Four years after Pierre Curie died in a 1906 carriage accident, Marie became entrenched in a torrid love affair with one of his former students, physicist Paul Langevin. The two were sharing a love nest in Paris when Langevin’s wife grew suspicious and decided to investigate. She hired a man to break into their pad and steal incriminating letters, which were then leaked to the press.
French newspapers went after the story with gusto. They painted Curie as a home-wrecker and a seductive Jew, even though she wasn’t Jewish. The story played into the xenophobia of the time, and it fanned public outrage. [...]
Eager to defend Curie’s honor, Langevin challenged one of the newspapers’ editors to a duel. The two men faced off against one another, but no one fired a shot. Meanwhile, another man came to Curie’s defense. Albert Einstein offered a bit of reasoning that seemed both peculiar and offensive. He argued that Curie “has a sparkling intelligence, but despite her passionate nature, she is not attractive enough to represent a threat to anyone.”
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