Einstein has always fascinated the world for his intellectual genius but very little light has been cast on Einstein, the private man. The fact that he was married as a youngster to Mileva Maric, a Hungarian and supposed “intellectual equal”, is little known. However what was totally unknown, until 31 years after his death in 1955, was the existence of his daughter Lieserl whose whereabouts and life still largely remains a mystery.
It was that revelation that set me on the course to uncover the “real” Einstein – not the man synonymous with genius – but the Einstein as lover, father and husband; the private man.
As a youth, Albert exuded confidence bordering on arrogance. Such was his surfeit of confidence that even at a young age – when obedience was unconditionally expected and regimentation especially in Germany was the prevailing norm – Einstein was a contrarian, an incorrigible iconoclast. His Report Cards refer to lack of diligence which is “school speak” for indolence.
It was while studying at the ETH, the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zürich, that Einstein met Mileva Maric at the Odeon Café. It was here where Einstein and his two close friends –including Marcel Grossman – used to while away the time drinking coffee and eating sausages. It took some time for Einstein to pluck up the courage to approach Mileva. Both were non-conformists. In an age when females were barred from most professions and even institutions of higher learning, Mileva’s fervent desire was to qualify as a physicist. Unlike most females of the era, here was a single female fending for herself in a foreign country. Einstein was in a similar situation as his father Herman owned a dynamo factory in Padua Italy.
Given the strict social and moral mores of the time, nothing can be ascertained about their relationship and especially whether they were cohabitating which was strictly taboo. What is known is that the two did arrange a covert dalliance at Lake Como in Italy in which some sexual activity was engaged in. The reason for this certainty is that Mileva announced her pregnancy shortly afterwards.
As living together was not within the realms of possibility, Einstein found accommodation at Schaffenhause while Mileva stayed at Stein a Rein which was 5 miles away. Even under these circumstances, it was extremely difficult for the two to meet one another except surreptitiously as a pregnant female was prohibited from meeting another man. Instead their brief meetings were held beside the River Rhine.
Of more immediate concern for Albert was finding a job. He applied at all the German Universities but did not even receive one reply. Finally they were forced to separate: Albert to commence a new job at the Patent Office in Bern and Mileva back to her parents in Hungary.
A messy wretched situation now arose. Mileva Maric gave birth to their daughter Lieserl in Hungary. As the German Civil Service Code strictly forbad the employment of men with illegitimate children, they were forced to put young Lieserl up for adoption. Albert never saw his daughter and no record of her existence was known until 1986 when a trove of Einstein’s letters was uncovered which exposed the full extent of the illicit relationship with Mileva.
Prior to this, Mileva had twice failed her exams at the ETH. Nevertheless Einstein continued to treat Mileva as his intellectual equal. For the most part this involved Einstein posing rhetorical questions to Mileva such as the puzzle that had occupied his mind since he was 16 years of age. It was then that he had posed the question to himself about what would happen if he “rode on a beam of light.” What were its implications? From then onwards, Einstein was enamoured with the nature of light which became the focus of his life.
Notwithstanding the fact that Einstein was raising these “thought experiments,” as he famously called them, with his wife, does this fact imply that they were indeed genuine intellectual equals. Perhaps initially as Einstein wrestled with the consequences of light being a wave and the implication that a wave requires a “substance” such as “ether” in which it can be propagated, her comments would have stimulated Einstein’s creative juices. Contrary to some assumptions she might have realised that speed on earth is always relative but the fact that the speed of light is fixed and immutable required somebody of Albert’s intellectual genius to conclude that if indeed this was true, then time had to be relative to compensate.
In 1903 Mileva and Albert got married and in 1904 a son, Hans Albert, was born.
In contrast to Einstein’s previous treatment of Mileva, she now became a “second class citizen”. The reality of parenthood and marriage struck Einstein like a bolt of lightning. He was not the marrying type. Mileva was relegated to the third league with science and his son being the first two.
The final straw was Einstein’s appointment as a full professor in Berlin in 1912. Mileva did not accompany him. In 1911 he had met a long-lost cousin, Elsa. In most respects, Elsa represented the woman of yore, subservient to the male in the house in every way.
Albert had been an abject failure as a father and as a husband. What Mileva found particularly galling was her steady demotion from intellectual equal to subordinate.
Whereas Mileva was vivacious, intelligent and diffident, Elsa was none of the above. An unprepossessing housewife would be a more accurate description of her. Furthermore due to her lack of intellectualism, Albert never once enlightened her about what he was doing.
With the advent of strident feminism, it is alleged by some in the women’s movement that Mileva was indeed his intellectual equal as Einstein contends in some of his initial love letters. Aside from the fact that she failed her examinations twice, a crucial factor that they ignore is the probability that such comments formed part of the process of ensnaring Mileva into a more physical relationship. Whatever the truth, I contend that Melina was never his intellectual equal from an IQ perspective but rather that at best she fulfilled the role as Einstein’s sounding board.
Lastly, and it goes without saying, that Einstein lived in an era where there was an unquestioning belief in the supremacy of men over women. In accordance with this milieu Mileva’s initial equality in status within their social arrangements, such understanding was more akin to that of the 1950s and 1960s. As such it was unsustainable.
As Einstein was subsumed within the Special Theory of Relativity and then the General Theory of Relativity, his treatment of Melina reverted to the social norm: Melina had to accept responsibilities for the children and the apartment. More galling perhaps – for an intelligent woman – was her secondary status vis-à-vis Albert.
After a 5 year separation from Mileva, Einstein finally divorced Mileva in 1919. Freed of constraints of fatherhood and a wife who demanded equality, he married the servile homely Elsa.
Essentially Elsa and Albert led separate lives as she was seldom invited to accompany him to any of the award ceremonies or presentations that he made. Unlike Mileva Maric, this probably suited Elsa as she would have been like a fish on dry land in such situations.
After a brief illness, Elsa died in 1936, three years after their arrival in America. Mileva died in 1949. Their youngest son Eduard had been confined in an asylum from his 20th birthday. In spite of his eldest son Hans Albert being a Professor of Engineering at the University of Berkley in California, USA, Albert rarely saw him before his death at 75 in 1955.
Not surprisingly then, Albert can – from a modern standpoint – be viewed as displaying misogynistic tendencies. I can conclude that, contrary to feminist claims, Einstein was not a misogynist but required a non-intellectual partner such as Elsa to cater for his non-intellectual needs such as sex, meals and house-keeping.
Even his relationship with his sons is indicative of a man whose disconnect with humanity was almost absolute. Einstein himself admitted as much. To judge him otherwise, is fallacious.
Perhaps herein lies a warning to humanity not to interfere with genetics in order to allow the ordering of genius babies on demand as the world will be populated with unemotional rational people unable to express normal human feelings and emotions.
Just like Albert Einstein.