Hear Readings of Albert Einstein’s Love Letters (and Chilly Divorce Letters) to His First Wife Mileva

Beware the fake quo­ta­tion. They have become so ubiq­ui­tous they often appear in books and speech­es by politi­cians and their fam­i­ly mem­bers, not that any­one seems to care much. But most of us feel a mea­sure of shame at being duped, as Katharine Rose did when she found her­self moved by a let­ter sup­pos­ed­ly writ­ten by Albert Ein­stein to his daugh­ter, Lieserl, “regard­ing the ‘uni­ver­sal force’ of love.” The let­ter is a “beau­ti­ful read,” and it’s a fake. But many admir­ers of Ein­stein were eager to believe it.

Why? Like oth­er famous fig­ures to whom spu­ri­ous words are attrib­uted, Ein­stein isn’t just well-known, he is revered, a celebri­ty, and celebri­ties are peo­ple we feel we know inti­mate­ly. (A com­mon defense for fake-quote-shar­ing goes: “Well, if he didn’t say it, then it’s exact­ly the kind of thing he would say.”) Dis­cussing the theft of Einstein’s brain after his death, Ross Ander­son at Aeon observes that “an ordi­nary per­son can live and die pri­vate­ly, but a genius—and his grey matter—belongs to the world.” We might add, “and so do the inti­mate details of his pri­vate life.”

The details of Einstein’s mar­riage, and of his very unpleas­ant sep­a­ra­tion and divorce, from Mil­e­va Mar­ić have long been pub­lic knowl­edge. “Few pub­lic mar­riages have been sub­ject­ed to a more unnu­anced ver­dict,” Maria Popo­va writes at Brain Pick­ings. Their love let­ters first came to light in 1986, dis­cov­ered by Einstein’s grand­daugh­ter Eve­lyn. They were pub­lished in 1992 as The Love Let­ters, “a col­lec­tion of fifty-four mis­sives exchanged between the begin­ning of their romance” when they met as stu­dents in 1897 to their mar­riage in 1903. Dozens more are avail­able at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty’s online col­lec­tion of Ein­stein’s papers.

The let­ters are real, and they are “spicy,” as YouTu­ber Tibees shows us in the video at the top. No awk­ward pri­vate expres­sion is safe: we begin with let­ters Ein­stein wrote to his high school girl­friend, Marie Win­tel­er, includ­ing a breakup let­ter at 3:13. The excerpts here are all time­stamped on the video’s YouTube page, with help­ful sum­maries like “Einstein’s mom try­ing to break them up” (them being Albert and Mil­e­va), “Ein­stein hav­ing an affair with his cousin Elsa,” “Break­ing up with Elsa,” and “Get­ting back with Elsa.”

Elsa, you may know, was Einstein’s sec­ond wife, in addi­tion to being his cousin, and the cause of his sep­a­ra­tion and divorce from Mil­e­va, to whom he had pro­fessed undy­ing devo­tion. In the inter­est of ful­ly invad­ing the genius’s pri­va­cy, we have, above, some read­ings of his harsh “divorce let­ters” to Mil­e­va, with hits like “Sep­a­ra­tion,” “Propos­ing divorce,” and “Court pro­ceed­ings.” Love may or may not be a “uni­ver­sal force”—we do not, sad­ly, have Einstein’s thoughts on the matter—but we do know he found it a trou­bling­ly chaot­ic, unpre­dictable one.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Albert Ein­stein Impos­es on His First Wife a Cru­el List of Mar­i­tal Demands

Hear Albert Ein­stein Read “The Com­mon Lan­guage of Sci­ence” (1941)

Albert Ein­stein Explains Why We Need to Read the Clas­sics

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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