Ideas and Topics for Papers


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

2. How would you describe Marie’s political views? How do her activities as a young adult place her in political danger?

3. Describe the differences between Marie’s two daughters, Irene and Eve. How does she differ in her relationship to each of them?

4. What is Marie’s impression of America? How do her visits to the United States change her way of life?

5. Eve tells a story of the young and happy Marie dancing all night and wearing out a pair of shoes. Why does she not allow herself these joys later in life?

6. The dangers of radiation make both Pierre and Marie ill and ultimately lead to their deaths, yet they don’t protect themselves from its hazards. Why do you think they take so many risks in their work with radium?

7. Why do the Curies decide against considering themselves the “inventors” of radium?

8. How do the Curies use the money they receive for the Nobel Prize? What does this show about their values?

9. What is Marie’s idea of the role and duties of intellectuals in times of national troubles?

10. Why does Eve consider it paradoxical that Marie works for the establishment of copyrights for scientists?

11. What part do timidity and depression play in Marie’s life? Do you think she handles her emotions well? Why or why not?


1. Eve says that even as a child Marie “learned that life was cruel,” and that her life might be described as a series of battles. What are some of the difficulties Marie faces? How does she respond to these difficulties?

2. Compare Marie’s attitudes toward Poland, France, Russia, and the United States. What major factors influence her views of these nations? What effects does each nation have on her scientific career? Why does she feel some bitterness toward the United States?

3. Describe the relationship between Marie and Pierre. Why is it difficult for Marie to decide to marry Pierre? What is their relationship at work and at home? Do you think Pierre pushes Marie too hard? Why or why not? How do they agree and disagree on issues such as money, fame, and position? What causes Marie to be so overwhelmed by Pierre’s death? Why does Marie state later in life that love is not “an honorable sentiment”?

4. Eve states that Marie’s motto might be, “In science we must be interested in things, not in persons.” What does she mean by this and how does it affect her career? Do you think she lives according to this motto? Why or why not?

5. What is Marie’s role during World War I? In what ways does the war “ruin” her or help her? In what ways does it change her outlook on life? How do you think Marie’s activities during this period influence Eve’s life?

6. Eve states that for Marie, celebrity is equal to a type of “premature burial.” Why do you think Marie so strongly opposes being a celebrity? How does Marie’s life change after she becomes famous? Does she ever become reconciled to these changes?

7. Marie is known as a beloved teacher and is intensely proud of the laboratory. What is her relationship to her students? Describe attitudes towards scholarships and fund raising. How do her own experiences as a student shape the teacher she becomes? How does teaching affect her career as a researcher?