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The complicated but beautiful love story between Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane.

Mamamia logo Mamamia 14/3/2018 Michelle Andrews

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Stephen Hawking – the man who was simultaneously the world’s most famous scientist and sufferer of Motor Neurone Disease (MND) – died peacefully at his home in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The journey of the theoretical physicist feels more familiar than those of most in the public eye; the story of his life was the focus of 2014 biopic The Theory of Everything, a film that didn’t only achieve considerable commercial success (it grossed US$123.7 million at the box office), but one that saw Eddie Redmayne take home the Academy Award for Best Actor.

a person posing for a picture: stephen hawking's wife © getty stephen hawking's wife

For that reason, the private life of Professor Hawking doesn't feel so foreign. Even from a distance, we know the shapes of its grand pivots and twists.

We know that while science will always be the biggest love of the late 76-year-old's life, there was another love story that coloured his time on earth. That is, his first marriage to now ex-wife Jane, the woman who was his fiercest love despite the events that could have easily put a chasm between them.

Stephen Hawking's wife

Hawking and Jane Wilde - a friend of his sister, who he met at a college party in 1962 - began dating before infamy and illness, when he was just a graduate student at Cambridge University. Their relationship blossomed in the fleeting moments before the Oxford-born academic learned of his MND diagnosis, and was fast-tracked when Hawking and Wilde learned their time together may have been brief.

The pair became engaged in October 1964, and were married in July 1965. They shared an intense, passionate romance.

Wilde, a talented academic in her own right, studied languages while her husband worked at the university. When the couple had children - Robert, in 1967, Lucy, in 1970, and Timothy, in 1979 - the brunt of all housework was heaped on Wilde's shoulders.

It was, by all accounts, a unique arrangement. In Wilde's 2007 memoir, she wrote:

“The goddess Physics was Stephen’s idol. I was not jealous of her but she did give me some cause for concern. Sometimes Stephen would spend a whole weekend in his wheelchair, elbow resting on his knee like Rodin’s Thinker. He wouldn’t take any notice of the children, or of me, and I would become very worried. Was he uncomfortable or ill, or had I upset him in some way? Then, on the Monday morning, he would look up and smile and say, 'I’ve solved that equation!'"

The delicate balancing act of maintaining the home, their marriage, writing her thesis, and bolstering her own career was something that, at many times, Wilde was left to do single-handedly. Her sacrifices in order to prioritise her husband's success and medical care were often overlooked, she has said.

Speaking to The Telegraph in 2015, Wilde recalled how she felt as her then-husband grew sicker, and following an emergency tracheotomy in Geneva, lost his ability to speak:

“Stephen said to me early on: ‘Where there is physical illness, you can’t afford to have psychological illness as well’, and by extension I felt that should be my mantra too. But sometimes life was just so dreadful, so physically and mentally exhausting, that I wanted to throw myself in the river – although of course I stopped myself because of the children.”

The strain of Hawking's illness, which deteriorated with each passing year, saw Wilde look outside the family home for jouissance; by 1977 she had found a great passion for music and singing, and became dear friends with Jonathan Hellyer Jones, an organist at the local church.

The proceeding years would see the friendship between the struggling wife and Jones grow into something romantic - they had feelings for each other, but would never act upon them as a commitment to their respective families. Their restrained but resplendent love was, understandably, a source of tension between Wilde and Hawking, but was something she claimed he was accepting of in her memoir: "He would not object so long as I continued to love him."

a woman standing in a room: stephen hawking's wife © getty stephen hawking's wife

By the mid-1980s, Hawking's condition was so severe he required round-the-clock care, which necessitated welcoming nurses into the family home.

It was, ultimately, what sparked the disintegration of their marriage.

“From the moment the nurses came into our home to look after Stephen, our household was turned upside down,” the English teacher and best-selling author said in her interview with The Telegraph. “The rest of us were marginalised and pushed into a corner.”

One nurse, named Elaine Mason, became fond of her famous patient. In the years she cared for Hawking, the pair fell in love.

“I was, I suppose, very innocent. I expected that carers came into the home to help look after the disabled person and respect the rest of the family," Wilde told Radio Times in 2014. "Very few of them did that."

Hawking informed his wife and the mother of his three children that he was leaving her for Mason in 1990. He went on to marry his former nurse in 1995, within months of the divorce being finalised. Hawking and Mason were married for 11 years - a time that saw the scientist withdraw from his children and first wife - before quietly divorcing in 2006.

Wilde, on the other hand, married her long-time love in Hellyer Jones in 1997. They are still married today.

Thankfully, well before his death, Hawking reunited with Wilde. For the last decade of his life, the scientist's relationships with his former wife, two sons and daughter were joyous.

“Our marriage was a great success. Stephen achieved what he wanted to achieve, we kept going for a very long time, and we had three wonderful children together," Wilde said in the lead-up to The Theory of Everything's release.

"I feel a great deal of admiration – and a lot of love for him too. It’s not the same kind of passionate love as before, but yes, I do still love him.”

Stephen Hawking is survived by his three beloved children, 50-year-old Robert, a software engineer, 47-year-old Lucy, a journalist and philanthropist, and 38-year-old Timothy, a marketer.

In a statement to the press, Hawking's three children shared: "He once said, 'it would not be much of a universe if it wasn't home to the people you love'.

"We will miss him forever."

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