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Jane back in Stephen Hawking's universe

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Unread 06-13-2007, 08:12 AM   #1
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Default Jane back in Stephen Hawking's universe

Jane back in Stephen Hawking's universe

WHAT began as a 60s love affair became a miserable charade of domestic bliss. Jane Hawking spent 25 years pretending that her marriage to the celebrated physicist - paralysed by motor neurone disease in his 20s - was a triumphant success when, in reality, it was anything but.

Now in her early 60s, Jane has spent the past year revising her controversial autobiography about her troubled life with Professor Stephen Hawking.

"The press condemned my first autobiography," she says. "It was regarded as a kiss-and-tell memoir. They didn't want to know the physical and mental problems of living with a completely disabled man."

Having modified her original "outpouring of grief and despair", Jane in her new book offers a more considered and reflective, though no less moving, account of their lives together - and ends with a dramatic conclusion.

"We've started to see each other again. I was shut out of Stephen's life for almost 17 years by his new wife. Finally last year we started meeting surreptitiously in his office because that was the only place we could be alone. Then they got divorced so things got easier.

"I don't call it a reconciliation in the sense that Stephen and I are now going to go and get married - but just to be able to associate as a family in a civilised manner means a lot to me. We meet for lunches and suppers at our house, at Stephen's or at my daughter Lucy's, who lives next door. We recently bumped into him and his entourage in the queue for the cinema which was lovely because it's all friendly now; there are no hidden agendas and anxieties."

In the final years of their marriage together Jane explains she "felt like a puppet" performing for Stephen's public.

"We were under scrutiny when Stephen became rich and famous. The media were in the house and camera leads were absolutely everywhere - it was just nightmarish.

"I was expected to say 'isn't the way we live beautiful?', 'aren't we lucky?', 'look how well we've coped' and 'how we've triumphed', when that wasn't the truth at all. It was a desperate struggle to survive day to day."

Jane and Stephen divorced in 1990 and both parties remarried five years later, Stephen to his nurse Elaine Mason and Jane to Jonathan Hellyer Jones, now director of college music at Magdalene College, with whom she lives in central Cambridge.

Only 19 years old when she first met the young genius, she makes it easy to understand why the young Jane Wilde first fell for such a character.

"I had just left school and was in my gap year before going to University in London when I meet him. Stephen was two-and-a-half years older than me and about to become a research fellow at Gonville and Caius college. I met him in 1963 at a New Year's Day party in our home town of St Albans."

In her autobiography, Jane accounts how Stephen looked and sounded. "There . . . slight of frame . . . gesticulating with long, thin fingers as he spoke, his hair falling across his face over his glasses and wearing a dusty velvet jacket . . . was Stephen Hawking. His tales made very appealing listening . . . because of his habit of hiccuping with laughter, almost suffocating himself at the jokes himself, very often against himself."

Jane says: "We exchanged names and addresses but I never expected to see him again. Then an invitation to his 21st birthday party came. He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease just weeks later. I was extremely optimistic and I hope that encouraged him, because he was shattered by the news.

"In the 60s, we had the threat of nuclear war hanging over us. His life expectancy may have been short but the way I saw it, the rest of us might only have four minutes to live. I suppose, marrying Stephen was also my own little 60s rebellion against a rather staid society. I was going to go out and marry him although I knew people thought it was the wrong decision."

After their marriage in 1965, Jane managed Stephen, his illness, the children and their family homes in Little St Mary's Lane and, later, West Road, Cambridge.

"What I found hard was that while I was trying to run the house and run around after the kids, Stephen just sat there head in his hands, stock still - like Rodin's thinker. It wasn't that he was unable to communicate, he just didn't."

No longer able to use pen and paper, Stephen was forced to consign all his thoughts to memory. And according to Jane, the more successful Stephen became, the more determined he was to pursue his success.

"He was totally cut off. I wouldn't know if he had a problem, wasn't well, was resentful about something or just working. Then a couple of days later his face would light up with a huge smile and I'd find out he'd just solved some physics problem."

While seeking solace in her faith, Jane became close to the choir master at St Mark's Church, Jonathan Hellyer Jones. The recently-widowed musician soon became a regular fixture in the Hawking household, which Stephen initially accepted.

"Jonathan came to the house to teach Lucy the piano and then started teaching me. We became really good friends. Whenever there was a need, he helped. When we started having a relationship, it wasn't an easy thing to do and didn't square easily with my conscience but the alternative was to throw myself in the river because I was so desperate."

In 1985, Stephen lost the power of speech and a 24-hour nursing team joined the Hawking household

"Although initially Stephen was grateful and tolerant about Jonathan, when the nurses came in, the dynamic of the home changed. Elaine used my relationship with Jonathan as ammunition against me in order to ingratiate herself with Stephen," insists Jane.

Despite the years of painful struggling, Jane remains the same optimistic and courageous character who married Stephen against her friends' and families' advice. In 2001, her grandson William was diagnosed with autism. Told by the doctors he would have the mental age of two for the rest of his life, Jane and her daughter Lucy began fighting all over again.

"I couldn't believe that lightning could strike twice. I was determined not to accept their prognosis and we have since found a treatment for him, no thanks to the health service."

Lucy and Jane discovered that William was not autistic but suffered brain damage at birth. Cutting-edge treatments have since begun to heal his brain.

"Almost day by day we see an improvement and we now know that William has a future. For me, it was very like Stephen's diagnosis in 1963 when the Harley Street consultant said: 'Don't bother to come back, there's nothing more we can do for him. He's got no more than two years to live.' Both times I've been determined to beat them - and I have."

Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking is published by Alma Books on Friday. For more information, visit www.almabooks.co.uk


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