MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Too Much Happiness (2009)
Alice Munro
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The penultimate collection of short stories from Nobel laureate Alice Munro features a title story about the final days of Sonia Kovalevskaya. The main source of tension in the story is her love affair with Maxim Kovalevsky, the Russian playboy who just happened to have the same last name as her late husband, which was also the focus of the film A Hill on the Dark Side of the Moon. In addition, this story also contains "flashbacks" to the earlier period covered by Beyond the Limit.

Of course, the writing is beautiful. Mathematics is not the central focus of the story, but neither is it avoided (as in the film) nor is it presented inaccurately. An appearance by Poincare discussing his prize, many mentions of Weierstrass (her thesis advisor), and technical terms such as `theta functions' or `partial differential equations' are used well in this character study of a woman living at a time when her skills and interests were not fully appreciated by the rest of society:

(quoted from Too Much Happiness)

Then they had given her the Bordin Prize, they had kissed her hand and presented her with speeches and flowers in the most elegant lavishly lit rooms. But they had closed their doors when it came to giving her a job. They would no more think of that than of employing a learned chimpanzee. The wives of the great scientists preferred not to meet her, or invite her into their homes.

An author's note explains that Munro ran across an entry on "Kovalevsky" while searching for something else in the encyclopedia and became enthralled. She suggests that "Little Sparrow: A Portrait of Sophia Kovalevsky" was a primary source. I am assuming, therefore, that it is historically accurate and well researched (at least as historical fiction goes). However, I am not sufficiently expert to be able to say this definitively. In any case, it is certainly believable.

In addition to appearing in the collection, this story was also published in Harper's Magazine (August 2009).

Update: In 2013, Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her short stories. This story in particular does not seem to be cited as being among those that resulted in her selection for the prize, but I do find that many of the news stories announcing it were themselves entitled "Too Much Happiness".

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Works Similar to Too Much Happiness
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Beyond the Limit: The Dream of Sofya Kovalevskaya by Joan Spicci
  2. A Hill on the Dark Side of the Moon by Lennart Hjulström
  3. Mrs. Einstein by Anna McGrail
  4. Continuums by Robert Carr
  5. Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight by Lauren Gunderson
  6. A Study in Seduction by Nina Rowan
  7. The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti
  8. Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land by John Crowley
  9. The Embalmer's Book of Recipes by Ann Lingard
  10. Abendland (Occident) by Michael Köhlmeier
Ratings for Too Much Happiness:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
3/5 (1 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
5/5 (1 votes)
.

Categories:
GenreHistorical Fiction,
MotifAcademia, Real Mathematicians, Female Mathematicians, Romance,
Topic
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)