Sofia KovalevskayaMacTutor Index

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A Short Break

On starting her work on this problem in 1883, Sofia had been convinced that it would take her five years to complete. She had also felt that by that time there would be many more women working in the world of mathematics, and that perhaps she would at last be able to find a position in a French, German or Russian university. While her five year estimate was to prove correct, her other hopes for the future were unfortunately not to come to fruition.

A similar feeling of depression and anti-climax to that which she had experienced on finally being awarded her doctorate now developed within Sofia. After working in an incredibly intense manner for a long period of time she, was in a state of total exhaustion and nervous collapse.77 On the one hand she did not want to be mentally idle, but on the other she was not sure if she really wanted to start on a new project. Despite the fact that her contract with the University of Stockholm was about to expire she nevertheless decided to take a leave of absence for health reasons, and was even hospitalised for a short time suffering from exhaustion. Weierstrass was slightly alarmed at the news that she would be taking some time off as he feared that it could lead to another five-year break from mathematics, but his fears proved to be unfounded.


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Leigh Ellison May 2002