Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
10 minutes for reading

OH, LOVE: Einstein and the lame provincial girl

OH, LOVE: Einstein and the lame provincial girl
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Artwork: huxley.media via Photoshop


Despite Einstein’s brilliant success in science, the vast majority of our society believes that he had a complicated personal life. Women like perky and active, but can you expect such a thing from a sullen, closed-minded boy who, in early childhood, behaved almost like an autistic and only later recovered a little? Where is he supposed to meet a girl if he is studying at the Zurich Polytechnic, where there have never been any girls? This is not to mention that a great scientist is supposed to be thin, weak, and awkward in his youth…

That’s how stereotypes can let you down, and that’s not what happened. Einstein’s height (look closely at the photo) is quite decent — there is confusion in the sources: where the meter seventy-six, where only meter sixty-eight, but you must agree that it is not a little guy.

He had health problems, but together with his job, he got money, and his health improved, but his considerable physical strength was noted by his acquaintances, even with surprise; they just did not expect it. He did not fall out of the student community, and he showed both intelligence and humor. In addition, he was already playing the violin quite well then, and in those days, it helped relationships with the opposite sex as much as now playing bass guitar in a rock band.

In his course, in addition to the students, there was one female student as an exception — a phenomenon in this university, except for a little less unusual than the future Nobel laureate. Mileva Marić was the fifth female student of the polytechnic in its history and the only one in Albert’s course.

However, lame — congenital dislocation of the hip even now is not a great fortune — but otherwise full of light: smart, capable, the first student everywhere, she was even allowed to study physics in the local gymnasiums assigned only to boys.

The only young lady in the group usually attracts the attention of fellow students without any difficulties. By the way, and she, it turns out, was a physicist and not bad — so, at least, could she help her husband in scientific work? It turns out that yes…

Still can not believe that Einstein himself is courting the girl. Probably, instead of flowers, he gives her a fresh Olympiad task and takes her not to the operetta, and the seminar on electrodynamics? Laugh if you want, but there was something like that too — personal letters of Albert and Mileva are full of discussions about fashionable physical theories, and young people talk about their favorite professors almost as much as others do about fashionable performers.

Apparently, the other trappings of youthful romance, including the subject of the figure of default, occurred in normal amounts in their relationship. «I’ve lost my mind, dying, blazing with love and desire. The pillow you sleep on is a hundred times happier than my heart! You come to me at night, but unfortunately only in dreams» — such phrases can be found in Albert’s letters.

He was probably the active party in their affair, although he was younger than Mileva by as much as four years. Nevertheless, the young man had more experience in personal relationships — the previous beloved he left for the sake of Mileva, and Mileva hadn’t had any affairs before meeting Albert.


Альберт Эйнштейн и Милева Марич, 1912 год
Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić, 1912 / wikipedia.org


Mileva’s parents had nothing against the groom, but Albert’s father and mother rejected Mileva for two reasons, one more stupid than the other. The first, to their shame, was vulgar nationalism — they were not satisfied with a non-Jewish daughter-in-law, and a Serbian daughter-in-law displeased them even more.

There is and can be no justification for this, but the attempts of a number of anti-Semitic hound writers to put this bald spot in Albert’s line are simply ridiculous — he knew whom he was introducing to his parents, and despite their monstrous reaction, he did not change his attitude to Mileva even one inch.

But the second claim is even funnier — Mileva was accused of being too keen on physics. It is necessary to think of such a thing — to reject Einstein’s fiancée because she likes physics!

Then there was a situation that in the official biographies, even very solid, sometimes bypassed. Study at the young couple ends, and Einstein passes final exams, and Mileva does not — not gaining points. There is no constant work, and sometimes there is nothing to eat, and at this moment, the couple decides to have a child!

A daughter is born, about whom, except for the name Lieserl, almost nothing is unknown. Soon, traces of her are lost, and it is not clear what happened to her — whether she did not survive scarlet fever or was given for adoption; in general, there was a child, and it is gone. In any case, let’s not idealize even geniuses — the truth is more expensive.

After two challenging years, things are getting better for our couple. Einstein’s father, after all, blessed their marriage before his death. There is a position as an examiner in the Swiss patent office with a salary of 3500 Swiss francs a year. With such an income, how about marriage? It is known that all women want it, and all men fear it.

In one of the pre-wedding letters, Albert in advance puts Mileva a whole series of conditions without which the marriage can not be, — three times a day to feed, do the laundry, leave alone at the first request, do not expect displays of affection, and even perform for him scientific calculations (!!!). Why with such claims he was not simply thrown down the stairs is an interesting question.


Альберт Эйнштейн в патентном бюро Берна, 1905 год
Albert Einstein at the patent office in Bern, 1905 / wikipedia.org


On January 6, 1903, Mr. Examiner of the patent office introduced his young wife into the house. How they will live — up to this point, it is useless to guess. Even if you have been dating a person for years, even if you know him inside out — anyway, as soon as you get married and live in the same house, you will find out that there is another person around, not the one you knew. Not necessarily worse, but not as you thought, and there is nothing you can do about it.

The reality is beyond all expectations. Life flows almost normally, a son is born a year later, and then comes the next, 1905, which all Einstein experts call the Year of Miracles.

The unknown expert patent office, doing physics exclusively at home in his spare time, publishes three great articles in the famous «Annals of Physics», one of which outlines the foundations of the special theory of relativity — a doctrine so paradoxical that the coryphées of science challenged him for decades.


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How significant was the role of Mileva? It is obvious that without her, it didn’t do without. There are even memories that indicate that the first version of the article on the theory of relativity was signed by two names — Einstein and Marić. Here, most likely a mistake, just Einstein himself signed the double surname Einstein-Maric (I remember he wrote the surname Mileva in Hungarian; her native Vojvodina is next to Hungary).

But married life began to cause them great problems. Mileva quietly hated housework and did it as badly as she could. In addition, she was painfully jealous and did not hesitate to demonstrate it.

Strangely, in a German-speaking family, the wife might not have known the beautiful German pun «Eifersucht ist aine läidenschaft, di mit eifer zucht, das läiden schaft» — «Jealousy is a predilection that with zeal searches for something that causes suffering». The family still existed, in 1910, another son, Eduard, was born; the monstrous work on the general theory of relativity, much more complex than the special theory was already created, went its way, but before the big trouble was clearly hand in hand.


Милева Марич с детьми — Эдуардом и Гансом Альбертом
Mileva Marić with children — Edward and Hans Albert, 1912 / Hebrew University of Jerusalem


If spouses argue terribly, it is horrible, but it is possible to reconcile. But when they break up without outbursts and are just less and less interested in each other, there is nothing to be done. Einstein had an affair with Elsa Einstein-Lowenthal, his second cousin on his father’s side and third cousin on his mother’s side.

Negotiations began about divorce and, of course, how the departing spouse would support the children. There was a completely unexpected idea — Albert promised to give her the Nobel Prize, which, by that time, no one was going to award him. Was this an indirect recognition of Mileva’s right to the prize? You never know.

Mileva had to wait not too long: at the end of 1922, Einstein received the prize in physics, which he immediately handed over to Mileva. By the way, the prize was awarded for research in the field of the photoelectric effect — neither the special nor the general theory of relativity fully confirmed then were not considered. Albert divorced Mileva, married Elsa, and now she had to organize his household (she did it perfectly) and forgive his inconstancy (and no one is good at it).

So which of the two of them came up with all these incredible things — Albert or Mileva? The main argument of the deniers is that it was while living with Mileva that all the major discoveries that made Einstein famous through the ages were made. But the truth is that in the last decades of his life, he put entirely on the monstrous work on the creation of the theory of a unified field, which turned out to be for him unacceptable, but by no means barren for science.

The fact that the general theory of relativity was basically created already without Mileva and a number of other profound discoveries, such as the Bose-Einstein statistics, also made later his detractors forget completely — and hopefully, others will not remember. And this destroys the power of their favorite argument.


Альберт Эйнштейн с женой Эльзой Эйнштейн, 1921
Albert Einstein with his wife Elsa, 1921 / wikipedia.org


Moreover, the question arises: if Mileva is actually the author of all these discoveries, where are her independent works? After all, she lived more than three decades after her divorce — where is a single line of a physics paper she wrote independently? Most often, this is answered as customary by supporters of the fascinating activity called conspiracy: «There is no proof of Einstein’s guilt. But this is the main evidence of his guilt because it proves that he destroyed this evidence!»

Conspiracy theorists usually do not consider that, with the help of such cunning logic, they themselves can be accused of everything in the world. So you can suspect anything — you can’t prove it. The probability that the key insights came to Mileva and not Albert is negligible, and there is no confirmation of this hypothesis.

But it would also be wrong to forget that it was during his marriage to Mileva that Einstein experienced this fantastic Year of Miracles, during which he discovered more than any physicist in the world in any year of his life, including Aristotle and Newton.

Since Einstein in advance, before marriage, stipulated the possibility of turning to Mileva for scientific help, it means that he, firstly, needed this help, and secondly, considered it possible. So her part in the fantastic successes of her husband is clearly not equal to zero, and if they did not want to try to determine how great it is (not only Albert but also Mileva), what right do we have to interfere in this case?

The interest in Einstein’s personal life is understandable — he was not sinless and was a rare dragonfly who did not refuse gallant adventures either with his second wife or after her death. For example, about his affair with Margarita Konenkova, the wife of the great sculptor and part-time Soviet intelligence officer, you can tell as much interesting as about his first marriage — but about new scientific ideas in this narrative will be almost nothing.

The bust of Mileva in the Serbian city of Novi Sad is equipped with a bandage covering her eyes and ears — it should at least symbolically protect her from the mass of unpleasant and unfounded suspicions. I am afraid that her husband would need such a blindfold as well. Too many people are looking for scandalous details and bad-smelling sensations in their marriage and do not find them, so they try to make them up…

It would be better to think about the fact that in love and harmony, Einstein and Mileva gave the world the Year of Miracles and feel gratitude rather than engage in such a shameful business as conspiracy. They don’t deserve it.


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