Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen by Jane Hawking

stephen hawkingThe most famous living physicist must surely the be the Englishman, Professor Stephen Hawking, who lectures at Cambridge University in England, UK. Many years ago, I attempted to read his book, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. It was published in 1988 as a comprehensible science book explaining all that was then known about the nature of the universe. It became a bestseller and sold more than 10 million copies in 20 years. I, however, found it unfathomable. I suspect that I was one of many who bought the book but never finished it.

However, when my mother finished reading the book, Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen, by Jane Hawking, Stephen Hawking’s ex-wife, she gave the book to me and I was interested to read it. The book is very thick. It had a lot of publicity because of the acclaimed film made from it, The Theory of Everything,  a 2014 British film, which tells the couple’s story from Jane Hawking’s point of view. It covers the relationship with her ex-husband, their family, his diagnosis of motor neurone disease and his success as a theoretical astrophysicist. Still, this memoir is not an easy read. stephen wife

Travelling to Infinity does gives interesting insight into the backgrounds and families of both Jane and Stephen. Jane has deeply held religious beliefs but Stephen is a resolute atheist. They are both intensely accademic and well regarded in their own fields. Stephen as a phyicist and Jane is a noted English Literature academic and educator. She dedicated her life to facilitating Stephen’s career and sacrificed a great deal for him. This was emphasisied in her memoir following the changes in their life together after the births of their children.  As Stephen’s academic renown soared, his body was frail from life with motor neuron disease. Jane’s account of trying to balance his 24-hour care with the needs of their growing family reveals the inner strength of the author, while the self-evident character and achievements of her husband make for an detailed tale presented with honesty.

stephen bookJane also deals candidly with her divorce from Stephen. At the time, it was the subject of much gossip and speculation. Stephen divorced Jane after 25 years of marriage to live with and then marry one of his nurses, Elaine Mason, from whom he is also now divorced. Jane Hawking’s book is honest and contains some interesting family photographs, but it is really far too long.

The author deals with many of the challenges she had to face during her marriage to Stephen. She discusses in detail the stresses caused when one partner overshadows the other in accomplishment and attention. She also had to deal with the demanding nature of Stephen’s illness.This consumed much of Jane’s time and energies for many of their married years. She also had to raise three children. Jane’s struggle to find her own career and to feel like something more than an appendage to a famous spouse is also dealt with in depth.

Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen is an interesting book. However, it is very dense, very long and really heavy going. Unlike her ex-husband’s book, I did complete Jane Hawking’s novel. but it was hard going and I really cannot recommend it.

Valerie Penny

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