ELEANOR MARX, Vol. I: Family Life 1855-1883; ELEANOR MARX, Vol. II: The Crowded Years 1884-1898 by Yvonne Kapp

ELEANOR MARX, Vol. I: Family Life 1855-1883; ELEANOR MARX, Vol. II: The Crowded Years 1884-1898

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Eleanor was the youngest of Karl Marx's three daughters, and the only one to remain in England and play a major role in the growth of socialist groups in that country. Yvonne Kapp has sensibly separated these two chronological aspects of Eleanor's life, bestowing upon her the significance which she rates as one of the founders of British socialism. But Eleanor could not escape the fact of her parentage, and in the first volume Kapp recreates the hardships of her youth as Marx struggled to finish his greatest work, Capital. We are shown a Marx who doted on his daughters--they played in the room while he wrote--while Mrs. Marx attempted to conceal the family's poverty in order to win social acceptance for her children among their middle-class peers. Kapp's diligent historical probing pays off in a mass of domestic detail (drawn not only from correspondence but also from censuses, tax reports, and the like) not incorporated so thoroughly into previous biographies, and provides a vivid picture of the ""other"" Karl Marx. With her father's death in 1883, Eleanor faced a crisis. After years of uncomplainingly caring for her sick parents (her sisters were both married and living in France), she had to chart her future and assume responsibility for her father's legacy--piles of unedited and incomplete manuscripts. But she resolved to accept the burden, and forged a singular existence for a middle-class Victorian woman, as translator (of Flaubert and Ibsen among others), critic, lecturer, amateur actress, and political militant. Kapp's massive second volume is the hitherto untold story of this phase of Eleanor's life, woven around her disastrous relationship to Edward Aveling (with whom she lived for fifteen years) and ending in Eleanor's tragic suicide, at age 42. But Kapp has also written a biography-within-a-biography, since Eleanor's life is inextricably tied to that of her father's collaborator, Friedrich Engels. A remarkable man, Engels was generous and self-sacrificing, a lover of good wines and perhaps the most influential person in shaping the early history of European socialist parties. If Yvonne Kapp had done nothing more than provide us with her portrait of the aging Engels her book would be welcomed; as it is she has written a masterful biography of a long neglected and misunderstood woman, and in the process, added to our knowledge of an entire period.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1977
ISBN: 394-42143-4
Publisher: Pantheon; Pantheon