Einstein in Love: Letters Illuminate Genius' Dark Side
Feb. 14, 2012 -
Einstein's hair wasn't the only wild thing about him. The famous physicist also had numerous sexual liaisons during his two marriages. Einstein's first marriage was miserable. He and his wife, Mileva Marić, even formed a contract in which she became little more than a household servant, including the conditions set by Einstein that, “You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons ... . You will stop talking to me if I request it.” After the inevitable divorce, Einstein married his cousin, Elsa Lowenthal, whom he was already sleeping with. But his second marriage didn't keep Einstein in line either. Six girlfriends were mentioned in letters to his wife. At least he was honest about it.
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Erwin Schrödinger You may have heard of the theory of Shrödinger's cat , a hypothetical feline that may be either alive or dead depending on the random decay of a nuclear particle. It turns out Shrödinger was quite the Tom cat himself. The physicist got physical with numerous lovers. His wife, Anny, knew all about it. She had a lover of her own. The swinging scientist even went so far as to hire Arthur March as his lab assistant because he lusted after March's wife, Hilde. She bore Shrödinger a child, though she remained married to March. Shrödinger's two-woman harem eventually cost him an appointment at Oxford, since the idea of a polyamorous physicist was outside the cultural acceptability of the day.
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Richard Feynman Compared to other famous physicists, Feynman was more of a stereotypical number cruncher. He loved numbers so much that his second wife considered them his mistress. She wasn't as forgiving of Feynman's dalliances with sweet lady calculus as Einstein and Schrödinger's wives had been with their actual sexual escapades. She divorced Feynman, a master of quantum mechanics, because of his love affair with math. Feynman's first wife had died of tuberculosis in 1945. But the third time was the charm for him. He married Gweneth Howarth and lived happily ever after in the beach house he bought with his share of the Nobel Prize award that he won in 1965.
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Marie Curie Famous for her pioneering study of radiation, this star-crossed scientist's love life was just as conflicted, tragic and scandalous as the history of the energy she studied. Her husband, Frenchman Pierre Curie, slipped on a slick street in Paris during a storm and died after a horse drawn carriage crushed his skull. Heartbroken, Curie buried herself in her work to deal with her grief, until in 1910 she found solace in the arms a former student of Pierre's, Paul Langevin. But Langevin was a married man and five years her junior. The affair scandalized the French and fueled xenophobia against Curie, a native of Poland.
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Stephen Hawking On his 70th birthday, Stephen Hawking commented that, to him, women were a "complete mystery." No wonder, since his personal history sounds like what would happen if Jerry Springer hosted Nova. Hawking divorced Jane Wilde, his wife of 25 years, and married one of his nurses. His nurse, Elaine Mason, divorced her own husband, the man who had designed Hawking's iconic speaking machine, for Hawking. But some of Hawking's former nurses claimed Mason psychologically abused and mentally manipulated the wheelchair-bound genius. In 2006, Hawking broke free of Mason and began to mend fences with his children from his first marriage.
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Alfred Charles Kinsey A sexologist with torrid tales surrounding their research...who'da thunkit? Kinsey faced allegations that he conducted his research on human sexuality to fulfill a personal kink, but was also praised for making sex a legitimate topic of discussion and bringing the study of homosexuality out of the closet. Sure, in the privacy of his attic Kinsey filmed some of his own sexual behavior with his fellow researchers. And he encouraged his staff to engage in amorous experimentation in order to gain the confidence of research subjects and more fully understand the topic they were studying. But Kinsey's work also helped to make one of the most basic aspects of human biology a respected area of study. The groundbreaking Kinsey reports accompanied the United States into the sexual liberation of the 1960s.
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Albert Einstein's genius did not extend to his own love life, which was full of messy affairs, bumpy marriages and bitter endings, as judged by his letters to the women in his life.
A reading of the letters written by Einstein to his wives and other women brought the strange, complicated life of the world's most famous scientist to the stage in Alan Alda's play "Dear Albert," at New York University's Skirball Center for Performing Arts, here at the World Science Festival on May 28.
"The interesting thing to me is that was searching all through his life for simplicity, and he couldn't have had a more chaotic personal life," Alda said.
The young Einstein, played by Paul Rudd, wrote frequently to his fellow student Mileva Marić, played by Cynthia Nixon, a brilliant and determined woman who later became his wife. Their relationship began with heated passion despite an unwelcome pre-marriage pregnancy and Einstein's parents' disapproval of the relationship. [Einstein Quiz: Test Your Knowledge of the Famous Genius]
The couple, who spent a lot of time apart, wrote of their love for each other in between lines of enthusiastic scientific discussions interrupted by mathematical equations.
Marić and Einstein lived together for some 10 years, during which Einstein's career flourished and he published his revolutionary theory of relativity. But the relationship began to flounder, and the flirtatious Einstein turned to his cousin Elsa in1912, to whom he complained about Marić's depression and jealousy.
When Marić resisted divorce, the pragmatic scientist wrote a list of terms and conditions for continuing to live with her: "You will make sure, that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order; that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room; that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only," Einstein wrote. He also asked Marić to renounce any personal relations with him, not to expect any intimacy, and to stop talking to him if he requested it.
Marić and Einstein got divorced on Feb. 14, 1919, after having lived apart for five years. Einstein married Elsa on June 2, 1919, but letters from Elsa's daughter suggest he had difficulty deciding whether to marry the mother or the daughter.
Einstein went on to have yet other affairs during his second marriage, but he did stay loyal to one thing and that was physics. However, his letters show he was as capricious toward his theoriesas he was with women. Many times he absolutely believed he had the true solution, just to disprove it later.
Einstein's quest for finding a unified theory that could explain all space and time was reflected in his personal correspondence, and continued until his death.
He was a man who once said he had sold himself, body and soul, to science. But the scientific giant was still in many ways like the rest of humanity. He had a human side too, with all the well-known human frailties and shortcomings.
"Such a genius should be irreproachable in every respect," Elsa once wrote about her husband in a letter. "But nature does not behave this way, where she gives extravagantly, she takes away extravagantly."
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