WHEN Jane Hawking first published an account of her 25-year marriage to the wheelchair-bound cosmological genius Stephen Hawking in 1997 it was, not surprisingly, a bitter book. Jane had married Hawking at 20, borne him three children, facilitated his spectacular cerebral life and cared for his physical needs as his body was steadily robbed of strength, movement and speech by motor neurone disease (MND).
Then, on their wedding anniversary in 1990, Hawking informed her he was leaving her for Elaine Mason, one of the nurses who, ironically enough, had been charged with alleviating the increasingly intolerable burden of his care.
The book, Jane says now, was therefore "an outpouring of grief and despondency, aimed at offloading a huge burden of memories, an exorcism of the past so I could go on living". The new version of the book, substantially revised, updated and retitled, is an altogether more generous and affectionate affair.
This is a function of the fact that Hawking's second marriage, dogged with (unproven) rumours that Elaine was abusing him, ended in 2006, and along with it a long and unwilling estrangement between the physicist and his first family.
"Things have improved since Stephen's divorce. He is now free and I can associate with him fairly freely," says Jane. At 62, she is a slight but perky woman with startling blue eyes and a sing-song voice which wouldn't sound out of place on Listen with Mother, but which takes on an edge of steely precision when she discusses the near past. "I don't have to make an appointment to see him in in his office, I can just go round to his house. He's Dad to the children again, which is wonderful, and our friendship is much easier again."
Although the Hawkings are close again, they do not discuss Stephen's second marriage.
"I would never dream of doing that," says Jane. "We are all just so pleased that he survived that period that we would rather bury it than bring it up."
The break-up and their father's remarriage hit the Hawkings' three children hard, particularly Lucy, the second-born and the only girl. A journalist and novelist, Lucy confessed recently that she began to drink when she felt she was being kept from her father (this period coincided unhappily with the break-up of her own marriage). Now, though, she is working on a series of children's books about space with her father, and lives next door to Jane with her nine-year-old son, William.
Initially diagnosed with autism, William was later found to have suffered brain damage when he was bornby Caesarean section, which affected his comprehension, hearing and speech and made him "wild". His grandson's plight seems be the first of his family's needs to break through
Stephen Hawking's self-absorption
that insulating shell with which he keeps himself alive, and which made him impossible to live with.
"Stephen is very concerned about William," says Jane. "And although he is devoted to all our children, he is closest to Lucy and William because he and Lucy are working together and because they live next door." William is now responding well to therapy. The new title of Jane's book, Into Infinity, seems to make perfect sense: for the first time in years, the Hawkings are looking forward.
There was, arguably, a blight on Jane and Stephen's marriage from the start that was worse than MND
silence. Jane was 19 when she met Hawking, then a promising research fellow at Cambridge, in 1965..
She was "very, very innocent and young", easily smitten by his lopsided grin, and just as easily cowed into silence by his burgeoning intellect and sneering dismissal of her love for ballet and Brahms.
Although he was diagnosed with the incurable wasting disease in the early stages of their relationship, it was simply not discussed.
"The one time I tried to bring it up, he simply wrinkled …