Fiction and Fact About Online Dating

I began reading, with warm anticipation, The Other Einstein: A Novel, by Marie Benedict. It was loosely based on what little is known about Einstein’s first wife, Mileva Einstein, and her relationship with one of the greatest scientists in history. Benedict’s take on the Einstein story commenced with promise as the two students, Albert and Mileva, began their friendship, their sharing of a passion for science and mathematics (Mileva’s field), and the blossoming of their love. Einstein came across as delightful and eccentric, and unlike many men of his time, not a man who discriminated against intelligent women; quite the reverse in fact. However, in the novel their apparently equal relationship quickly deteriorated when Albert did not include Mileva’s name on his first important papers, in spite of the ‘fact’ that he and Mileva had worked on them together, and indeed that Mileva had apparently contributed more than Albert.

The real facts are that although there has been speculation that she might have contributed something to these papers, the resounding and most parsimonious conclusion is that she did not and could not have contributed in any significant way, in the sense that there is little evidence that she had the giant intellect and training to think through concepts as unique as these. This is not to say she wasn’t a highly intelligent woman and mathematician, nor that her gifts weren’t put on hold by Einstein’s rise to the top (supported by the beliefs of the day that a woman’s place was in the home, especially once children were born). However there are few people of either sex who could hold a candle to Einstein’s intellectual achievements. So even although this is a novel, I think it strays too far in this respect. Most readers of The Other Einstein not intimately acquainted with the facts about Einstein’s life will definitely get the impression that Mileva was robbed of her right as an author on these papers (and of the Nobel prize later). Albert Einstein is far too giant a figure to sacrifice in this way, even in fiction.

However, this is not as serious a speculation or fictionalization as the depiction of Einstein’s treatment of Mileva as the years went by and he became more famous and she withdrew into the world of motherhood and looking after the home and her husband. Albert’s increasingly humiliating treatment of Mileva is shocking, and a reader who forgets that this is fiction would be hard put not to revise any positive or even neutral views they previously had of the man who, along with Darwin, is probably the best known scientist the world has ever known. As far as I know there is no evidence for this dark change in Einstein’s personality and treatment of his wife. Indeed it doesn’t fit with what we do know of Einstein from writings of his friends and so on. Of course it could be true, or partly true; we will probably never know. Certainly there are plenty of instances of a powerful man treating his wife badly in private and yet outside the marriage everyone thinks he is wonderful. It is a fact that Einstein had a  long affair with his cousin and later married her. It is also a fact that he signed a divorce agreement giving all of the prize money of his forthcoming Nobel Prize to Mileva to support her and their two sons (whom he continued to love and spend time with). Neither of these facts suggest the extreme behavior he displayed towards Mileva in this fictional portrayal. Again my issue is that Einstein is not a fictional character, and to denigrate him like this, even in fiction, is going too far.