sunny day in May, 1934, she stayed 
until half-past three in the physical laboratory, wearily touched the 
tubes and the apparatus her faithful companions. She exchanged 
a few words with her collaborators: "I have a fever," she mur- 
mured, "and must go home." 

She made a tour of the garden again, where the new flowers 
were making brilliant splotches of colour. Suddenly she stopped 
before a sickly rambler rose and called her mechanic: 

"Georges, look at this rose-vine: you must see to it right away!" 

A student came up to her and begged her not to remain out-of- 
doors but to return to the Quai de Bethune. She yielded, but 
before getting into her car she turned back again: 

"Don't forget, Georges: the rose- vine . . ." 

This worried glance toward a blighted plant was her farewell to 
the laboratory. 

She did not leave her bed again. The unsatisfactory struggle 
against an uncertain disease, called grippe and bronchitis by turns, 
condemned her to a fatiguing regime: she endured it with sudden 
terrifying docility and consented to be carried to a clinic for a 
thorough examination. Two radiographies and five or six analyses 
left the specialists who had been called to her bedside still per- 
plexed. No organ seemed to be attacked, no definite disease 
declared itself. But as the X-ray pictures of the lung were clouded 
by the old lesions and a little inflammation, Marie was treated 
accordingly. When she went back to the Quai de Bethune, neither 
better nor worse than before, the word "sanatorium" was pro- 
nounced for the first time. 

Eve fearfully suggested the idea of this exile to her. Here again 
Marie obeyed and consented to the departure. She had hope in 



THE END OF THE MISSION 369 

purer air, and imagined that the noise and dust of the city kept her 
from being cured. Plans were made: Eve would go with her 
mother and stay at the sanatorium for several weeks, then Marie's 
brother and sisters would come from Poland to keep her company; 
Irene would pass the month of August with her, and in the 
autumn she would be well again. 

In the sick woman's room, Irene and Frederic Joliot talked to 
Mme Curie* about laboratory work, the house at Sceaux, and the 
proof-reading of the book Marie had just finished. A young 
collaborator of Professor Regaud's, Georges Gricouroff, who came 
to get news every day, discoursed in front of Marie on the pleasant- 
ness and efficacy of sanatoria. Eve busied herself with the new 
apartment, chose the colours for wallpapers and hangings. 

Several times Marie said, with a little laugh, searching her 
daughter's eyes: 

"We're taking a lot of trouble for nothing, perhaps . . ." 

Eve had a reserve store of protests and pleasantries ready for her, 
and, to solace Mme Curie, she harassed the builders. Even so, she 
did not hope to avert or conjure fate: though the doctors were not 
pessimistic, and nobody seemed wprried in the house, she had, for 
no motive that could be expressed, an absolute certainty that the 
worst was near. 

During the bright days of this too radiant spring she passed long 
hours of intimacy with her mother, condemned to leisure. Marie's 
intact soul and vulnerable, generous heart appeared to her as they 
were and her sweetness without limit, almost unbearable at this 
moment. She was the "sweet Me*" of other days. She was, above 
all, the adolescent who had written forty-six years ago in a little 
letter of youth: 

Creatures who feel as keenly as I do, and are unable to change 
this characteristic of their nature, have to dissimulate it at least as 
much as possible. 

That is the key of a reserved nature, sensitive to excess, fearful 
and easily wounded: through the whole length of a splendid life 
Marie constantly forbade herself those spontaneous impulses, 
confessions of weakness and perhaps those cries for help which 
ro*c to her lips. 



370 MADAME CURIE 

Now, even now, she did not confide or complain or, if she did, 
it was most reticently. She spoke only of the future ... of the 
laboratory's future; of the future of the institute in Warsaw; of her 
children's future: she hoped, felt certain, that Irene and Frederic 
Joliot, in a few months' time, would receive the Nobel Prize; and 
of her own future too, in the apartment that was to wait for her in 
vain, or in the house at Sceaux that never would be built. 

She grew weaker. Before attempting to move her to a sana- 
torium, Eve asked for a last consultation between four eminent 
men of the faculty the best and most celebrated doctors in 
France. To name them might suggest that I blame them or that I 
have an unjust ingratitude toward them. For half an hour they 
examined a woman who was exhausted, inexorably condemned by 
an incomprehensible disease. In their doubt, they concluded that 
her old tubercular lesions had awakened. They believed that a 
visit to the mountains would conquer her fever. They were 
mistaken. 

Preparations were made in tragic haste: Marie's strength was 
spared as much as possible and she no longer saw any but intimate 
friends. In spite of this she defied orders, secretly summoned her 
collaborator Mme Cotelle to her room, and made certain re- 
commendations to her: "You must carefully lock up the actinium 
until my return. I count on you to put everything in order. We 
shall resume this work after the holiday." 

In spite of a sudden turn for the worse, the doctors advised 
immediate departure. The journey was sheer torture: in the train, 
arriving at Saint-Gervais, Marie collapsed, fainting, in the arms of 
Eve and the nurse. When she was at last installed in the best room 
at the sanatorium of Sancellemoz, new X-ray photographs and 
examinations were carried out: the lungs were not attacked and the 
journey had been useless. 

Her temperature was above forty degrees.* This could not be 
hidden from Marie, who always inspected the thermometer with a 
scientist's attention. She hardly spoke by then, but her paling eyes 
reflected a great fear. Professor Rocn of Geneva, called in at once, 
compared the blood tests of the last few days, in which the number 
of white corpuscles and that of red corpuscles were both falling in a 
* Forty degrees Centigrade 104 degrees Fahrenheit. 



THE END OF THE MISSION 371 

rapid line. He diagnosed pernicious anaemia in its extreme form. 
He comforted Marie, who was obsessed by the idea of gallstones. 
He assured her that no operation would be inflicted upon her and 
undertook her treatment with desperate energy. But life was in full 
flight from her tired body. 

Then began the harrowing struggle which goes by the name of 
"an easy death" in which the body which refuses to perish 
asserts itself in wild determination. Eve, at her mother's side, 
was engaged in another struggle: into the brain of Mme Curie, 
still very lucid, the great idea of death had not penetrated. This 
miracle must be preserved, to save Marie from an immense pain 
that could not be appeased by resignation. Above all, the physical 
suffering had to be attenuated; the body reassured at the same 
time as the soul. No difficult treatments, no tardy blood trans- 
fusions, impressive and useless. No family reunion hastily called 
at the bedside of a woman who, seeing her relatives assembled, 
would be suddenly struck to the heart by a terrible certainty. 

I shall always cherish the names of those who helped my mother 
in these days of horror. Dr. Tobe, director of the sanatorium, 
and Dr. Pierre Lowys brought I^farie the benefits of all their 
knowledge. The life of the sanatorium seemed suspended stricken 
with immobility by the dreadful fact: Mme Curie was about to 
die. The house was all respect, silence and fervour. The two 
doctors alternated in Marie's room. They supported and comforted 
her. They also took care of Eve, helped her to struggle and to tell 
lies, and, even without her asking them, they promised to lull 
Marie's last sufferings by soporifics and injections. 

On the morning of July 3rd, for the last time Mme Curie could 
read the thermometer held in her shaking hand and distinguish the 
fall in temperature which always precedes the end. She smiled with 
joy. And as Eve assured her that this was the sign of her cure, and 
that she was going to be well now, she said, looking at the open 
window, turning hopefully toward the sun and the motionless 
mountains: "It wasn't the medicines that made me better. It was 
the pure air, the altitude . . ." 

During her agony she made dreamy, amazed complaints: "I 
can't express myself any more. I'm absent-minded." She did not 
pronounce the name of any living person. She did not call on her 



372 MADAME CURIE 

elder daughter, who had arrived at Sancellemoz the day before 
with her husband, or Eve or her relations. The great and the little 
worries of her work wandered aimlessly in her marvellous brain 
and were expressed by inconsecutive phrases: "The paragraphing 
of the chapters ought to be done all alike . . . I've been thinking 
of that publication ..." 

And, staring fixedly at a teacup in which she wrfs trying to stir a 
spoon no, not a spoon, but a glass rod or some delicate laboratory 
instrument: 

"Was it done with radium or with mesothorium?" 

She had drawn away from human beings; she had joined those 
beloved "things" to which she had devoted her life, and joined 
them for ever. 

She spoke only indistinctly after that except when she made a 
weak cry of exhaustion to the doctor who came to give her an 
injection: "I don't want it. I want to be let alone." 

Her last moments revealed the strength, the remarkable 
resistance, of a creature whose fragility was only apparent, of 
her robust heart, trapped in a body from which all heat was 
departing, which continued to beat tirelessly, implacably. For 
another sixteen hours Dr. Pierre Lowys and Eve each held one 
of the icy hands of this woman who was rejected both by life and 
by nothingness. At dawn, when the sun had set the mountains 
aglow and was beginning its journey across a beautifully pure 
sky, when the full light of a glorious morning had filled the 
room, the bed, and reached the hollow cheeks and expressionless 
eyes of ashen-grey made stony in death, the heart, at last, beat no 
more. 

Science still had to pronounce its verdict over this body. The 
abnormal symptoms, the blood tests, differing from those in any 
known case of pernicious anaemia, accused the true criminal: 
radium. 

"Mme Curie can be counted among the eventual victims of the 
radioactive bodies which she and her husband discovered," 
Professor Regaud wrote. 

At Sancdlemoz, Dr. Tob6 drew up the following report: 

Mme Pierre Curie died at Sancellemoz on July 4th, 1934. 



THE END OF THE MISSION 373 

The disease was an aplastic pernicious anaemia , f rapid, feverish 
development. The bone marrow did not react, probably because 
it had been injured by a long accumulation of radiations. 

The news escaped from the silent sanatorium and was spread 
round the world, reaching points of acute suffering here and there: 
in Warsaw, Hela. In Berlin, in a train that was hurrying toward 
France, Joseph Sklodovski; and Bronya Bronya who was to try 
in vain to get to Sancellemoz in time to see the beloved face again. 
In Montpcllicr, Jacques Curie; in London, Mrs. Meloney. In 
Paris, faithful friends. 

The young scientists sobbed before the inert apparatus at the 
Radium Institute. Georges Fournier, one of Marie's favourite 
students, wrote: "We have lost everything." 

Mme Curie was sheltered from these sorrows, agitations and 
tributes, on her bed at Sancellemoz, in a house where men of 
science and devotion, her own kind, had protected her to the end. 
No stranger was admitted to trouble her rest even by a look. No 
curious eyes were ever to know with what supernatural grace she 
invested herself in farewell. All in white, her white hair laying 
bare the immense forehead, the face at peace, as grave and valiant 
as a knight in armour, she was, at this moment, the noblest and 
most beautiful thing on earth. 

Her rough hands, calloused, hardened, deeply burned by 
radium, had lost their familiar nervous movement. They were 
stretched out on the sheet, stiff and fearfully motionless those 
hands which had worked so much. 

On Friday, July 6th, 1934, at noon, without speeches or pro- 
cessions, without a politician or an official present, Mme Curie 
modestly took her place in the realm of the dead. She was buried 
in the cemetery at Sceaux in the presence of her relatives, her 
friends, and the co-workers who loved her. Her coffin was placed 
above that of Pierre Curie. Bronya and Joseph Sklodovski threw 
into the open grave a handful of earth brought from Poland. The 
gravestone was enriched by a new line: MARIE CURIE-SKLO- 
DOVSKA, 1867-1934. 

A year later, the book which Marie had finished before 



374 MADAME CURIE 

disappearing brought her last message to the young "lovers of 
physics." At the Radium Institute, where work had been resumed, 
the enormous volume was added to other scientific works in the 
light-filled library. On the grey cover was the name of the author: 
"Mme Pierre Curie, Professor at the Sorbonne. Nobel Prize in 
Physics. Nobel Prize in Chemistry." 

The title was one severe and radiant word: 

RADIOACTIVITY. 



Appendix 



MME CURIE'S PRIZES 

Prix Gegner, Academic des Sciences, Paris, December izth, 1898. 

This prize was again awarded on December nth, 1900, and 

on December i4th, 1902. 
Nobel Prize for Physics (jointly with Henri Becquerel and Pierre 

Curie), 1903. 
Prix Osiris, awarded by the Syndicat de la Presse Parisienne, 

divided with M. Branly, January 4th, 1904. 

Actonian Prize, Royal Institution of Great Britian, May 6th, 1907. 
Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 1911. 
Ellen Richards Research Prize, April 23rd, 1921. 
Grand Prix du Marquis d'Argenteuil for 1923, with bronze medal, 

Societe d 'Encouragement pour I'lndustrie Nationale, March 

1 5 th, 1924. 
Cameron Prize, University of Edinburgh, 1931. 

MMF CURIE'S MEDALS AND DECORATIONS 

Berthelot Medal (with Pierre Curie), 1903. 

Medal of Honour of the City of Paris (with Pierre Curie), 1903. 

Matteucci Medal, Italian Society of Sciences (with Pierre Curie), 

August 8th, 1904. 
Davy Medal of the Royal Society of London (with Pierre Curie), 

November 5th, 1903. 
Kuhlmann Gold Medal, of the Society of Industry of Lille, 

January 19th, 1908. 

Elliott Cresson Gold Medal, Franklin Institute, January 6th, 1909. 
Albert Medal, Royal Society of Arts, London, July 4th, 1910. 
Grand Cross of the Civil Order of Alphonse XII of Spain, April 

28th, 1919. 
Benjamin Franklin Medal, American Philosophical Society, 

Philadelphia, 1921. 

375 



376 MADAME CURIE 

John Scott Medal, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 

April i3th, 1921. 
Gold Medal of the National Institute of Social Sciences, New 

York, 1921. 

WillardGibbs Medal, American Chemical Society, Chicago, 1921. 
Order of Merit of Rumania, first class, with warrant and gold 

medal, August 4th, 1924. 
Gold Medal of the Radiological Society of North America, 

December 8th, 1922. 

Medal of the New York City Federation of Women's Clubs, 1929. 
Medal of the American College of Radiology, April i6th, 1931. 



MME CURIE'S HONORARY TITLES 

Honorary Member of the Socie*td Imp^riale des Amis des Sciences 

Naturellcd'Anthropologieet d'Ethnographie, December ist, 

1904. 
Honorary Member of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, May 

9th, 1904. 
Foreign Member of the Chemical Society of London, May i8th, 

1904. 
Corresponding Member of the Batavian Philosophical Society, 

September i5th, 1904. 

Honorary Member of the Mexican Society of Physics, 1904. 
Honorary Member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences, May 4th, 

1904. 
Honorary Member of the Warsaw Society for the Encouragement 

of Indus try and Commerce, 1904. 
Corresponding Member of the Argentine Society of Sciences, 

November 6th, 1906. 
Foreign Member of the Dutch Society of Sciences, May 25th 

1907. 
Corresponding Member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, St. 

Petersburg, January 29th, 1908. 
Honorary Member of the Society of Natural Sciences, Brunswick, 

March loth, 1908. 
Doctor of Medicine, University of Geneva, 1909. 



APPENDIX 377 

Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences, Bologne, 

March 3ist, 1909. 
Associate Foreign Member of the Czechish Academy of Sciences, 

Arts and Letters, 1909. 
Active Foreign Member of the Academy of Sciences, Cracow, 

1909. 

Doctor of Laws, University of Edinburgh, July 23rd, 1909. 
Honorary Member of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, 

September 27th, 1909. 
Corresponding Member of the Scientific Society of Chili, December 

i9th, 1910. 
Member of the American Philosophical Society, April 23rd, 

1910. 
Foreign Member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, 

1910. 
Honorary Member of the American Chemical Society, March ist, 

1910. 

Honorary Member of the London Society of Physics, 1910. 
Honorary Member of the Society for Psychical Research of Lon- . 

don, February ist, 1911. 
Foreign Corresponding Member of the Portuguese Academy of 

Sciences, April i9th, 1911. 
Doctor of Sciences, University of Manchester, November 24th, 

1911. 
Honorary Member of the Belgian Chemical Society, April i6th, 

1912. 
Collaborating Member of the Imperial Institution of Experimental 

Medicine, St. Petersburg, April i2th, 1912. 
Member of the Scientific Society of Warsaw, 1912. 
Honorary Member in Philosophy of the University of Lcmberg, 

1912. 

Member of the Warsaw Photographic Society, 1912. 
Doctor of the Polytechnic School, Lemberg, 1912. 
Honorary Member of the Vilna Society of the Friends of Sciences, 

July 2oth, 1912. 
Member Extraordinary of the Royal Academy of Sciences 

(Mathematics and Physics Section), Amsterdam, May 2ist, 



37 8 MADAME CURIE 

Doctor, University of Birmingham, 1913. 

Honorary Member of the Association of Arts and Sciences of 

Edinburgh, January 1 5th, 1913. 

Honorary Member of the Physico-Medical Society of the Univer- 
sity of Moscow, March, 1914. 
1 lonorary Member of the Philosophical Society of Cambridge, 

May 3oth, 1914. 
Honorary Member of the Scientific Institution of Moscow, March, 

1914. 
Honorary Member of the Institution of Hygiene, London, April 

1 5th, 1914. 
Corresponding Member of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural 

Sciences, April 22nd, 1914. 
Honorary Member of the Royal Spanish Society of Medical 

Electrology and Radiology, April ist, 1918. 
Honorary President of the Royal Spanish Society of Medical 

Electrology and Radiology, April 2 5th, 1919. 
Honorary Director of the Radium Institute of Madrid, July 5th, 

1919. 

Honorary Professor of the Warsaw University, 1919. 
Member of the Polish Chemical Society, 1919. 
Ordinary Member of the Danish Royal Academy of Sciences and 

Letters, 1920. 

Doctor of Sciences of Yale University, June loth, 1921. 
Doctor of Sciences of the University of Chicago, July i8th, 1921. 
Doctor of Sciences of the North-western University, June i5th, 

1921. 

Doctor of Sciences of Smith College, May i3th, 1921. 
Doctor of Sciences of Wellesley College, July 1 2th, 1921. 
Doctor of the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, May 

23rd, 1921. 

Doctor of Sciences of Columbia University, June ist, 1921. 
Doctor of Laws of Pittsburgh University, June yth, 1921. 
Doctor of Laws of University of Pennsylvania, May 23rd, 1921. 
Honorary Member of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, 

Junc^ i6th, 1921. 

Honorary M ember of the Mineralogical Club of New York, April 
aoth, 1921. 



APPENDIX 379 

Honorary Member of the North American Radiological Society, 

1921. 
Honorary Member of the New England Association of Chemistry 

Teachers, April i4th, 1921. 
Honorary Member of the American Museum of Natural History, 

April zoth, 1921. 
Honorary Member of the New Jersey Chemical Society, May i6th, 

1921. 
Honorary Member of the Industrial Chemistry Society, July i3th, 

1 92 1 . 

Member of the Christiania Academy, March i8th, 192.1. 
Honorary Life Member of the Knox Academy of Arts and 

Sciences, June iSth, 1921. 
Honorary Member of the American Radium Society, July 29th, 

1921. 
Honorary Member of the Norwegian Society for Medical 

Radiology, October i5th, 1921. 
Honorary Member of Alliance Francaise of New York, June xoth, 

1921. 
Associate Member, Academic de Medecine, Paris, February yth, 

1922. 
Membrc Ham raire du Groupe Academique Russe de Belgique, 

Jaauai j _..nd, 1922. 
Honorary Mv in >erof the Rumania Society of Medical Hydrology 

and Clim.i ology, January loth, 1923. 

1 fonorary Member of the Czechoslovakian Union of Mathe- 
maticians and Physicists, January 20th, 1923. 
Honorary Citizen of the City of Warsaw, 1924. 
I lonorary Member of the Polish Chemical Society of Warsaw, 1924. 
Doctor of Medicine of the University of Cracow, February 25th, 

1924- 
Doctor of Philosophy of the University of Cracow, February 

25th, 1924. 

Honorary Citizen of the City of Riga, 1924. 
1 lonorary Member of the Society of Psychic Research of Athens, 

December ijth, 1924. 
Honorary Member of the Medical Society of Lublin, Poland, July 

4th, 1925. 



3 8o MADAME CURIE . 

Member of the "Pontificia Tiberina" of Rome, March 3ist, 

1926. 
Honorary Member of the Chemical Society of Sao Paulo Brazil, 

August 1 2th, 1926. 
Corresponding Member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, 

August 24th, 1926. 
Honorary Member of the Society of Pharmacy and Chemistry of 

Sao Paulo, Brazil, July iyth, 1926. 
Honorary Member of the Brazilian Association of Pharmacists, 

July 23rd, 1926. 
Doctor of the Chemical Section of the Polytechnic School of 

Warsaw, 1926. 
Honorary Member of the Academy of Sciences of Moscow, 

January 4th, 1927. 
Foreign Member of the Bohemian Society of Letters and Sciences, 

January i2th, 1927. 
Honorary Member of the Academy of Sciences of U.S.S.R., 

February 2nd, 1927. 
Honorary Member of the Interstate Postgraduate Medical 

Association of North America, 1927. 

Honorary Member of New Zealand Institute, February 8th, 1927. 
Honorary Member of the Society of the Friends and Sciences of 

Poznan, Poland, March 6th, 1929. 

Doctor of Law of the University of Glargow, June, 1929. 
Honorary Citizen of the City of Glasgow, 1929. 
Doctor of Sciences of the University of St. Laurent, October 26th, 

1929. 
Honorary Member of the New York Academy of Medicine, 

January 7th, 1930. 
Honorary Member of the Polish Medical and Dental Association 

of America, October, 1929. 
Honorary Member of the Soci&6 Franchise des Inventeurs et 

Savants, March jth, 1930. 
Honorary President of the Sociiti Francaise des Inventeurs et 

Savants, June i6th, 1930. 

Honorary Member of the World League for Peace, Geneva, 1931. 
Honorary Member of the American College of Radiology, April 

i6th, 1931. 



APPENDIX 381 

Foreign Corresponding Member of the Madrid Academy of Exact 

Natural Physical Sciences, April zjth, 1931. 
Member of the Imperial German Academy of Natural Sciences, 

Halle, March i8th, 1932. 
Honorary Member of the Society of Medicine of Warsaw, June 

28th, 1932. 
Honorary Member of the Chechoslovakian Chemistry Society, 

September 24th, 1932. 
Honorary Member of the British Institute of Radiology and 

Rontgen Society, London, 1933. 



INDEX 



E, Dr. Robert, 315 
Albert, King of Belgium, 295, 

329 

Alexander II, Tsar, 32. 96 
Amagat, M., 180, 270 
Appell Paul, 94-5, i So -i, 241, 246, 

286, 336 
Armstrong, 201 
Auger, Victor, 305 
Aurivillius, Professor, 204 
Avebury, Lord, 201 
Ayrton, Mrs., 273, 274 
Ayrton, Professor, 201 

HALF-HAZARD, Professor, 193 
Rartet, Julia, 224 
Becldre, Dr. Antoine, 337 
Bccruerel, Henri, 151-2, 186, 193, 

2o ^ 

Bexnont G. -. 336 
Berard, 1 ~on, 6, 336-337 
Ben* sor, K. L., ^o 
Bcrnhardi, aarah 224, 316 
Bertheiot, Marrc n, 244, 248 
Bogus ki, Felix, ' 
Boguski, Henry >, 7 
Boguski, Joscp 1 , 113, 159 
Boitcux, Georges, 355 
Boltzmann, Professor, 189 
Borel, fimilc, 273, 286, 305, 307, 308, 

344 

Bouchard, Professor, 193 
Boulin, Professor, 368 
Bouty, Protcssor, 176, 196, 270 
Brady, Mrs. Kiel ol s R, 315 
Bramwell, Sir Frederick, 201 
Branlcy, Edouard, 207, 270 
Briand, Aristidc, 245 
Byrd, Commander, 334 

CARNEGIE. Andrew, 268 



Carnegie, Mrs. Andrew, 319 

Central Chemical Products Com- 
pany, 194 

Chamid, Mile, 363-4 

Chauchard, M., 336 

Chavannes, M., 262, 263, 273 

Chavannes, Mme., 273 

Cheveneau, Charles, 245 

Clement, Mile., 343 

Clcrc, M., 240 

Coolidge, Vice -President, 325 

Cotclle, Mme., 352, 370 

Cotton, Aime, 227 

Crookes, Sir William, 189, 201 

Curie, Dr. Eugene, 121 et seq. 

Curie, Eve, 22 1 et seq. 

Curie, Irene, 147 et seq. 

Curie, Jacques, 121, 152, 242, 247, 
250, 268, 273, 284, 348, 373, 

399 

Curie, Marie (r.e Marie Sklodovski 
which .fff), "wedding tramp," 
136-139; housekeeping, 141-3; a 
daughter bom, 147; radio-active 
ores, 150-9; discovery of 
Radium, 161; isolating Radium, 
162-171; two successes, 178; 
father's death, 184; scientific 
reports, 188-9; Radium ally 
against cancer, 193; production on 
vast scale, 194; doctor of physical 
science, 197; decides against 
material profit, 198-9; first honours 
from England, 201-3; Nobel prize, 

203; boredom 
t " ^* 
birth 

French 
of Pier 

l prize ag 




J84 



INDEX 



Curie, Marie continued 

Radium, 278-280; war work, 278- 
280; holidaying at LarcouCst, 283- 
296, 300; visiting America, 313- 
327; fruits of toil, 328-339; 
autumn of life, 340-364; the end, 

365-374 

Curie, Maurice, 208, 292, 344 
Curie, Pierre, 1x8-236; death, 240 ft 

seq. 
Curlt % Pierre, Works of, 268 

DANNE, Jacques, 195 

Danysz, Jan, 99, 275, 293 

Darboux, Professor, 270 

Daulos, Dr., 194 

Debierne, Andre, 170, 194, 227, 228, 

234, 242, 262, 269, 273, 35 337. 

344, 356 

de Flcury, Comresse, 41-43 
de Ganay, Marquise, 287 
Degrais, Dr., 194 
de Lisle, Armct, 195 
de St. Aubin, Mile., 207 
Despres, Suzanne, 224 
Dcstree, Jules, 330 
DC war, Professor, 201, 202 
Dluski, Casimir, 95-8, 101, 107-8, 

131, 134, 148, 160, 166, 186, 348 
Dominici, Dr., 194 
Dreyfus case, 140 
Drouet, M., 240 
Duane, Professor, 234 
Duse, Eleanora, 224 
Dydynska, Mile., 99, 109, in 

Echo dt Paris \ 210 
Einstein, Albert, 276-277, 330 
Elizabeth, Queen of Belgium, 295, 
3*9 

FOURNIER, Georges, 352, 37$ 
Fricdcl, Professor, 170-6 
Fuller, Loie, 226-7 

G ARIEL, M., 214 
Gauthier-Yijlars, 238, 239 
Geneva, University of, 177, 201 
Gemez, M., 229 
Gicsel, Herr, 192 
Gortka, Mmc., 9! 



Gouy, Georges, 180, tit, tit-9, 

223, 229-31, 247-8 
Granier, Jeanne, 224 
GricouroSf, Georges, 369 
Guillaume, Charles Edouard, 212, 

227 

Guitry, Lucien, 224-316 
Guitry, Sacha, 316 

HARDING, President and Airs., 311* 

325 

Haudepin, F., 195 
Hohveck, Fernand, 337, 556 
Hornberg, M., 17, 18, 19 

IVANOV, M., n, 12, 13, 2i 

Je Sav Tout, 316 

Joliot, Frederic, 344, 357, $69, 370 

Jusscrand, M., 321 

KAMIENSKA, Mary a, 259 
Kelvin, Lord, 122, 201, 244 
Klein, Mile., Mart he, 294, 296 
Kotarbinski, M., 333 
Kovalski, Joseph, 119 
Kozlovska, Mmc., 207 
Kraskova, Mile., 99 

LABORDE, Albert, 234, 357 
Langevin, Paul, 206, 227, 228, 264, 

289 
Lankester, Professor Sir Edwin Ray, 

201 

Lapicque, Louis, 303, 305 
Lauth, M., 214 
Lazard, Freres, 357 
League of Nations, 300, 329-30 
Liard, Rector, 181, 230, 278 
Lippmann, Professor G., 94, 108, 

119, 131, 156, 176, 196, 244. 170 
Lodge, Sir Oliver, 201 
Lorcntz, Professor, 3*0, 3)4 
Lou bet, President, 216 
LOUTS, Dr Pierre, 371, 371 

MAGROU, M., 264 
Manin, Louis, 240 * 

Marillicr, Mmc., 309 
Masaryk, President, 329 
Mascart, Professor, 179, 229 
Maurain, Charles, no, 3059 344 



INDEX 



Mead, Mrs. Robert G., 315 
Meloney, Mrs. William Brown, 313- 

334. 373 

Millerand, Alexandra, 336 
Moissan, Professor, 196 
Moody, Mrs. William Vaughn, 315 
Morax, Dr., 360 
Moscicki, M., 334 
Motz, Dr., 99 
Mounet-Sully, 224 
Mouton, Professo,r 263 
VI u rat, Princess, 287 
Murray, Professor Gilbert, 330 

K6NOT, M., 278, 279 
Nicholas, Tsar, 12 

PADEREWSKI, Ignace, 98-9, 320 

Painlcv6, Paul, no, 330 

Pa lad i no, Eusapia, 224 

Paulsen, 189 

Pcllatt, Professor, 176 

Perrin, Professor Jean, no, 170, 227, 

228, 238, 241, 262, 263, 273, 29, 

305, 306, 316, 336, 344, 345, 354 
Perrin, Mme. Jean, 219, 227, 228, 

242, 262, 273, 317 
Petit, Dr., 369 
Piasecka, Mile., 51 
Pi card, fimile, 270 
Pilsudski, Marshal, 333 
Pofc, Lugnc", 224 
Poincare", Henri, 146, 151, 175, 237, 

246, 270 

Poincard, Lucien, 178 
Przyborovski family, 31-34 
Pryzborovska, Kazia, 31, 33-41, 76- 

7, 80-134, 145, 288-9 

Radioactive Constants, Table of, 269 
Radioactivity, Treatise on, 268 
Radiotlemtnts, Classification of tbt> 269 
Hadiohgj in VV*r, 297 
Radium, Institute of, 278, 293, 294, 
296, 301, 314, 322, 335, 337, 346, 
55, 353* 356, 357, 359* 3<>5 3^6, 

Radium Institute of Warsaw, 334 
Ragot, Louis, 271, 282 
Ramsay, Sir Wm., 189 
Ravcau, Dr., 368 



Rayleigh, Lord, 201 

Regaud, Professor Claude, 279, 301, 

3'6, 334, 357, 35, 3<>8, 37* 
Reymond, M., 355 
Roch, Professor, 370 
Rodin, Auguste, 227 
Roentgen, W. K., 151, 282 
Rothschild, Baron Henri de, 335, 357 
Roux, Dr., 270, 278, 345 
Royal Institution of Gt. Britain, 201 
Royal Society of London, 203 
Rutherford, 189 

SAGNAC, Georges, 170, 182-3, 227, 
228 

St. Joachimsthal, Mines, 163, 164, 
170 

Sallenave, Mme., 343 

Schutzenberger, M., 138, 164, 214 

Scignobos, Charles, 303, 304, 305, 
306, 309, 312 

Sienkiewic?, Hcnryk, 274 

Sikorska's, Mile, school, 16, 18, 19, 
20, 276 

Sklodovski, Bronislava ("Bronya") 
afterwards Mme. Dluski, 5 et sec r 

Sklodovski family, 3-15, 20-27, z8 
57, 46-49* 70-78 

Sklodovski, Helen ("Hela"), 4 et seq. 

Sklbdovski, Joseph, 3 et seq. 

Sklodovski, Marie (Madame Curie), 
birth, 8; childhood, 8-1 5 ; at school, 
16-36; a gold medal, 36; a year's 
holiday, 36-40; at Kempa, 41-44; 
dreams, 49-56; a governess, 56- 
79; a new post, 80; first research, 
84-85; to Paris, 85-92; a student at 
the Sorbonne, 93-105; overwork, 
106-109; success at exams., no; 
Alexandrovitch scholarship, 112- 
114; meeting Pierre Curie, 118- 
izi; wedding-day, 134-1 3 5> JW 
AJ<jr*> Curte 

Society for the Encouragement of 
National Industry, 1x4, 119, 148 

Soddy, 189 

Suess, Professor, 164, 189 

Swedish Academy of Science 
(Stockholm), 203, 208, 218, 222, 

271 
Szalay, Stanislav, 99 



386 INDEX 

THOMPSON, S. P., 201 Vauthier, Dr., 148, 166 

Tobc, Dr., 371, 272 

Tupalska, Mile. Antonina, 16-17, WALKHOFF, Hcrr, 192 

1 8 XX^aither, Charles, 274 

Wertcnsfein, M., 275 

UNION Miniere du Haut-Katarga, Wickham, Dr., 194 

354, 357 VC'ojciechowski, Stanislav, 355 

Urbain, Georges, 227, 228, 239 Wood, Dr. Francis Carter, 315 

VALRY, Paul, 331 YOUNG, Owen D., 334