Thursday, 15 April 2021

Eleanor Marx by Rachel Holmes

 


I finally got to reading this book, thanks to the challenge The Unread Shelf hosted by Whitney Conard. An excellent challenge how to lower your TBRs and how to sort out what to read. One of the ways to read from your shelves is to take a book according to the monthly theme. The theme for March was - 'A book you bought on a trip'. I bought this book on a trip to London some years ago. I then visited the beautiful Highgate Cemetery where, among others, Karl Marx is buried. I found the book in the little shop at the entrance.

I did not know anything about Eleanor Marx, or much about the Marx family. Marx's ideas I think most are familiar with, even if they have been somewhat distorted through the years. Eleanor was the favourite daughter of Marx and she started helping him with research early on. She only had basic schooling, so she turned into a autodidactic. Highly intelligent she had a interest, not only in politics, but also in literature (she worked also as a translator), culture, theatre, acting and much more.

She had an energy that few could beat. Working hard all her life, and continuing and developing her father's and Jung's ideas about capitalism and society. Helping workers organising unions and being part of the international workers efforts for better working conditions. At one point she wanted to become an actor, and did actually perform on the stage, as well as setting up plays. She translated Madame Bovary into English and was working for introducing Ibsen, a favourite author, in Britain.

She was a modern woman and adapted herself the new ideas about women's right and a lot of her work dealt with "the women question". She lived and worked with, what seems to have been, the love of her life, Edward Aveling without being married. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a womaniser, half crook and cheated on her in many different ways. Warned by friends about his character, Eleanor choose not to listen. In a way it seems typical that an independent and intelligent woman like Eleanor Marx, would go down the same road as many other women have done; to fall in love with the wrong man, and because of this love sacrifice other things. 

"Eleanor was a confirmed atheist and freethinker. If only she'd noticed that unconditional love and the faith it requires are too much like the requirements for believing in an unverifiable god. GBS (George Bernhard Shaw, my comment) saw this clearly and directly in relation to the dynamic between Eleanor and Edward. In 1906 Saw wrote The Doctor's Dilemma, a play exploring the problem of criminal genius and featuring the figure of an unscrupulous artist-philosopher. He used Aveling as one of the models for Louis Dubedat, a gifted moral degenerate loved by a loyal wife (so she believes), Jennifer, based on Tussy." (Eleanor was called Tussy by family and friends. my comment).

Rachel Holmes has written a marvellous biography. I think everything about Eleanor's life and deeds are there. It is thoroughly researched, lots of quotes from letters and papers, to help us form a picture of this incredible lady. There is the background of her father and family, the relationship with Jung, her personal relationships and the influence she had on other people which reached all over Europe, her unbelievable achievements when it comes to the socialist movement and its policies and outcome, her personal interests in literature, translating, theatre just shows what an amazing person she was and so versatile. While reading one cannot help but admire her life's achievements.

"Eleanor assisted Thorne in composing and drafting the rules and constitution of the union. She helped him do the accounts and write the half-year report from March to September 1889, circulated to 30,000 members around the country. In 1939, at the age of eighty, in an interview in the House of Commons, Thorne described Elanor as the most intelligent woman he had ever known, who had an immeasurable influence on his life."

Her life ends in a more somber tone. I will not reveal it her, for those who want to read about her, but there are family secrets coming out in the open, and then there is her death and the aftermaths. 

This biography also gives us a good picture of Europe at the time. It was a time with a lot of developments in many areas of society. Revolutionaries, class difference coming out in the open and a change in society on all levels. Eleanor died in 1898 and just a few years in the future the ongoing changes in Europe, during her time, turned into World War I. 


11 comments:

  1. Sounds like an interesting read, again. You find the greatest books.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Marianne. I found it very interesting, mostly because she was an amazing woman. More the pity that she made such a bad choice for her spouse. I found it really sad. She deserved someone much better. I think her life was interesting though and she, more or less, did what she wanted to do.

      Delete
    2. I think it was difficult for women in former times to choose the correct husband. I will have to look out for the book. Thanks for the review.

      Delete
    3. It sure was, but I think that Eleanor did make her own choices. She had an affair before meeting Edward. He seems to be quite a different character and cared for her long after their relationship ended. Let me know if you read the book. There are a lot of things to discuss.

      Delete
    4. It doesn't seem to be that easy to get it but it's on my wishlist and I'll look out for it. Thanks.

      Delete
    5. I left it the other day at a book cupboard in a local park in Innsbruck. I could have sent it to you. Usually, even the English books disappear very quickly here. If I see it, I will pass by again today, I will take it back and send it to you.

      Delete
    6. That's so nice of you but don't worry. I'll find it somewhere.

      Delete
    7. I will keep my eyes open, just in case. However, it might turn up anywhere when you least expect it.

      Delete
    8. Exactly. It's on my list and I'll check from time to time.

      Delete
  2. She sounds like a fascinating woman who liked a remarkable life When I finally get back to London I think I will try to pick this one up.

    I smiled at the challenge title. THat's one challenge I think I could do!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She really was an amazing woman. As I said in a comment above, such a pity she choose her spouse so badly. When you get back to London you have to visit Highgate Cemetery (where I bought the book). It is a beautiful place, rather huge. On one side you can walk around by yourself (where Marx among other famous people are buried), and on the other side you need a guide. I wanted to see Christina Rosetti's tomb but it was not included in the tour. However, it was a very interesting tour with beautiful tombs and burying places. Well worth a visit.

      Delete