Madame Curie Kept Bottled Up

So, as I mentioned in a previous post, I enjoyed reading the book the Obsessive Genius – Marie Curie and I’m currently re-reading it taking and sharing points from her life and sharing some lessons that I feel are clear from looking at it.

One thing that I took away from the book as a whole was that Madame Curie kept everything bottled up inside, she rarely spoke of tragedy or her feelings with many people. She had written some letters to some close friends and relatives describing some grieve sometimes, but for the most part she suffered in silence by herself, hiding away her pain from others. I’m guessing this can in some ways be viewed as a positive thing, but I think it’s rather negative. I think it would be a hard way to live holding in all the pain and not sharing it with anyone.

I think it’s healthy to try to express ourselves and I believe it’s ever important for parents to help children to talk about their pains and concerns, and as a husband or wife, or even as a good friend.

Looking at the 1st chapter of the book particularly sheds a lot of light on why Madame Curie developed in such a way. The background likely played a strong role in how she dealt with troubling circumstances.

1st off Marie was born in Poland during a particularly rough time. Poland was under Russian oppression, the language was banned from schools, the teaching of the Polish history and literature was also banned. Marie had to go to school in such circumstances where Polish teachers were secretly teaching about their heritage and culture and at a large risk. She learned that she needed to hide her own feelings in order to save herself from possible harsh consequences.

Distance between parents and children was common. Children only addressed their parents in a formal manner, obeyed and couldn’t question their parents. Through the chapter we learn that Marie’s mother became ill when Marie was just 4 years old, and how she would never remember a ‘mother’s kiss or caress’. Her mother was sent away to try cure and during the long 2 years away Marie was taken care of by her father who was rather strict. Everything was divided into periods of study and exercise. Marie recalled that everything and anytime, a small conversation even would be build around a lesson.

Marie was 6 years old when her mother returned home, at this time she ran to hug her sister, who had gone with her, and her mother just held out her arm stopping Marie from coming close.

When Marie was 7 years old her sister got ill and died. At age 11 her mother passed away as well. Marie herself described that was the time that a “profound depression” set in. The book explained that she spent months hiding and crying in dark corners, hiding away from all her friends and family. But at school was continuing to do well.

She would get consumed by her books though for hours and sometimes days and wouldn’t rarely speak. A school head mistress visited Marie’s father and told him she had been doing well in school however she asked him to not send her to the next grade as she had become very sensitive and ‘mentally fragile’. But her father took her out of that school and sent her to another which pushed Marie even harder. The new school was even stricter in suppressing Polish culture. Marie often felt the teachers treated Polish kids as enemies and she would often feel angry, deserted and forced to lie.

Regardless of emotional damage she graduated 1st in her class at the age of 15. Right after she suffered a nervous breakdown. She took to her bed, didn’t speak, barely ate anything. Her father then noticed and sent her to regain strength with relatives.

The book describes that she went to 3 different relatives places filled with many happy memories. Walking, reading books (not science books, which she left off) picking strawberries, sketching. Then another place with music and art and the 3rd place with fun and dance. Marie recalled those days as the happiest year of her life.

There’s so much to think about from the chapter, that it’s hard to narrow down. But thinking that people need an outlet, they need to share their feelings with someone. The young Marie lost a sister, then a parent and didn’t have anyone to confide in, or at least anyone she felt she could confide in. A powerful lesson to parents who need to speak with children if similar tragedies strikes their families. A good lesson to friends of those experiencing something similar.

Even for ourselves, under such circumstances there’s isolation and diving into work or a project trying to ignore and suppress feelings and pain can just turn out worse and more damaging to ourselves in the long run.

A last thought is that children need to be children. In Asia especially there’s what’s known as ‘tiger mom’s’, mothers that pressure their children to study, and push them towards perfection. Having them enrolled in private academies, one after another to achieve some sort of excellence from them. It’s not healthy children need to play, they learn through playing, that’s very important to their development despite what some may think. We see that Marie was able to express herself and enjoy herself, that was good for her. Sadly for her, that year was the most happy moment for her, and after it she would be mostly depressed the rest of her life. She was robbed of a childhood pretty much. Under strict study routines and missing the love a nourishment needed.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. and on the first chapter of the book, if you have a copy or have read the book before. If you’d like you can also grab the book on Amazon and share your thoughts with us.

We’ll follow this up in the next post continuing on in the book and reflecting on her life.

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