Hadn’t everything important already been written about the great scientist Albert Einstein and his life? What fresh light could I possibly shed on the iconic man and those lives intertwined with his? These were the questions that plagued me as I dug into the research for my book, The Other Einstein.
My novel shares the story of Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein’s first wife, a physicist herself who made a meteoric climb from backwater Eastern Europe, where women could not even attend high school, to become one of the few female physics students at a European university. The sheer volume of books and research materials about Albert Einstein intimidated me at first—surely, I thought, Mileva’s life had been covered exhaustively—until I realized that, comparatively, very little of this wealth of information concerned Mileva. The perspective of the woman who attended university with Albert Einstein, became his lover, his wife and the mother of his only children, and sat across the dinner table from him night after night during his “miracle year” of 1905—when Einstein published four of his most groundbreaking ideas that led to the creation of modern physics, while working full-time in a patent office—did not factor prominently in those pages. I found this curious. And strangely promising for my novel.
Even those aspects of Albert’s life that dovetailed Mileva’s seemed to be little known and under-explored. To me, the most astonishing was the birth of Albert and Mileva’s illegitimate child, Lieserl. Mileva’s pregnancy during her final exams at university and the subsequent birth of their child were unknown until a cache of letters between Albert and Mileva referencing Lieserl was discovered in the 1980s. While the ultimate fate of their daughter has never been discovered, and knowledge about Lieserl has remained oddly quiet, even lesser understood has been the impact that Lieserl’s birth had on Mileva. Profoundly ill from the pregnancy, possibly due, in part, to the hip deformity that Mileva suffered, she failed her final exams. Without a degree and burdened with an illegitimate child, Mileva could not achieve her longtime goal of becoming a physicist, and her scientific ambitions could only be pursued through Albert.
While the scantness of information on Mileva made research for the novel a challenge, the somewhat uncharted landscape of Mileva’s life with Albert made it an intriguing backdrop for a novel. As one example, some research suggested that Albert never travelled to Serbia where Mileva lived with Lieserl in her family’s summer home before their marriage. This sparked a depiction of the pain Mileva might have suffered when Albert failed to met his two-year-old daughter before she succumbed to scarlet fever and passed out of their lives in a mysterious fashion. Fiction and logic allowed me to fill in the gaps in Mileva’s life left by the research.
But the deeper into the life of Mileva Maric I journeyed, the more I realized that writing her story was more interesting than uncovering previously unknown facts about Albert Einstein. Mileva was a brilliant woman in her own right, who had made a singular ascent from backwater Serbia to the heights of the physics university classrooms of Europe, and her tale deserved to be told. Even though shedding fresh light on the iconic Albert Einstein was not my focus, in creating the story of Mileva Maric in The Other Einstein, I would necessarily be sharing a different perspective on the famous scientist, albeit a fictional one.
MARIE BENEDICT is a lawyer and graduate of Boston College with a focus in History and Art History, and a graduate of the Boston University School of Law. While practicing as a lawyer, Marie dreamed of a fantastical job unearthing the hidden historical stories of women —and finally found it when she tried her hand at writing. She embarked on a new, narratively connected series of historical novels with The Other Einstein, which tells the tale of Albert Einstein’s first wife, a physicist herself, and the role she might have played in his theories. Writing as Heather Terrell, Marie also published the historical novels The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare.