As I approach the end of the Darwin book, I feel that angst about beginning something new. I’ve been reading, searching for the next book, uncertain whether I want to write about another scientist. Last night I finished a book on Einstein called Einstein’s Daughter, by Michele Zackheim. He had a daughter, Lieserl, who went missing, a baby who was mysteriously hidden, thanks to her having been born before Einstein married the baby’s mother. The circumstances are peculiar, and all records of this birth–birth certificate, baptismal records, have conveniently disappeared. The reference to the baby’s existence came to light in the love letters between Einstein and Mileva Maric–a Serbian whose brilliance in physics made her an appropriate companion to Einstein when they met in school. So, why didn’t he marry her when she got pregnant? That’s the mystery. He waited. He married her later. Meanwhile, she had to leave school and hide on her family’s estate, with the baby, whom she subsequently left to return to Bern, to marry Einstein. The love letter says this:
“I am very sorry about what has befallen Lieserl. It’s so easy to suffer lasting effects from scarlet fever. If only this will pass. As what is the child registered? We must take precaustions that problems don’t arise for her later…”
The few relations who knew anything about Lieserl and were eventually convinced to speak, referred to her as a monstrosity or a mongoloid baby, and after Zackheim explored four adult women, one of whom claimed to be his daughter and the others whom Zackheim had reason to believe might be Lieserl, Zackheim concludes that Lieserl did indeed die in early childhood of scarlet fever, likely an afflicted baby from the start.
There’s an interesting side note to all this. Darwin’s last baby, Charles Waring, was likely a Downs syndrome child and died of scarlet fever in 1858. His diagnosis is based on photographs of the child and Darwin’s observations of his development, because there was no diagnosis for this condition in 1858. Nonetheless, researchers feel quite certain this is the correct conclusion.
So, does that synchonicity attract me to Einstein? There are other factors I need to sort out. But they are subjects in themselves–disturbing ideas, which are in themselves moral issues.
And then there’s the simple question: Do I like this man (Albert Einstein) well enough to spend 2-3 years in his presence? In his head? And what of Mileva? Can I live with her?
During this process of research, framing a conflict, and then waiting for the scenes to form in my mind, I become minutely familiar with the person’s failings. In the case of Darwin, while I see him as a weak and sometimes selfish man, he has many qualities I admire and I found him easy to love. From what I’ve read of Einstein, I’m not certain that can happen. But more on that later.
I loved hearing about your dilemma with this, and could relate as one writer to another. I esepcially thought your last questions about can you live with these two people for a couple of years was an excellent question to ask oneself before starting such a huge project. And – both of these issues made me look forward to reading the book!