Stephen Hawking's ex-wife writes tell-all

Jane Hawking chronicles the misery of her marriage.

Topics: Books,

In 1990, world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking did what looked like a bad, bad thing. The author of “A Brief History of Time,” who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, dropped his wife of almost 30 years and took off with a younger woman — his nurse, Elaine Mason. But as is revealed in Jane Hawking’s new tell-all, “Music to Move the Stars,” their marriage was much more complicated than anybody knew.

Published in Britain by Macmillan, the 610-page tome of woe hits the shelves on Friday. In it, Jane Hawking chronicles the hardships of marriage to a famous genius with a famous degenerative disease. She is startlingly frank about her feelings, calling her ex-husband an “all-powerful emperor” and a “masterly puppeteer.” She notes at one point, “It was becoming very difficult — unnatural, even — to feel desire for someone with the body of a Holocaust victim and the undeniable needs of an infant.”

Desperate for emotional and physical fulfillment, she says, in 1985 she began an affair with a family friend, musician Jonathan Hellyer-Jones, whom she had met in 1977 after joining a local choir. Her husband gave tacit sanction to the relationship; the pair married in 1996.

As a stressed-out caregiver, Jane Hawking suffered huge bouts of depression. “A brittle, empty shell, alone and vulnerable, restrained only by the thought of my children from throwing myself into the river, drowning in a slough of despond, I prayed for help with the desperate insistency of a potential suicide,” she writes. But she felt she had no option but to stick with the relationship. “I couldn’t go off and leave Stephen. Coals of fire would have been heaped on my head if I had.”

The book has already set off at least one feud. Laura Gentry, who helped transcribe Stephen Hawking’s “Brief History,” told the London Observer, “Hearing him described as a cruel, scheming man really upsets me.” Gentry claimed that in 1985, when the scientist was suffering from pneumonia, Jane Hawking, who was already involved with Hellyer-Jones, contemplated switching off her husband’s life-support machine.

According to Jane Hawking’s editor, Mary Evans, “Music to Move the Stars” doesn’t have a U.S. publisher yet, despite the scientist’s huge fame. In terms of influence, Hawking is often compared to Isaac Newton. “A Brief History of Time” sold more than 25 million copies worldwide.

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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