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Travelling to Infinity: My life with Stephen, by Jane Hawking, is an honest memoir and an inspiring story that leaves us thinking about our relationships.
Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen is an honest memoir by Jane Hawking, first wife of the most famous and remarkable scientist of our age, Stephen Hawking. In the book Jane recounts the story of their extraordinary marriage, Stephen’s fight with a rare motor neuron disease which rendered him disabled, the various elements of marriage, the impact of fame and power on relationships, her traumatic divorce, and her reconciliation with Stephen. She talks about her husband with respect and honesty and how they managed to live an ordinary life despite all the odds. Overall an inspiring tale at the core, this book is about a woman whose entire being can be summed up in three words: courage, compassion, and commitment.
“Clearly here was someone, like me, who tended to stumble through life and managed to see the funny side of situations. Someone who, like me, was fairly shy, yet not averse to expressing his opinions; someone who unlike me had a developed sense of his own worth and had the effrontery to convey it,” quotes Jane revealing her love for Stephen. Despite knowing that Stephen might survive for only two years, she decides to marry him. Though, this decision is a bit difficult for the reader to understand since her relationship with Stephen had barely started when they decided to marry. However, her deep love is evident when she quotes, “Could I help him fulfil himself and find even a brief happiness?”
True to her words indeed, Jane helps Stephen in fulfilling himself. She dresses him, feeds him with her own hands, takes Stephen to attend the lectures while he reclines his head on her shoulder, holding her arm as support while walking, accompanies him on all his travels abroad, and manages the household while simultaneously raising their children. However, while playing the various roles, she somehow loses her individuality. As she says, “But in the process I was beginning to lose my own identity. I could no longer call count myself as a Hispanist or even a linguist, and I felt that I did not command respect anywhere, in California or Cambridge.”
When she tried to find herself and retain her individuality, she was accused of being selfish and an unfaithful partner.
Jane’s perspective is true and she gives her all to her family; however, as a reader, one fails to understand her love for Stephen. It feels more akin to compassion than love. Further, Jane fails to distinguish reason from emotion and intellect from the heart. She laments a lot when she is not able to give enough time to Stephen while being a mother or to her children while being a wife. She gets too hard on herself at times, making the book feel more like a lamentation at times rather than her journey with Stephen Hawking.
Jane’s marriage to Stephen would have been quite an ordinary one were it not for two factors: motor neuron disease and marriage to an iconic figure who was both a towering intellect and a disabled person. Both these factors put an unusual strain on her marriage. One sees the various colours of marriage in the memoir such as the shared interests and clashing beliefs, the spouse’s temperamental and stubborn behaviour, bittersweet relationship with in-laws, and many more.
Further, the problems the couple faced while working together as a team, yet retaining their individuality are also highlighted. Jane also reflects on the elements necessary for a successful relationship, communication being one of them, which was lacking in theirs. Also, she discusses the notion of fidelity and commitment in the memoir. She says, “To pretend that I had never found other men attractive would be dishonest”. Eventually she narrates what led to the end of their 25 years of marriage. Further, one gets to see how things get nasty at the time of a divorce.
Since the book has been made into a major motion picture – Theory of Everything, an obvious question that comes up is, why read a book when one can watch a 2-hour movie?
Though the movie is good, it presents a sugar-coated romance rather than the reality. Further, it’s more about Stephen’s fight and achievement and it is not accurate. For those who want to know the inside story, the struggle they faced, the real picture of what seemed to be an absolutely normal family to the world, the book is a must read.
Although an inspiring tale at the core, the book fails to capture the reader’s interest. It is difficult to pull through the first two sections of the book. Further, Jane gives a lot of unnecessary details regarding her houses, renovations, medieval literature, history of science and friends making the book too long and losing the plot. Perhaps, watching the movie first and then reading the book would be a good option. However, the book indeed makes you marvel at Jane’s courage and her ability to give herself completely to others. It makes you wonder, is it right to make a relationship the only investment of your life? What if that relationship or marriage fails? Is it right to lose oneself completely in a relationship?
Publisher: Mehta Publishing House
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