Marie Curie

Marie Curie: An Extraordinary Female Leader

On November 7, 1867, Marie Curie was born to Bronislawa and Wladyslaw Sklodowska in Warsaw, Poland. Both of her parents were teachers – her father of physics, and her mother in charge of a private school for girls. Marie was the youngest of five children. Sophia, the eldest child of the family, died of typhus when Marie was young. When Marie was twelve, her mother died of tuberculosis. Marie was stricken with grief after this and her health was suffering, so she was sent to stay with relatives in the country for a year. During that year, she was allowed to study only French.

            Because women were not permitted to study at conventional universities in Poland, Marie became a governess. During this time, she read to further her education with a focus on science. Her older sister Bronislawa, who lived with her husband in Paris, urged Marie to stay with her. Marie had helped Bronislawa through school, and now Bronislawa wanted to do the same for Marie. Finally, in 1891, Marie went to study at the Sorbonne in Paris. (James, Remarkable physicists: from Galileo to Yukawa.)

            Marie attended school during the day and tutored in the evenings. By 1894, she had two degrees from the Sorbonne – one in physics and one in mathematics. She had been working in a laboratory at Lippman’s since 1893 and continued working there after she got her degree.

In 1894 she met Pierre Curie. Curie was an instructor at the École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la Ville de Paris (ESPCI). Pierre and Marie had a mutual interest in the magnetic properties of several different steels (Marie was studying the subject), and the two quickly fell in love. After she was turned away at Krakow University for work because she was a female, Marie returned to Paris. Pierre and Marie married in July 1895 and eventually had two daughters together.

Marie began studying uranium rays, hoping to come up with a thesis from this field of research. Using an electrometer (invented by her husband and his brother), Marie discovered that radiation came from the individual atom and not a group of molecules. She discovered that the elements thorium and uranium were both radioactive. (“Marie Curie and the Science of

 Marie started research on two metals called pitchblende and torbernite. She discovered that the metals had much more activity than uranium, itself. Her husband quit his research to help her further investigate this discovery. By the end of 1898, the couple had discovered two new elements: polonium (named after Poland) and radium (because of its great amount of radioactivity). Later during World War I, Marie donated tubes of radon (the radioactive gas given off by radium) to the troops to help wounded soldiers. These tubes were commonly called “petites Curies”.

Marie and Pierre won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 for their research on radiation, which was originally discovered by Henri Becquerel. In 1911, Marie received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering radium and polonium and studying radium more closely. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win two Nobel Prizes. Marie also became the first woman professor at the Sorbonne.

On April 19, 1906, Pierre Curie was killed. He was crossing the Rue Dauphine in Paris when he fell under a horse drawn carriage. Its wheels crushed his skull. Marie lived twenty-eight more years before dying on July 4, 1934 of aplastic anemia. It has been determined that Marie contracted aplastic anemia from all of her time spent with radiation – which, at that point, had no dangers associated with it. (“Marie Curie.”

In 1995, the remains of Pierre and Marie Curie were transferred to the Paris Panthéon. So far, Marie is the only woman to receive such an honor. Her laboratory is still preserved today at the Musée Curie in Paris. Because of their high level of radioactivity, Marie’s papers are kept in lead lined boxes.

Marie Curie was an incredibly important woman in history. Though many women were not respected during the time in which she lived, Marie overcame the obstacles for her gender by furthering her education and continuing with her work. Not only was she was first woman to win a Nobel Prize, but she also became the first woman professor at the Sorbonne. Regardless of her gender, she made great contributions to science and health that will be remembered forever.

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Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean Paul Sartre

Jean Paul Sartre is an existentialist philosopher, author, playwright, and a political activist.  He was born in June 1905 in Paris, France.  His father was an officer in the French Navy, but died when Jean Paul was only 15 months old.  His mother, Anne-Marie, then raised him from her parent’s house in Meudon.  His grandfather was a professor of german, who introduced Jean Paul to classical literature.  At the age of 12 Jean Paul’s mother remarried and they moved to La Rochelle, where Jean Paul was unsocial and bullied.  Although being interested in literature from a young age, it was not until Jean Paul read “Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness” by Henri Bergson that he became interested in philosophy.  Jean Paul then studied at the Ecole Normale Supérieure where he received a doctorate.  While in school he met philosopher, author, and feminist, Simone de Beauvoir.  They became intimate and lifelong friends.  Jean Paul served in the French army from 1929 to 1931.  When he returned he began to teach.  Jean Paul was drafted back into the army during WWII and captured in Germany, he was imprisoned for a year.

When he returned to Paris he joined the resistance, and founded the underground group “Socialisme et Liberté”.   He also wrote for magazines, newspapers and political reviews, he devoted himself to political activism through writing.  Albert Camus asserted that “Sartre was a writer who resisted, not a resistor who wrote” (Wikipedia) when he was criticized.  Throughout this time Sartre tried to fit existentialism, Marxism, and communism together (although he was never officially of the communist party).  Existentialists believe that the life is what you make it.  It has the value that you give it, there is no higher power giving you meaning.  In fact, atheism is assumed.  Marxism focuses on the conflicts between the social classes and incorporates capitalism.

In the 1940s Jean Paul published many of his most well known works.  “Being and Nothingness” or “L’etre et le neant” which argues that the appearance of something is our only reality, and “Dirty Hands” or “Les Mains Sales” addressed the issues accompanying being both an intellectual and a political activist, “Existentialism and Humanism” or “L’existentialisme est un humanisme”.  In the later 1940s he wrote a well known trilogy of novels based on his war experiences titled “The Roads to Freedom” or “Les Chemins de la Liberté”.

            “Critique of Dialectical Reason” or “Critique de la raison dialectique” is one of Jean Paul’s major works from 1960; this is a defense of Marxism.  Jean Paul travelled to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara.  Jean Paul was very impressed by Guevara, professing him “the era’s most perfect man” (Wikipedia).  In 1964 Jean Paul was awarded the Nobel Prize, which he turned down because he didn’t want it to change him.  He wanted to be left more to himself, but he was famous by this time, so it must have been hard for him in the end.  In 1967 Jean Paul helped organize the Russell Tribunal, whose goal was to expose US war crimes.  In 1973 he lost his eyesight.  He died of edema of the lung in Paris in 1980.


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George Sand

George Sand

            Who is George Sand? I asked my self this exact same question when I drew her name out of the cup of topics.  Yes I was surprised too. But, George Sand is a woman. Don’t worry; George Sand wasn’t her real name. Her actual name was Amantine Lucile Dupin’s. George Sand was a French writer. She was one of the first women to gain a significant reputation in France.  Not only was she known for her writing but also she was notorious for her affairs. We’ll begin to uncover George Sand by first looking at her early life.

            George Sand was born in Paris to Maurice Dupin, a military officer. Her father was a distant relative of King Louis XVI. Her mother was just a commoner. Sand was raised in her grandmother’s country home. Sand received her education in Nohant  – her grandmother’s estate – and Couvent des Anglaises. Sand’s childhood would inspire a lot of her novels.  In 1822, eighteen-year-old Sand married Casimir Dudevant with whom she had Maurice and Solange. Her son Casimir Dudevant was the illegitimate child of Jean-François Dudevant.  In 1821 Sand’s grandmother died and left her Nohant. Because of problems with her marriage, Sand left her husband in 1831.

            Shortly after leaving her family and returning to Paris, Sand’s writing career began. She also began a bit of a rebellion, dressing like men and smoking. Sand started off writing for Le Figaro. Sand soon began supporting Socialism by writing many essays. A lot the men she had relationships with seemed to inspire her pseudonym. In collaboration with Jules Sandeau, Sand wrote Rose et Blanche as Jules Sand. She called herself G. Sand after publishing Indiana, which gained her a lot of attention. Some of Sand’s other notable works include Valentine, La Petite Fadette, La Mare au Diable. Here is an excerpt from Indiana:

            Madame Delmare, when she heard her husband’s imprecations, felt stronger than she expected. She preferred this fierce wrath, which reconciled her with herself, to a generous forbearance which would have aroused her remorse. She wiped away the last trace of her tears and summoned what remained of her strength, which she was well content to expend in a day, so heavy a burden had life become to her. Her husband accosted her in a harsh and imperious tone, but suddenly changed his expression and his manner and seemed sorely embarrassed, overmatched by the superiority of her character. He tried to be as cool and dignified as she was; but he could not succeed.

        “Will you condescend to inform me, madame,” he said, “where you passed the morning and perhaps the night?”

       That perhaps indicated to Madame Delmare that her absence had not been discovered until late. Her courage increased with that knowledge.

        “No, monsieur,” she replied, “I do not propose to tell you.”

        Delmare turned green with anger and amazement.

        “Do you really hope to conceal the truth from me?” he said, in a trembling voice.

        “I care very little about it,” she replied in an icy tone.”I refuse to tell you solely for form’s sake. I propose to convince you that you have no right to ask me that question.”

        “I have no right, ten thousand devils. Who is master here, pray tell, you or I? Which of us wears a petticoat and ought to be running a distaff? Do you propose to take the beard off my chin? It would look well on you, hussy!”

        “I know that I am the slave and you are the master. The laws of this country make you my master. You can bind my body, tie my hands, govern my acts. You have the right of the stronger, and society confirms you in it; but you cannot command my will, monsieur; God alone can bend it and subdue it. Try to find a law, a dungeon, an instrument of torture that gives you any hold on it! you might as well try to handle the air and grasp space.”

        “Hold your tongue, you foolish, impertinent creature; your high-flown novelist’s phrases weary me.”

        “You can impose silence on me, but not prevent me from thinking.”

        “Silly pride! pride of a poor worm! you abuse the compassion I have had for you! But you will soon see that this mighty will can be subdued without too much difficulty.”

       “I don’t advise you to try it; your response would suffer, and you would gain nothing in dignity.”

        “Do you think so?” he said, crushing her hand between his thumb and forefinger.

        “I do think so,” she said, without wincing.

        Ralph stepped forward, grasped the colonel’s arm in his iron hand and bent it like a reed, saying in a pacific tone:

        “I beg that you will not touch a hair of that woman’s head.”

        Delmare longed to fly at him; but he felt that he was in the wrong and he dreaded nothing in the world so much as having to blush for himself. So he simply pushed him away, saying:

        “Attend to your own business.”

        Then he returned to his wife.

        “So, madame,” he said, holding his arms tightly against his sides to resist the temptation to strike her, “you rebel against me, you refuse to go to Ile Bourbon with me, you desire a separation? Very well! Mordieu! I too–“

Sand was important in France because she played a big role in the growth of the novel. Even though Sand’s books were popular, they sparked a lot of controversy. The French Senate banned her books in public libraries. As mentioned before, Sand was also known for her affairs, even with women. Some went as far as to call her a slut. She was romantically linked to Jules Sandeau, Frederic Chopin, Alfred de Musset, and Marie Dorval. Sand began another relationship with the poet Alfred de Musset after he sent her a letter admiring Indiana.  Sand’s next lover was the composer, Chopin who Sand suspected of falling in love with her daughter Solange.

After the French Revolution failed, Sand moved back to her grandmother’s estate of Nohant. Besides writing, Sand loved to travel. She left Nohant for a while and went to Versailles.  Sand eventually returned to Nohant where she later died at the age of 72. George Sand died on June 8, 1876. Ironically after her death, she began losing popularity.

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Marion Cotillard

Marion Cotillard is a French actress born on September 30, 1975. She was born in Caen and spent most of her childhood in Orleans. The town is known as an artistically inclined area filled with bustling and creative households. Her father’s name is Jean-Claude Cotillard and he was a teacher, an actor, and a mime. Her mother’s name is Niseema Theillaud and she was an actress and a teacher. She has twin brothers named, Quentin and Guillaume. Quentin is a sculptor who lives in San Francisco and Guillaume is a screenwriter and director.

                Cotillards career as an actress began when she played a role in the film, My Sex Life or How I Got Into an Argument. That movie is about who is at a crossroads in life and Cotillard plays a small role as a student. Her breakthrough role came when she starred in the movie Taxi. This movie is about a pizza delivery guy who wants to be a racecar driver someday. There was a remake of this movie with Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifa in 2004. She also starred in the film Love me if You Dare with Guillaume Canet where she played the daughter of some Polish immigrants. She had a supporting role in Tim Burton’s Big Fish where she plays a French wife. She was chosen to portray French singer Edith Piaf by the director of La Vie en Rose because the director thought that her eyes looked similar. The film was said to be “the most awaited film of 2007.” In 2008 she was the first French actress to receive a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role since1973. She is also the first actress to win a Golden Globe for a foreign language performance since 1972 and she is also the first person to win a Golden Globe for a comedic foreign language performance. In 2008 she was given a Cesar award for best actress, and became the first woman and second person to win both a Cesar and an Oscar for the same performance. She starred in the movie Public Enemies with Johnny Depp and the musical Nine with Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, and Nicole Kidman. She was ranked as the 5th best performance by a female in 2009 based off her role in Nine. Most importantly in the United States she appeared as the main antagonist in Inception with Johnny Depp.

Cotillard won a Cesar Award for Best Supporting Actress, an Academy Award for Best Actress, a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress, a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a leading role, a Satellite award for Best Actress, and a Cesar Award for Best Actress among several other less known awards and nominations for many other awards. Her most famous movies are My Sex Life or How I Got Into an Argument, La Belle Verte, Furia, Taxi, Taxi 2, Taxi 3, Love Me if You Dare, Big Fish, Innocence, A Very Long Engagement, Mary, A Good Night, La Vie en Rose, Public Enemies, Nine, Midnight in Paris, and Inception.

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Maximilien Robespierre

Maximilian Robespierre

Robespierre has been described by many as the voice of the French Revolution and was active during one of the most violent and bloody parts of it known as “The Reign of Terror”. He was also a major figure in the Committee of Public Safety which was responsible for ordering thousands of executions during The Reign of Terror. For his extreme actions during The Reign of Terror he was executed by the Guillotine just as everyone else he had condemned had been because, “his ideals went beyond the needs and wants of the people of France and he became a threat to what he represented”. He has been called “ The incorruptible” and “a blood thirsty dictator”. He his a cultural icon of France because he represents one of the most significant periods in french history.
Robespierre was born in Arras, France. His mother died giving birth to him so he was brought up by his grandfather and aunts. He went to middle school when he was just eight years old and amazingly enough, he already knew how to read and write. He was highly influenced by Rousseau at a young age and became very interested in the ideas of “Virtuous Self”, which is the idea that man stands alone accompanied only by his conscience. His great intellect made it possible for him to be chosen out of five hundred students  to deliver a speech to the king who ironically, he would seek to have killed.

In 1792, he was becoming a very powerful figure in the revolution, he made the decision that Louis XVI needed to be executed to save the revolution. He said that since Louis had tried to flee the country, he was detrimental to the state and had betrayed his people. He had him beheaded in front of all his people and subjects which has become very famous. As the reign of terror raged on, Robespierre would pick out any person he thought was preventing the revolution (or anything he believed in for that matter) and have them beheaded. Execution became very quick and easy with the introduction of the Guillotine. The Guillotine was essentially a huge blade that with a pull of a string, would cut threw someones neck like a razor. It is known as the instrument of the Reign of Terror.
He eventually became so powerful that he founded an official religion called The cult of supreme being which was heavily based on Rousseau’s theory of deism. He also became so violent that he had an average of 28 people executed per day between july 12th and 28th. It was nothing short of a blood bath. However this didn’t last forever, in 1794 he was accused of tyranny and was arrested. He tried to kill himself but ended up suffering a bullet wound to his jaw. He was executed the next day face up with out a trial, thus ending The Reign of Terror. His last words were “Merci, monsieur,” to a man that had kindly given him a handkerchief to sop up some of the blood from his face and his clothing.
Robespierre’s cultural impact is very hard to exaggerate. He is mentioned in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and he has also been featured in many television shows and movies. He wanted sovereignty for the people of France and it was only gained because of him. He was also extremely controversial which is why he’s so infamous. Even though he took his cause way to far and killed hundreds of people, he still helped build France into the great and prosperous nation it is today and that is why he is considered a cultural icon.

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Jacques Chirac

Jacques Chirac

So why exactly do Americans make fun of the French? I’m sure we’ve all heard some of the jokes directed at the people and culture of the country. I remember the jokes thrown about my friends whenever I used the excuse of homework when being asked to go out. It wasn’t until I researched the life and influence of France’s last president that I came to understand more behind the reasoning for our ridicule. Jacques Chirac has been a high political figure in France for quite some time.

Jacques first got involved in the politics of his country during the start of the 1950’s when he joined France’s Communist union, Le Parti Communiste Français, and began to get involved in soviet inspired movements. During this time, Chirac famously worked to help the world peace council draw up the Stockholm Appeal in order to abolish the use and manufacturing of all nuclear weapons. Of course, this would be the start of America’s tension over the country, and cause some concern over the French Activist himself. Regardless, Jacques was excepted at Harvard University for a summer school program before returning to France and attending Saumur to become a reserve officer the armoured cavalry. After serving briefly in the Algerian War, Chirac took a position in the Court of Auditors, the first big step in his advancement through politics.

Three years later, Jacques was made head of staff for prime minister Georges Pompidou. The relationship that these two had was a strong one that would ultimately prove very beneficial to Chirac and his future success. As a hard worker and motivated politician who new how to make everything get done, Chirac was often revered by the prime minister as his protégé. In 1967 Pomidou influenced Chirac to run for a spot in the national assembly under the Gaullist party. After his election in his district, Chirac was appointed Minister of Social Affairs.

The year following, there was unrest between students and workers was becoming problematic to the country and economy. Jacques however, managed to negotiate a truce before things got out of hand. Later he was appointed with a much higher position in the national government as the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. He served this position under the then president, Pomidou. His time as Minister would boost his popularity with his nation’s people, but unfortunately, again attract negative international attention. His policies and plans proved beneficial to the Agriculture of France but were often in contrast with those in place for agricultural policies in the US and much of the European Commission. It wasn’t uncommon for Chirac to be critical of these policies and tensions were renewed.

By 1974, Chirac had climbed through the ranks and on may 27, was appointed Prime Minister of France under president Giscard d’Estaing. During this time he received a lot of bad press from his previous political allies in the Gaullist ideology, he believed he had betrayed them in the last election when he switched to Giscardian politics. However, his career as prime minister did not stir international attention until 1975, when Chirac was invited to Iraq by then vice president Saddam Hussein. The visit was for economic negotiation policies. Travelling to Baghdad, Chirac met with Hussein to discuss an exchange of oil to France. The country would receive 23% of all Iraqi oil drilled. In return, Hussein asked for France to sell them the Osirak MTR Nuclear Reactor designed to test nuclear materials. Frightened by the outcome of the deal, Isreal commissioned an air strike on the reactor shortly after its arrival in Iraq, with Isreal and the US criticizing France for its decision. Tensions would reemerge with the start of the Iraq War In 2002.

After serving as Mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995, Chirac was elected President of France. Shortly after making office, he faced many challenges including the largest general strike in France since 1968. He faced much criticism and outrage from international and regional environmentalist groups alike for his move to try and resume the test of nuclear weapons. His popularity would remain strong with the people of France, despite a few scandals, with his final running still ending with Chirac gaining nearly 82% of the vote when running in his second term. Despite it all, Chirac held office until 2007, when he ended his last term of presidency and with many accomplishments under his belt which include the settling of many civil disputes and efforts to end wars between the western and middle eastern worlds. His long lasting career as the  second longest lasting presidents of the French Republics, has made him iconic in the political perception of modern France. In looking back, maybe America’s criticism is misplaced after all.

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David Lynch en français

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