Former Reuters journalist Gabriel (The Art of Acquiring: A Portrait of Etta and Claribel Cone, 2002, etc.) offers a rich, humanizing portrait of the Marx family.
The author strives mightily—and largely succeeds—in maintaining balance and perspective in her view of Karl and Jenny Marx and their family, long demonized by the Right and sanctified by the Left. Gabriel begins in 1851; the exiled Marxes were in London, enduring penury and near starvation as Karl struggled to do the research and writing that would later culminate in Das Kapital, the multi-volume work completed by his longtime friend, collaborator and patron, Friedrich Engels. Gabriel writes most enthusiastically about Marx’s wife, Jenny, a brilliant and lovely woman from a moneyed family who married Marx, uncomplainingly endured their decades of poverty, never lost faith in the significance of her husband and his work, delivered his children (some of whom died in childhood) and lived to see his work begin to achieve the recognition she had always believed it deserved. The author relies heavily on the massive Marx family correspondence to help her bring to life these most remarkable people. The three daughters who survived into adulthood were all highly intelligent, accomplished and unlucky in love. The author can barely restrain her disdain for Edward Aveling, the philandering (married) man who persuaded young Eleanor Marx to live with him, then betrayed and abandoned her. Her suicide followed not long after. Later, her older sister Laura would also took her own life. Gabriel gracefully achieves an impressive, challenging agenda: the joint biographies of the Marxes (parents, daughters), the career of Engels, the rise of socialism and organized labor, the theoretical background of Marxian economics and politics and the historical and economic contexts for all.
A saga as richly realized as a fine Victorian novel.