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About the Author

Eve Curie was born on December 6, 1904, in Paris, France. The younger of two daughters to Nobel Prize-winning scientists Pierre and Marie Curie, Eve was only sixteen months old when her father died. She was raised and educated by Polish governesses and then attended the College Sevigne, receiving bachelor of science and bachelor of philosophy degrees.

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Overview

Madame Curie is the biography of Marie Sklodovska Curie, a Polish girl with a passion for knowledge who becomes a scientific genius. With her husband, Pierre, Marie studies radioactivity, discovers the element radium, and thus provides a means for treating cancer. Marie Curie values her country, family, work, and students. Her story shows how determination enables a timid person to overcome the hardships of poverty and oppression, and how gentle stubbornness and an indifference to honors and fame can lead to great achievements. Her life exemplifies scientific dedication and personal courage.

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Setting

The biography begins with Marie Curie’s birth in 1867, in Warsaw. Poland has been dominated by the Russian Empire for over 100 years, and young Marie witnesses the czar’s continual attempts to Russianize Poland. As a youth, she is traumatized by the political execution of her friend’s brother, and she is personally humiliated and frightened by a government inspector’s interrogations. The political situation causes family hardship when her father, M. Sklodovski, is demoted, resulting in a reduction of salary and a loss of title and housing.

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Themes and Characters

Madame Curie revolves around Marie Sklodovska, a brilliant but timid girl with deep emotions and a passion for work. Her father, Vladislov Sklodovski, is a solemn and meticulous mathematics and physics professor. Although poverty forces him to take in boarders, he creates an intellectual atmosphere for his children, teaching them to love literature and knowledge. His children adore him. Marie’s mother is beautiful, well educated, and high-spirited, but seriously ill with tuberculosis; she dies when Marie is ten years old. Marie also loses her oldest sister, Zosia, who dies from typhus.

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Literary Qualities

A carefully researched, factually exact biography, Madame Curie portrays the warmth of a daughter’s love and respect for her mother. The author’s compassionate and approving tone does not detract from her dignified and generally objective style. Curie maintains a distance from the story and frequently writes in the third person, more as a commentator than as a major character. Great attention is paid to accuracy, and no events or conversations are fictionalized. Curie uses dialogue only when it can be quoted exactly.

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Social Sensitivity

Madame Curie exhibits a degree of national prejudice. Marie’s childhood experiences lead her to distrust and despise Russia, a hatred she illustrates by spitting on a monument to the czar in Saxony Square. The Curies also feel a bitterness towards France, leading Eve to call that nation ungrateful and stingy. France is one of the last nations to recognize and honor Marie and Pierre, and the nation’s educational hierarchy is slow to offer them important positions and adequate working facilities. Eventually, however, Marie is elected to the country’s Academy of Medicine in 1922, and in the following year, Parliament unanimously votes to give her an annual pension of 40,000 francs as a “national recompense.”

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Ideas and Topics for Papers

VII TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION

1. What is Marie’s opinion of responsibility and loyalty to one’s family? How does her life affirm or disaffirm that conviction?

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Adaptations

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released a motion picture version of Madame Curie in 1943. Produced by Sidney Franklin, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, and starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, the film earned Academy Award nominations for best picture, best actor, photography, and music. The movie resembles the book with its dignified tone and analytical orientation, but it cannot maintain the exclusive standards for reproducing dialogue or offer the intimate insights of extensively quoted letters.

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