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.

Written in chronological order, the book begins with Marie’s childhood and concludes with her death. The chapters and sections are carefully delineated; their titles alone provide a succinct summary of her life. The book lacks a bibliography of sources and contains few footnotes, but it does include an extensive appendix listing Marie Curie’s prizes, medals, and honorary titles.

Curie’s highly descriptive writing provides details of clothing, room furnishings, and even sounds and smells. She offers intimate anecdotes and glimpses into family life and habits, and shows the emotions of her mother, including her sense of duty, her feelings of shame, and her experience of sorrow and loneliness. Curie also includes substantial quotations from letters and diaries, thus presenting firsthand descriptions of the characters’ thoughts and feelings. Her account is not mere “eulogy”; it acknowledges and illustrates Marie’s faults and idiosyncrasies-such as stubbornness, bitterness, irritability, and depression-while tactfully avoiding sensitive areas of her private life and relationships. The author provides information about Marie’s professional life as well as her personal life, explaining significant scientific terms and concepts with respect and understanding for nonscientific readers.