It was only a year after first meeting, in 1895, that Marie and Pierre Curie became husband and wife. Together, they made groundbreaking contributions to science, not least the discovery of two new elements, polonium and radium, and in 1903 they were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Tragedy befell the couple in 1906 when Pierre was fatally struck by a horse-drawn carriage in Paris, and as Marie grieved in the days and weeks that followed, she kept a mourning journal in which to work through her pain. The following entry—one of eight that she wrote—came on 14th May, a few weeks after her husband’s death, and a day after she had been appointed as his successor at the University of Paris, as chief of research in the Faculty of Science. Despite her husband’s tragic end, Marie Curie persevered, and in 1911 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for a second time, becoming the first person to win the prestigious award twice as well as the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.
The Diary Entry
14 May 1906
My little Pierre, I want to tell you that the laburnum is in flower, the wisteria, the hawthorn and the iris are beginning—you would have loved all that.
I want to tell you, too, that I have been named to your chair, and that there have been some imbeciles to congratulate me on it.
And still, I live in constant desolation, and I don’t know what I will become and how I will bear the task that remains. At times, it seems to me that my pain is wearing off, but immediately it is reborn, tenacious and powerful.
I want to tell you that I no longer love the sun or the flowers. The 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.
On Sunday morning, I went to my Pierre’s grave. I will have a vault made, and the coffin will have to be moved. I work in the laboratory all day, it’s all I can do; I feel better there than anywhere else.
I cannot conceive of anything which would give me real personal happiness, except perhaps scientific work, and not even that, because, if successful, I would be distressed that you didn’t know about it. This laboratory gives me an illusion of preserving the remains of your life.
I found a little picture of you near the scales, with such a lovely smiling expression that I can’t look at it without sobbing, since I will never again see that sweet smile.
Most of Curie’s papers, including her mourning journal, are held at the Bibliotheque Nationale in France. However, they’re kept in lead-lined boxes due to the fact that they’re radioactive, so, if you’re planning a visit you’ll need to where protective clothing. Luckily, these journal entries were reprinted, in part, in the 1937 biography, Madame Curie, which can be read at the Internet Archive.
Excerpt(s) from Madame Curie by Eve Curie, copyright © 1937 by Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
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