Am Donnerstag wurde der Literatur-Nobelpreis an die Kurzgeschichten-Erzählerin Alice Munro vergeben. Wie wir erwähnt hatten, handelt die Titelgeschichte ihres letzten Kurzgeschichtenbandes “Too much happiness” von der Mathematikerin Sofia Kowalewskaja.
Wir hatten am Donnerstag schon die Übersetzung der ersten Seiten verlinkt, wo es um Funktionen, elliptische Integrale und starre Körper geht. Um was geht es in der Geschichte sonst noch?
Munro hat ihre Informationen zu Kowalewskaja weitgehend aus Little Sparrow: A portrait of Sophia Kovalevsky von Don und Nina Kennedy übernommen, wo viele Originaldokumente, Tagebücher, Briefe aus dem Russischen übersetzt werden. Ihre Erzählung konzentriert sich auf die letzten Tage aus Kowalewskajas Leben, die Rückreise aus Nizza nach Stockholm, an deren Ende sie einer Lungenentzündung erliegt, mit längeren Flashbacks zum Beispiel zur Pariser Kommune oder in die Zeit ihrer ersten mathematischen Arbeiten mit Weierstrass, zur Familie in Palibino und der für das Auslandsstudium notwendigen Scheinehe, und natürlich auch zu Geschichten um den Brodin-Preis und die Stockholmer Professur.
In vielen Rezensionen des Buches wird die Pariser Kommune erwähnt, mit der Kowalewskaja durch ihre Schwester Aniuta und deren Mann Victor Jaclard in Berührung gekommen waren. Tatsächlich nehmen die Ereignisse um die Kommune in der Erzählung einigen Platz ein, die Kommunarden und insbesondere Jaclard kommen allerdings, wenn man denn bereit ist, zwischen den Zeilen zu lesen, nicht besonders gut weg dabei. (“Jaclard had told Aniuta she could never be a true revolutionary, she was only good for getting money out of her criminal parents. As for Sophia and Vladimir (Vladimir who had snatched him away from the police) they were preening parasites, soaking up worthless studies.”)
So richtig gut weg kommt andererseits natürlich niemand, ambivalent ist die Sicht auf Rußland, das Landleben und die im Ausland lebenden Russen, ein Thema, das in der oszillierenden Erzählung einerseits keinen großen Raum einnimmt, andererseits immer wieder in anderen Handlungssträngen durchkommt:
The Shubert grandparents. No comfort there. he in uniform, she in a ball gown, displaying absurd self-satisfaction. They had got what they wanted, Sophia supposed, and hat only contempt for those not so conniving or so lucky.
“Did you know I’m part German?” she had said to Maxsim.
“Of course. How else could you be such a prodigy of industry? And have your head filled with mythical numbers?”
Für den Mathematiker sind vielleicht die Anekdoten über Weierstrass der spannendste Teil der Erzählung.
Their house is always comfortable, with its dark rugs and heavy fringed curtains and deep armchairs. Life there follows a ritual – it is dedicated to study, particularly the study of mathematics. Shy, generally ill-dressed male students pass through the sitting room to the study, one after the other.
Those sisters – Klara and Elise – had been startled the first day Sophia entered their sitting room on her way to the study. The servant who admitted her had not been trained to be selective, because those in the house lived such a retired life, also because the students who came were often shabby and unmannerly, so that the standards of most respectable houses did not apply. Even so, there had been some hesitation in the maid’s voice before she admitted this small woman whose face was mostly hidden by a dark bonnet and who moved in a frightened way, like a shy mendicant. The sisters could get no idea of her real age but concluded – after she was admitted to the study – that she might be some student’s mother, come to haggle or beg about the fees.
Weierstrass’s thoughts and now hers, were concerned with elliptic and Abelian functions, and the theory of analytic functions based on their representation as infinite series. The theory named for him contended that every bounded infinite sequence of real numbers has a convergent subsequence. In this she followed him and later challenged him and even for a time jumped ahead of him, so that they progressed from being teacher and pupil to being fellow mathematicians, she being often the catalyst to his investigations. But this relationship took time to develop, and at the Sunday suppers – to which she was invited readily because he had given up his Sunday afternoons to her – she was like a young relation, an eager protégé.
In the autumn they went to Petersburg, and the life of important amusement continued. Dinners, plays, receptions, and all the papers and periodicals to read, both frivolous and serious. Weierstrass begged Sophia, by letter, not to desert the world of mathematics. He saw to it that her dissertation was published in Crelle’s Journal for mathematicians. She barely looked at it. He asked her to spend a week – just a week – polishing up her work on the rings of Saturn so that it too might be published. She could not be bothered. She was too busy, wrapped up in more or less constant celebration. A celebration of name days and court honours and new operas and ballets, but really, it seemed to be, a celebration of life itself.