Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Eleanor Marx: Her Father's Daughter

Family InHeritance

Eleanor Marx [1855-1898]:
Jardine writes: “Intellectually, what she brought of her own to the political arena was a vision that incorporated the rights of women. As she wrote in 1886 in The Woman Question, 'For women, as for the labouring classes, no solution of the difficulties and problems that present themselves is really possible in the present condition of society. ' ”
Photo Credit: AKG Images; circa 1875
Source: FT


An article, by Lisa Jardine in Financial Times, reviews Rachel Holmes' Eleanor Marx: A Life, about the preferred daughter of Karl Marx.

Jardine writes:
Eleanor Marx joked that she had inherited her father’s nose but not his genius and, if she anticipated that it was her fate to be overshadowed by the author of Das Kapital, then she could only be proved correct. Yet contemporaries who knew her work as an activist, writer and translator would have protested nonetheless at the injustice. Now, in Rachel Holmes’ fine biography, we have all the evidence we need to revise this modest self-assessment.

Eleanor was born on January 16 1855 in a two-room garret in Dean Street, London, the sixth child of Karl Marx and Jenny von Westphalen. Only two of her siblings survived into adulthood – her sisters Jenny and Laura, 11 and 10 years older than her, respectively. The eldest son, Edgar, died of tuberculosis 12 weeks after Eleanor’s birth and from that point her father seems to have invested all his hopes and affection in the family’s most recent arrival. He and Eleanor would be soulmates until his death in 1883.

One consequence for Eleanor, known throughout her life as “Tussy”, was that her education was almost entirely conducted at her father’s knee. She barely attended formal school – in part because the family was always so short of money, surviving for periods on money raised by pawning linen and jewellery, or on generous handouts from Karl’s collaborator Friedrich Engels. Instead, she learnt French and German from her French-speaking older sisters and German-speaking mother, while her father encouraged his own love of “book-worming” in her from as soon as she could read.

Karl introduced her to Shakespeare, to the English, French and American novel, to Scott, Balzac and Fielding. He encouraged her writing and love of the theatre. Years later Eleanor recalled: “He would, all unconscious though she was of it, show his little girl where to look for all that was finest and best in the works, teach her – though she never thought she was being taught, to that she would have objected – to try and think, to try and understand for herself.”
This is definitely wise counsel from a father to his daughter, an idea that I have attempted to instill in my own children. It remains to be seen how successful my attempts will be in the face of a strong societal pressure to conform. There is a marked difference between being part of a community, a healthy social need, and conforming to such a degree as to nullify the individual and his or her identity. Fighting for individual and civil rights, it seems, is always carried out by flawed idealistic individuals, often leading to tragic consequences; Eleanor Marx did not escape this fate.

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You can read the rest of the article at [FT].

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