Eleanor Marx: A Life | Left Wing Books


Eleanor Marx: A Life

528 pages
Price: $8.00 (USD)
List price: $12.65 (USD)

Unrestrained by convention, lion-hearted and free, Eleanor Marx (1855-98) was an exceptional woman. Hers was the first English translation of Flaubert's Mme Bovary. She pioneered the theatre of Henrik Ibsen. She was the first woman to lead the British dock workers' and gas workers' trades unions. For years she worked tirelessly for her father, Karl Marx, as personal secretary and researcher. Later she edited many of his key political works, and laid the foundations for his biography. But foremost among her achievements was her pioneering feminism. For her, sexual equality was a necessary precondition for a just society.

Drawing strength from her family and their wide circle, including Friedrich Engels and Wilhelm Liebknecht, Eleanor Marx set out into the world to make a difference – her favourite motto: 'Go ahead!' With her closest friends - among them, Olive Schreiner, Havelock Ellis, George Bernard Shaw, Will Thorne and William Morris - she was at the epicentre of British socialism. She was also the only Marx to claim her Jewishness. But her life contained a deep sadness: she loved a faithless and dishonest man, the academic, actor and would-be playwright Edward Aveling. Yet despite the unhappiness he brought her, Eleanor Marx never wavered in her political life, ceaselessly campaigning and organising until her untimely end, which – with its letters, legacies, secrets and hidden paternity – reads in part like a novel by Wilkie Collins, and in part like the modern tragedy it was.

Rachel Holmes has gone back to original sources to tell the story of the woman who did more than any other to transform British politics in the nineteenth century, who was unafraid to live her contradictions.

What People Are Saying

“Superb ... The story of this remarkable life is so well told, with a rare combination of pace, verve and scholarship, that the reader is soon a daily visitor to the Marx household, with its soot, smoke, books, babies, dinner on the table via the pawnshop, three languages spoken in any combination, and the tiny Eleanor ... I doubt the reader will close this brilliant biography unmoved by this extraordinary woman's life and untroubled by the inevitable questions it raises about global capitalism now” –  Jeanette Winterson, Daily Telegraph

“Thanks to Holmes' fresh and vital style – not to mention her endearing partisanship – Eleanor Marx: A Life reads less like a biography than a 19th century novel. Its close might indeed be modelled on Flaubert's Madame Bovary, translated into English for the first time by Eleanor Marx in 1886 ... The life of one of Britain's most celebrated intellectuals and activists of the late 19th century came abruptly to an end, to be all but forgotten. Thankfully, however, Holmes has given back to us an unforgettable Eleanor Marx” –  Lisa Jardine, Financial Times

“It is the achievement of this biography . . . that it allows us so large and transcendent a view of its subject. [Holmes] succeeds very ably in highlighting the full reach and contemporary relevance of Eleanor Marx's political contribution to socialist and feminist thinking.” –  Kate Soper, Professor Emerita of Philosophy, London Metropolitan University, Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

“I got to the end of Rachel Holmes's Eleanor Marx and wanted to start all over again ... At the centre of it all, the irrepressible daughter of Karl and Jenny Marx, the loving sister, passionate lover, actress, political organiser, fiery speaker, translator and intellect. A giant whose character in all its complexity steps off the page to inspire another generation” –  Susie Orbach

“Gripping ... Most lives would be overshadowed by such a melodramatic end. But Marx's life was so much more than a murder mystery, as Rachel Holmes's gripping and vividly told biography demonstrates ... Sympathy for her subject is infectious ... Reading about this generous and far-seeing woman, it is hard not to wish that she had changed the world. How much better would the 20th century have been if it has been Eleanor's views on the freedom of women that were adopted instead of her father's communist doctrines” –  Sunday Times

“Gripping ... The story of Eleanor Marx is shot through with the melodrama of the great Victorian novels – a tale of secrets, infidelities, lost letters and legacies, depression, deception and ultimate tragedy” –  Daily Mail

“Rachel Holmes has produced a dazzling account of a woman and her family, an age and a movement, that grips from the first page to the last” –  Gillian Slovo

“Eleanor Marx is both a challenging and a stimulating subject for a biographer. In this widely researched and passionately written book, Rachel Holmes has found an original way of presenting her. She balances Eleanor's political career, centred in the Reading Room of the British Museum among her Victorian Bloomsbury group colleagues, with her sobriquet, the emotional figure of “Tussy”, whose love for Edward Aveling ends in tragedy. It is as if the biographer is conducting string and wind instruments in an orchestra. The result, surprising at first, becomes profoundly satisfying” –  Michael Holroyd

“What makes her a biographer's dream is the style and passion with which she leaped over the barriers of convention ... How Aveling's betrayals eventually destroyed Tussy provides a heart-rending finale to this enthralling biography. By then, I'd bet that every reader will be as unashamedly in love with Tussy as Rachel Holmes clearly is” –  Francis Wheen, Mail on Sunday