ELEANOR MARX by Rachel Holmes
Kirkus Star


A Life
Age Range: 1855 - 1898
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The extraordinary life of Karl Marx’s feisty feminist youngest daughter told with passionate sympathy and conviction.

The relationship between her committed socialist parents forms the key to the vivacious life of Eleanor “Tussy” Marx (1855-1898), as portrayed chronologically by British writer Holmes (African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus, 2007, etc.). Exiled from Germany and France after their participation in the failed democratic revolutions convulsing Europe in 1848, the Marxes relocated to London. With only three surviving daughters, they scraped by largely thanks to colleague Frederick Engels’ generous subsidies. While the two elder daughters enjoyed some formal education, Tussy was mostly schooled at her parents’ knees, imbued with their firebrand ideals of collectivism and internationalism and their advocacy for the proletariat and the principles of the International Workingmen’s Association, and she aided her beloved father in his research for his opus Capital at the Reading Room in the British Museum. Having watched her mother’s intelligence and ambition subsumed by her father’s work, then seeing her two older married sisters shackled by motherhood and household drudgery, Tussy chose free love with talented older men and an autonomous life earning her own wages as a tutor, translator and writer. Indeed, writes Holmes in this consistently illuminating biography, she was the “apple of [her father’s] eye” and later became his executor. She channeled her high spirits first into the theater (she and her father had recited Shakespeare together as a way for him to learn English), translated Madame Bovary into English, among other works, and eventually set up house in London with the “reptilian” fellow actor and intellectual Edward Aveling, who never married her despite his 14-year promises. Holmes is absolutely outraged by Aveling’s betrayal and Tussy’s horrifying, untimely death—a tragic tale of a brilliant light eclipsed by the stifling patriarchy of her age.

A full-fleshed, thrilling portrait, troubling and full of family secrets.

Pub Date: Feb. 24th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1620409701
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2014


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