In 1878, Blanche Wittman was committed to Salpetriere Hospital as an hysteric and placed in the care of the famous M. Charcot, who regularly displayed her, in a cataleptic state, before a public audience. Over time, the nature of her participation in these demonstrations changed; she graduated from patient to assistant and on leaving the hospital, was hired by Marie Curie to work in her Paris laboratory. On 17 February 1898, radium was discovered and Blanche's exposure to it necessitated the amputation of all her limbs, save one. As for Marie, her husband and collaborator Pierre was weakened by illness and subsequently killed having wandered in front of an oncoming horse and cart. Following this she embarked on an ill-fated love affair which, in 1911, almost cost her the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Using Blanche's notebooks - The Book of Questions - Enquist deftly weaves fact and fiction in a powerful tale of scientific discovery, death, art, love and the extraordinary relationship of two remarkable women at the dawn of a century of tremendous change.
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