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Henri Becquerel Henri Becquerel (1852–1908) was a French physicist who shared the Nobel Prize for physics with Marie and Pierre Curie in 1903 for his work on radioactivity. Becquerel is credited with the first discovery of radioactivity, in 1896, but the signifi- cance of his discovery was not made apparent...

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Henri Becquerel
Henri Becquerel (1852–1908) was a French physicist who shared the Nobel Prize for physics with Marie and Pierre Curie in 1903 for his work on radioactivity. Becquerel is credited with the first discovery of radioactivity, in 1896, but the signifi- cance of his discovery was not made apparent until the Curies discovered the radioactive materials polonium and radium.

Dr. Curie
Pierre Curie’s father is referred to in Madame Curie as Dr. Curie. Upon the death of his wife, Dr. Curie came to live with Marie and Pierre Curie in Paris, becoming a caretaker for their daughters. After the death of Pierre in 1906, Dr. Curie continued to live with Marie and her daughters until his death in 1910.

Eve Curie
Eve Curie was the second child of Marie and Pierre Curie. Although the only member of her immediate family who did not win at least one Nobel Prize, Eve Curie distinguished herself with the publication of her now classic biography of her mother. As a child, she took little interest in the family preoccupation with science, preferring the study of music, and she had an early career in journalism.

Irene Curie
Irene Curie (1896–1956) was the first child of Marie and Pierre Curie. As a teenager, she began to assist her mother in the laboratory and was given an official position as an assistant to Marie Curie at the Radium Institute in 1918. Irene received her doctoral degree in 1925. Her thesis was based on research on the alpha rays of polonium. That year she married Frédéric Joliot, who also worked at the Radium Institute. The couple collaborated on research and were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1935 for their discovery that radioactive material could be artificially produced.

Marie Curie
Marie Curie was born Maria Sklodowska in 1867 in Warsaw, Poland, then part of the Russian empire. Soon after graduating from high school, she worked as a governess for several years, before moving to Paris to attend the university. She earned her first master’s degree, in physics, in 1893, and her second master’s, in mathematics, in 1894. In 1895, she married Pierre Curie, who soon began collaborating with her in the effort to isolate radioactive materials, which they later named polonium and radium. In 1903, Marie shared the Nobel Prize for physics with her husband and Henri Becquerel for their work on radioactivity. She was personally devastated when Pierre was tragically killed in 1906, leaving her with two daughters. However, she was given his position as professor at the Sorbonne and continued to do important research on radioactivity for almost thirty years after his death. In 1911, she won the Nobel Prize for chemistry. The later years of her life were spent as director of the Radium Institute in Paris, which had been established as a laboratory for her many students and assistants. She died in 1934 from leukemia she had acquired as a result of her years of exposure to radioactivity.

Pierre Curie
Pierre Curie (1859–1906) was the husband of Marie Curie, as well as her scientific collaborator and co-winner of the 1903 Nobel Prize for physics. He met Marie in 1894 and married her in 1895. Also in 1895, he completed his Ph.D. When Marie chose a topic for her own dissertation, Pierre immediately realized the significance of the work and dropped his own experiments in order to assist her in isolat-

Bronya Dluska
Bronya was Marie Curie’s older sister. As a young adult, Marie worked as a governess to support Bronya’s education at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris. Bronya married Casimir Dluski, a doctor. In 1891, Marie came to Paris to live with Bronya and her husband while attending the Sorbonne. Years later, Bronya and Casimir moved to Galicia in order to start a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Carpathian mountains. Bronya was instrumental in the planning of the Warsaw Radium Institute, of which she was made the first director in 1932. Throughout her life, Marie Curie maintained a very close relationship with her sister.

Frédéric Joliot
Frédéric Joliot is described as ‘‘the most brilliant and the most high-spirited of the workers at the Institute of Radium’’ in Paris. He married Irene Curie in 1925, and they jointly won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1935.

Mme. Sklodovska
Marie Curie’s mother is referred to as Mme. Sklodovska. Director of a school for girls, she died of tuberculosis when Marie was only a child.

Vladislav Sklodovski
Vladislav Sklodovski was Marie Curie’s father. His family was thrown into financial difficulties when his salary as a teacher was reduced due to political differences with the Russian authorities. He also lost nearly all of his savings in a bad investment deal.

Themes and Characters

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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.

Marie's dearest friend is her sister Bronya, an intelligent and understanding girl. Insisting that Bronya attend medical school, Marie works as a governess under unhappy circumstances to support her sister's education. After years of waiting, feeling depressed and "stupid," and struggling to save money, Marie finally joins Bronya in Paris to pursue her own education.

As a university student, Marie is driven by the thirst for learning. She lives in isolation and poverty, forgetting to eat or to carry in coal to heat her room. After graduating with high honors, she remains in Paris and marries Pierre Curie, a great and dedicated scientific researcher. Energetic and restless, Pierre finds it difficult to be away from the laboratory. He adamantly believes that a true scientist should not be interested in competition and honors. Marie and Pierre work together on the study of radiation, receiving the Nobel Prize for physics for their efforts, and despite their personal wishes, they become worldwide celebrities.

The Curies have two daughters. The older, Irene, shares her parents' fascination for research, studies in Marie's laboratory, and earns her own Nobel Prize in chemistry for her work on radioactive elements. Like her mother, she marries a scientist—Frederic Joliot. Her younger sister, the vivacious Eve, loves music, literature, and beautiful clothing and surroundings more than she loves and understands science. While her mother encourages her individuality, Eve often feels lonely and different.

Another significant character in the book is Mrs. William Brown Meloney, an American reporter who launches a national campaign to purchase radium for Marie's use. She also organizes a tour to bring Marie and her daughters to the U.S.

Madame Curie stresses the themes of dedication, determination, and reverence for knowledge. It illustrates the author's conviction that a person's talent and ability should be used to make the world a better place—a conviction that affirms self-sacrifice and humility. The book asserts the importance of academic and political freedom while showing how the pride and love of a family can nurture success and greatness.

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Critical Essays