RED JENNY: A Life With Karl Marx by H.F. Peters

RED JENNY: A Life With Karl Marx

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An intriguing portrait of a woman who was at times as strong-willed and unswerving as her husband and at others even more contradictory. Part revolutionary, part bourgeoise, ""Red Jenny"" had her own standards, a curious mixture of radicalism and respectability. While her husband was espousing the overthrow of kings and councils, she had her visiting cards engraved ""Mrs. Karl Marx, nee Baroness Jenny von Westphalen."" When an unexpected legacy temporarily eased the Marxes' perennial financial straits, the first thing Jenny organized was not a political rally but a ball, complete with hired band and liveried servants, for 50 of their London friends. Though she refused to allow Friedrich Engels' mistress of 20 years to set foot in her house, Jenny agreed to be part of a mÉnage átrois consisting of herself, her adored Karl and their maid Lenchen. ""The love of a woman,"" she explained, ""is different from the love of a man and must be different."" So much for equality of the sexes. Jenny's main failing was her overriding love for the man she called ""The Moor."" For her, Marx could do no wrong. Neither his anti-Semitism--though he himself was Jewish--nor his profligacy, his womanizing (Lenchen was to produce a child by Karl, whom he then forced her to put up for adoption) nor his persistent ailments--hemorrhoids, carbuncles--could undermine her love for him. Such dedication exacted its toll in the form of physical and mental illness, the deaths of several children, isolation from the world. In the end, Jenny died of liver cancer, worn out by a life of dedication. Sick himself, her beloved ""Moor"" was unable to attend her funeral service. Despite an admitted scarcity of research materials, Peters has written a consistently engrossing work in a prose style that is lucid and often moving. Fifteen illustrations abet the text. Whether you finally come to admire, pity or despise ""Red Jenny"" the woman, you are sure to find her stow a compelling one.

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 1987
Publisher: St. Martin's