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Marx, Deceased should have been entitled Ego


Getting back together with my ex
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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Out of the blue, on May 8, 1984, exactly one year later, I got a letter from my former lover, with flowers, telling me that it’s been a year since we separated. Well, this was not news to me. I was going to correct her and say, when you left, not when we separated, but it was a letter that she wrote to me and not a telephone conversation. And she said, would you like to meet and talk about what happened? Well, I had wanted to do that for the last 365 days, so of course my answer was yes. And I wrote her back. But instead of sending flowers back, which would probably have been the gentlemanly thing to do, I sent her the manuscript of that novel. Well, she was like a bomb, so when we met, the first question... I mean, she was impressed. She didn’t know that I wrote anything except scientific papers. And then she saw a 330 page novel. But then she said, 'What are you going to do with this?' I said, 'Well, Publish it. I'll find a publisher.' And she said, 'You are mad.' I said, 'Why?' 'Well,' she said, 'first of all, you’re undressing us completely...' because this was a novel which was supposed to be a roman à clef, but, you know, the clef there is c-l-e-f. The key was lying right here in front of everyone. I mean, it was about a professor, a male professor scientist and I was not an organic chemist. I made him a physical chemist, and he was in an unnamed university in the San Francisco Bay area. But all the other universities were named in the novel, the University of California, San Francisco, Berkeley, San Jose, Santa Cruz and so on. The only one that was not named was Stanford, which was perfectly obvious. It went along like this. And this lover of his was this elegant... but she was not a literature professor, she was a law professor, and I think he had a stiff right leg. I have a stiff left leg, something like that. And he was, of course, absolutely the paragon of an ideal lover, intelligent, charming, etc, etc.

'Well,' I said, 'come on. No-one will know...' But then the coup de grâce was... she said, 'But it’s not even good.' And she was right on this. You know, now I know this. At that time, of course, I said, 'Well, it’s just sour grapes.' But there’s no question that it, sort of, got us together again, and we started seeing each other more and more, and then I asked her to go with me to Brazil. That was really our great, sort of, rapprochement, and I think somewhere around that time... Strangely enough, neither one of us remembers who brought up the subject first, 'Let’s get married.' Because... and that’s my present wife that I’m talking about. That’s why I didn’t mention her name, Diane Middlebrook, and you think about it, I didn’t even think about it in Middles, the title of that novel. The Middlebrook, same way as CD, Cantor’s Dilemma, I didn’t even think of it, Carl Djerassi. I mean, the subliminal things are just unbelievable. But whatever it was, she said, 'Let’s get married, but under only one set of circumstances. You promise never to publish this novel.' I said to her, 'It’s a deal.' And I didn’t. But I didn’t promise not to cannibalise it.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Middles, Cantor’s Dilemma, Diane Middlebrook

Duration: 3 minutes, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008