Labouisse, Eve Curie

Labouisse, Eve Curie
Dec. 6, 1904-Oct. 22, 2007
French biographer and daughter of Marie Curie

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Eve Curie came to New York on her first visit in 1921. She was a young girl of 16, and her own fledgling charm was eclipsed by the fame of her scientist mother, Marie Curie. Marie Curie had come to the United States to receive as a gift from the women of America a $250,000 gram of radium-the precious radium she had discovered, but was too poor to buy. It was a triumphal tour, climaxed by an impressive ceremony at the White House at which President Harding made the presentation. Madame Curie was accompanied by her two daughters, Irene and Eve, and when the work-worn, exhausted scientist could not attend all the receptions and dinners which an adoring public wished to shower on her, the two girls substituted for her-but they were merely "Madame Curie's daughters," not yet famous in their own right.

But when Eve Curie made her second visit to the United States to lecture early in 1940, she was already well-known to Americans. Her biography of her mother, translated into English by Vincent Sheean, was a popular best seller, and acclaimed by critics as a great human document. Her third trip was made in the fall of 1940 after she had fled from France.

Tall, slender, with deep blue eyes, fair skin and dark hair, Eve Curie looked like something that had stepped out of a French fashion magazine. She had beauty, brains, charm, and she won the hearts of her audiences. American journalists waxed lyrical describing her chic and her wit. She was described as "the woman who has everything."

If Eve Curie "has everything," she has developed her own talents in a field foreign to that in which she had been brought up. Her parents, Marie and Pierre Curie, were absorbed in their scientific researches. They had scarcely any interest outside of science. Eve Curie's sister, Irene, was to follow in her mother's footsteps, and become completely absorbed in scientific research. For Irene, like her mother, has received the Nobel Prize in collaboration with her husband, Frederic Joliot (see sketch Irene Joliot-Curie this issue).

But Eve showed no interest in science. She must have amazed her puritanical, unworldly mother. She loved fine clothes, loved fun and had the French flair for life. Born in Paris, she was graduated from the Sevigne College as Bachelor of Science, and later as Bachelor of Philosophy, in both cases with honors. She became interested in music and devoted several years to the study of the piano.

Her debut as a concert pianist was made in Paris in 1925. She followed it with many concerts in Paris, in the French provinces and in Belgium. Not wishing to trade on her family name, she began writing music criticism under a pen name and won some renown as a critic, acting for several years as the music critic of the weekly journal Candide. She wrote regularly for the Parisian journals and periodicals, mainly on music, the theatre and motion pictures. In 1932 she translated and adapted for the French theatre the American play, Spread Eagle, by George S. Brooks and Walter B. Lister. It was produced at the Theatre du Gymnase under the title 145 Wall Street, and had a long run.

When United States publishers approached her with the idea of writing a biography of her mother, Mlle. Curie was willing to undertake the job, but was terrified by the task. She kept putting it off and had to be badgered constantly to finish it. The biography, Madame Curie, is a heart-warming, poignantly-moving tribute to her mother. Although it is written with a daughter's sentimentality and is tinged with hero-worship, it gives a picture of the Curies as none but one intimately acquainted with them could give. The modest, retiring Curies had hidden themselves from the public. The story of the little Polish girl, Marie Sklodowska, who became Marie Curie, and who overcame sickness and poverty to give the great gift of radium to the world, needed to be told. Although Eve Curie's book met with reviews ranging from lukewarm to rave pieces, no reviewer could altogether overlook it as a human document of a noble character. One reviewer wrote: "It is difficult to characterize this exquisite story of Madame Curie's life without using superlatives which seem out of place in describing an account of a life so simple and at the same time so sublime, and which is reproduced in lines equally simple, accurate and appropriate. The writer has put her soul into a work which only she could have done." Another wrote: "It would be easy to point out faults in this book, considered only as a biography… But to stress such limitations would be churlish. This is a great book because its subject is a great subject." Still another said of the book on Marie Curie: "Her daughter's presentation has obvious defects. She is richer in sentiment than in science, and her style is exuberantly adjectival. But when all has been said, there emerges from the book a charming and impressive picture of one who might be termed a Saint of Science."

Madame Curie was the December 1937 choice of the Literary Guild; it was chosen by the American Library Association as "the best non-fiction book of the year." And it won for Eve Curie the Clement Cleveland Medal awarded annually by the New York Cancer Committee to one who has achieved distinction in the fight against cancer. It was also the prelude for the lecture tour of the United States which brought Eve Curie to the attention of Americans as a unique figure in her own right.

When the time came for her first United States lecture tour, Mlle. Curie was working 10 hours a day in the Paris Giraudoux Office of Censorship and Propaganda as director of women's activities. But she took time to lecture in cities all over the United States on the cause of France during her tour, beginning in January and ending in April, 1940. And somehow she managed to get together a Schiaparelli (see sketch this issue) wardrobe about which fashion reporters wrote columns and which gave both Schiaparelli and Mlle. Curie added reams of publicity, just as it had been designed to do. One fashion reporter wrote of Mlle. Curie: "In any place in the world a beautiful young woman who makes an entrance in a Schiaparelli original is allowed to rest on her laurels a bit. She may even titter and make very little sense, and people are inclined to be lenient, but when beauty arrayed by Schiaparelli can discuss music, painting, skiing, writing and international affairs in any language you choose, the plot thickens."

After France fell, Mlle. Curie fled to England and thence to the United States, where in the fall of 1940 she continued to lecture on the War and the importance of British victory. Her sympathies are with the "free French" forces of General De Gaulle (see sketch this issue).

Louis Bromfield, one of her writer friends, had written of her: "When I think of her, she is somehow associated with the freshness and beauty and soft glittering quality of snow… She is like Diana… I realize that what I have written may sound rhapsodical, yet I only feel that my effort has been inadequate. She is a woman-in the common, vivid speech of our times-who has everything." This appeared in the conservative New York Herald Tribune.

Between Eve Curie, chic, worldly, and her mother, so different in her tastes, there existed a close companionship. During her childhood, Eve had been brought up by governesses, generally Polish, and her mother's early background in Poland was vivid and real to her. In her biography of her mother, Eve Curie wrote in a foreword: "My mother was 37 years old when I was born. When I was big enough to know her, she was already an aging woman who had reached the summit of renown. And yet it is the 'celebrated scientist' who is strangest to me-probably because the idea that she was a 'celebrated scientist' did not occupy the mind of Marie Curie. It seems to me rather, that I have always lived near the poor student, haunted by dreams, who was Marie Sklodowska long before I came into the world."

Eve Curie lived with her mother after her sister's marriage and made many trips with her in France, and to Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and Spain. Marie Curie was a fine sportswoman, and she taught her children to like sports. Eve Curie swims particularly well, skis and skates.

It was Eve who was with her mother in her final illness, who nursed her and who accompanied her to the sanatorium in Savoy and was with her until the end, July 4, 1934.

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