EL 118 Final Project: The Tragic History of Evariste Galois

A study of the fabled life of a brilliant mathematician using discrete models of mathematical logic

Dylan Cashman

DISCLAIMER: The author of this work did not intend for this to be a factual biography. It is in no way to be used as factual evidence in the study of Galois' life. It also is not a formal treatise, in any way, of modern mathematics. It is simply an exploratory project.The author of this work did not intend for this to be a factual biography. It is in no way to be used as factual evidence in the study of Galois' life. It also is not a formal treatise, in any way, of modern mathematics. It is simply an exploratory project.

The biography is divided up into seven different versions of the same story. They range from the most abstract, Biography 7, to the most literal, Biography 1.

Biography 3

Evariste Galois was born October 25th, 1811 to parents Nicolas-Gabriel and Adelaide-Marie Galois. He was born in a commune of Paris called Bourg-la-Reine. His father was a politician, and his mother, who stayed home and watched the children, was an amateur Latin scholar. He had an older sister, Nathalie-Theodore, and a younger brother, Alfred. Evariste was home-schooled in many different topic including Latin and philosophy. He also learned of politics from his father, the mayor of Bourg-la-Reine.

Evariste enjoyed living in Bourg-la-Reine, because it was quiet and safe. It was also a very politically minded section of Paris, home to a large number of Napoleon supporters long after Napoleon’s fall from power. Once Napoleon went into exile for the final time, the Bourbon monarchy took over political power in Paris and greater France for many years. They attempted to eliminate the supporters of Napoleon, since they felt that they undermined their authority over the country. They even went so far as to murder hundreds of “Bonapartists,” instilling fear in the dissenters and creating a hostile, emotion-filled political atmosphere in Paris.

When Evariste was ten years old, his parents decided that he would benefit from attending school away from home. He took an admissions test for a youth college in Reims, and was accepted with a partial grant. His parents then decided to keep him home for two more years. After those two years, he was deemed fit to go to school away from home. He gained admittance into a more prestigious school, the Lycee Louis-le-Grand, and became one of the youngest attendees in his grade at age 12.

At the boarding school, children awoke at 5:30 AM. The first order of the day was to wash, and they washed in the only large water-source within school grounds – the outdoor courtyard fountain. Before eating, they were forced to study for the next two hours. They were then fed a meager breakfast of bread and water. At around 8:00 AM, the non-boarding students arrived, and real class began. It continued until around midday, at which point the boys were allowed to break for lunch. Lunch consisted of gruel mixed in with fat, some form of protein in the form of fish or meat, and vegetables. There was no concern with taste. The school administrators believed that a lack of luxuries such as tasty food would harden the boys and make them more efficient workers in whatever their eventual profession was to be. The children were then allowed a brief recess period. The only activities that were allowed were walking and talking quietly. After recess, there were more classes until 6:00 PM. At that point, the non-boarding students went home, but the boarders were subject to an hour and a half of church time.

The students did not like the school. It was always very dark. In the classrooms, there were only enough candles for two children to share one, and a heating stove made it smoky and difficult to see. The instructors would lecture down at the students, where they sat not at desks but on the steps in the room. Disciplinary actions were swift and brutal; unruly students would be placed in a cell for days at a time. On one occasion, when Evariste had just joined the school, a banquet was held to celebrate the prowess of the best 75 students at the school. They were subdued in private protest of the actions of the school, and for that they were all immediately expelled.

Evariste excelled in his new school. He graduated his first year the recipient of many academic prizes. He continued to succeed in school and ran into no trouble until he reached what was to be his final year at the school at the age of 15. The headmaster dictated that Evariste was too young to be considered for graduation, and so held him back in spite of his excellent academic record. While repeating the grade, Evariste seemed to discover mathematics. He adored the textbook that the teacher used, Elements de geometrie by Adrien-Marie Legendre. He read the book in two days time and immediately became consumed with the mystique of mathematics. After that, his academic work dropped in quality and he became a nuisance in class. His teachers began to dislike him and suggested that he dedicate himself and his talents to a mathematical school instead of one with a holistic education like Louis-le-Grand. He concurred, and applied for admission at the Ecole Polytechnique. His application was rejected.

Instead, Evariste continued at his old school. He took a math class taught by a very good professor, Lous-Paul-Emile Richard, a man who recognized the genius in Evariste. Richard was repeatedly impressed with Evariste, and he encouraged him to cultivate his ideas and pursue any whims that he had. Because of the encouragement, Evariste ended up writing several professional-styled papers. A rather unremarkable one was published in a mathematics journal, and he submitted two other, much more intelligent papers to the Academie des Sciences to be reviewed. However, the papers did not get reviewed, much to the chagrin of Evariste and Richard.

Around this time, Evariste’s father was the victim of a framing by the Bourbon government. They did not like having a liberal mayor within Paris, and so they planted rumors that exploded into scandal that resulted in Nicolas-Gabriel’s abdication of the position and effective exile in another part of France. The shame of the affair troubled Nicolas-Gabriel, and soon after moving, he committed suicide in his home. The death left Evariste without a guardian, and broke up the Galois family’s close ties.

To deal with growing expenses, Evariste applied for a grant to study at the Ecole Preparatoire, and was accepted. He did not excel at the school, but instead became very politically active. In July of 1830, a parliamentary election showed that the opposition party had gained a majority of the seats. The king was dissatisfied, so he suggested another election. Even more seats went to the opposition, and, as a response, the king stripped parliament of all its powers. Going even further, he tried to eliminate what he saw as the source of the dissent – the freedom of the press. He mandated that any publisher had to first submit its paper to the king’s officers, and they would give it their stamp of approval if it did not incite any revolt. The reaction was swift and unanimous. The next morning, several papers illegally printed calls-to-arms, and the public responded. Many gathered, and riots broke out throughout Paris. Galois wished to join in, but he was not allowed to by the headmaster of the schools. Galois and his political allies were walled in the inner sanctum of the school complex.

This angered Galois greatly. He resented being controlled, and he wrote a letter to a local liberal newspaper criticizing his headmaster for the decision to not aid in the rebellion. The headmaster did not appreciate the article, and after a long and drawn out verbal battle, elected to expel Galois for his criticism. The incident was widely publicized, and Galois gained some notoriety for the event. This notoriety only grew when, months later, Galois was seen inciting revolt and suggesting the violent dethroning of the king at a banquet for opposition leaders. Galois was put on trial for treason. Numerous witnesses came out, and the trial served as a spectacle for political differences. Galois was eventually acquitted. Only months later, he was again convicted for treasonous actions, when he marched in a riot while in possession of weaponry. This time, he was found guilty and sentenced to nine months in jail.

Galois did not enjoy jail. It was very liberally intellectual, since it was full of political prisoners. They would often speak for hours, discussing their similar political ideologies. Galois was often made fun of because of his small stature. He was only 19 years old, but he was in jail with men. He spent his time refining his mathematic ideas, ideas that he had not developed for some years.

One important development in Galois’ life is that he fell in love with one of the prison worker’s daughters. He exchanged letters with her, and we can see that he became quite enamored with her. However, she evidently rejected his advances, and sought only a platonic relationship with him. The affair made him very depressed.

Galois was released from prison in early 1831, and immediately immersed himself in his old political party. The party had decided that the tidings were good for a massive political movement. They were confounded as to how to gather a large enough people to illicit any kind of change. The subject of rioting at a funeral of a member was brought up and quickly approved. Galois offered his body to be sacrificed; the protests would take place at his highly-publicized funeral. A scheme was hatched to make the details of his death murky, and plans were set. The night before his death, Galois recorded many of his thoughts on mathematics. These thoughts proved too be brilliant and incredibly intricate; they are still studied today. In the morning, Galois entered into a fixed duel, and was shot and killed. Thousands showed up to his funeral, but, in the end, political leaders decided that it was not in their best interests to riot at Evariste’s funeral. They chose a different, more public person who had died days after Galois.