The Unknown Eleanor Marx

The Unknown Eleanor Marx

ELEANOR MARX, by Yvonne Kapp. New York: Pantheon. Vol. I, 319 pp. Cloth, $10.00, paper, $4.95. Vol. II, 775 pp. Cloth, $17.95, paper, $6.95.

Yvonne Kapp’s two-volume biography of Eleanor Marx chronicles both the personal and public life of a woman who played a distinctive role in the socialist, working-class, and feminist movements of 19th-century Europe. Before the publication of this biography she had stood in the shadow of her father, Karl Marx, while the particulars of her life had been obscured by an aura of romantic tragedy. Yet Eleanor’s contributions to these movements, as this book documents, demand recognition in their own right. She was born in London in 1855, the youngest of three daughters. Her sisters, Jenny and Laura, were ten and eleven years older than Eleanor. Her early childhood was shaped by repeated illness, poverty, and ceaseless debt. Despite the financial generosity of Engels, these tribulations were to plague the Marx family well into Eleanor’s maturity.

Two things strike the reader about the Marxes’ family life: their warmth and tenderness toward one another, and Eleanor’s identification with her father. Because Kapp relies heavily on family correspondence,we learn little about the influence of her mother. Eleanor may have had several mother surrogates, given the age gap between her and her sisters, and her close relationship to the family servant, Helene Demuth, who later became her confidante