Eleanor Marx

Eleanor Marx

41, Maitland Park Road, London, Middlesex


Relation to Head of Family

Condition as to Marriage

Age last birthday

Rank, profession or occupation

Where born

Karl Marx




Author, Political Economy

(F) Germany

Jenny Marx





(F) Germany

Eleanor Marx





St. Pancras, Middlesex

Helene Demuth




Domestic Servant

(F) Germany


Dark eyes; and thick black hair, tumbling to her shoulders. Tussy is thin: too thin. Does not eat; drinks an absurd amount of tea; smokes constantly. She will wear herself to nothing at this rate. She can - and will - recite Browning's The Pied Piper Of Hamelin. Mohr, her father, and Mama are both ill, seriously ill. In fact, her mother is dying of liver cancer. But this has not quite dimmed the spring blush in Tussy's cheeks, nor slowed her down: moving energetically from room to room, talking intensely, intelligently, lively and angry by turns. The Irish! Locked up by the English without trial! She has berated the policemen outside Bow Street Magistrates Court when - only a few weeks ago - they have bundled Michael Davitt into the van. For being a Fenian! She writes firmly, in exasperation, to her sisters, to all of her many correspondents. But at home here, Tussy - pronounced as in 'Pussy', the word she could not speak properly as a child - is also enjoying the atmosphere round the jolly Sunday roast, although she picks at the food herself. There is wine, champagne, thanks to the generosity of The General. The house is shabby-genteel; there are photographs crowding the mantelpiece; there are roses in the vases. In the wardrobe, her favourite, dark blue velvet dress; and her Spanish cloak. She defers only to Helene: Helene has been with Tussy's mother since childhood, is one of the family, and is the expert cook. Tussy has been reading Shakespeare plays in preparation for the meeting, this week, of the Dogberries, as Mohr calls them. He loves to listen to them, all friends, reading plays - comedies, for preference - and Tussy's voice can perform arpeggios with the words. Afterwards, they will play charades, the old man egging them on. She is his favourite child; she is the one in whom he sees his spirit most plainly. As Cathy claimed about Heathcliff, in Wuthering Heights, so Mohr claims about Tussy - that she "is me". She has her father's solid conk, as well. And now she wants to be an actress, like Ellen Terry.

"Tussy" is Jenny Julia Eleanor Marx, born on January 16th 1855 - Eleanor Marx, the youngest daughter of Karl Marx, and the only one of those who survived into adulthood to be born in England. Karl and Jenny Marx had had six children; two had died before Eleanor Marx's birth as infants - one boy in 1850, one girl in 1852. Between these two births, Helene Demuth had given birth to a child, Freddy, who was quickly adopted by a local family called Lewis. It seemed clear that Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx's closest friend and colleague, had been the father. Another brother died three months after her birth. The elder Marx sisters, Jenny and Laura, were ten years older than Eleanor. It was to be Eleanor, her father's favourite, who would devote herself to keeping his ideas alive.

Karl Marx was a refugee, an exile. He had been turfed out of Germany, France and Belgium for the seditious and splenetic attacks on authority, and, apart from some income derived from occasional journalism, he was dependent on legacies and handouts; and on the pawnbroker. The death of a prosperous relative was a time to crack open the champagne, perhaps even to pay the rent, the baker, the newspaper bill (a year in arrears on one occasion). But his main benefactor was Engels, his trusty co-author, adviser and admiring friend. Engels bankrolled Marx at every step, partly by siphoning away profits from his father's cotton business in Manchester. The Marx family, who delighted in nicknames, knew him as "The General". (Marx's own moniker, Mohr, as in Moorish, came from his swarthy complexion). He was the family's fairy godfather, supporting Marx with daily letters, and a steady stream of fivers, which arrived, snipped in two and separately, to guard against postal theft.

Eleanor Marx in 1880

Marx beavered away almost illegibly on Das Kapital for twenty years, but he took great delight in his family, reading the Arabian Nights, Dante, Homer and (especially) Shakespeare to Tussy, as he had done to her sisters. He carried her on his shoulders, a noisy child with convolvulus in her hair, and kept up a steady stream of banter with her. There were family picnics on Hampstead Heath on a Sunday, donkey rides. In letters to Eleanor he gave her the giggles by addressing her with names like "Miss Lilliput", and signing himself with daft noms-de-plume like "Dr. Cranky". He identified Eleanor as his doppelganger, and was more stern with her about her first choice of fiancé, Hippolyte-Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray, who was 34 to her 17, and who, pardonably, was only ever known by his surname. His disapproval of Lissagaray was personal; curiously, Marx was more active in his political support of Lissagaray than of his sons-in-law, Charles Longuet and Paul Lafargue. All three men were French; all three were active in revolutionary French politics. It is an irony that he prevented her from marrying the only suitor he respected; and he did so, possessively, because he came to rely on her himself.

Tussy, like her sisters, was not brought up to stand on ceremony, or to set store by English proprieties. She collected and named dolls; collected stamps; kept a menagerie of pets. She delighted in the swing which Laura's fiancé Paul gave her when she was eleven. She also beat Marx at chess, a game at which he was as competitive as he was in every other sphere. But she was a minor wine buff at ten, thanks to Engels, and thrived on the political talk which filled the Marx houses. She had a particular feeling for the injustices foisted on the Irish, from the age of twelve, when three Irish agitators were hanged. Here too, she was indebted to Engels, who shared his life, unmarried, with the Irish sisters Mary and Lizzie Burns; he and Mary took Tussy to Ireland in her mid-teens. When she returned, she wrote a spoof anthem, God Save Our Flag Of Green. Her education was less formal than her sisters' had been, but she was fluent in French and German, and in later life gained work as a translator - including Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Ibsen's The Enemy Of The People, and her father's political works. (Das Kapital did not appear in English until after Karl Marx's death). She also earned her living, at least at the outset of her writing career, by writing articles for others.

At this stage of her life, at the time of the census, she had already staged a mild rebellion, in having moved to Brighton to work as a teacher. But she resisted the temptation to elope with Lissagaray, and deferred to her father in this respect, at least. She pleaded with him, but dutifully accepted his disapproval. The engagement had ended. She turned down an offer from another suitor a few months later. By the autumn of 1881, Tussy was suffering from anorexic stress. Her mother died at the end of 1881; worse, her sister Jenny died in early 1883; her father died a couple of months later, shorn of his bushy, biblical beard. He and Tussy had been companions, trekking round England and Germany on search of spa treatments, enjoying each other's company. Now, as her father's literary executor, she embarked on a life of her own.

She had met Edward Aveling through her love of theatre, of Shakespeare. He was an energetic, restless man, with literary and academic pretensions, with bad plays to his name, but a strong speaking voice. He was a liar; and he was a womaniser. Women attracted him as a flower does a bee; he nicked their nectar wholesale. Tussy decided to live with him openly in 1885, although this was not precisely because she feared marriage. Aveling was already married, and his wife Isabel ("Bell") would not release him through divorce, or so he falsely alleged. Eleanor (as Aveling always called her) wrote careful letters to those who, so she feared, might be offended. For many of them, Aveling himself was the principal cause of offence. Throughout their relationship, during which she styled herself Eleanor Marx Aveling, he dropped them into hot water. Aveling was that supreme kind of con-man - the one who dupes his own conscience. On an American trip, he was casual enough about charging extravagant bills to the Socialist League for there to be a rumpus on their return. When a student lent him a microscope, he flogged it. He also convinced Eleanor that he was of Irish and French extraction, neither of which was true.

Aveling and Marx were members of the Social Democratic Federation, from which they seceded in 1884, with William Morris and others, to form the Socialist League (they were to re-join the SDF in the 1890s). They were both star speakers at socialist meetings, although it was Eleanor who was the workhorse. She became not only one of the crucial political figures, but also the drudge who organised the refreshments and wrote or typed up the meetings; the one who found the window cleaner; the one who organised the children's Christmas parties. She was one of the many involved in the march against Irish repression on November 13th, 1887, which became known as "Bloody Sunday": soldiers and police brutally enforced a ban on meetings in Trafalgar Square. Two died; hundreds were injured.

Eleanor became increasingly involved with industrial action, with the formation of the Gas Workers' Union, with the dockers - helped the gasworkers' leader Willie Thorne to read and write - and wrote, with Aveling, a series of pamphlets on social and political questions. She also acted as an interpreter. She was given political status, and elected to committees, time after time, when no other woman would have been contemplated by the still very conservative male radicals.

As Engels was dying, in 1895, when he was beyond speech, he confirmed* to Eleanor that Karl Marx had had a son - Freddy - with Helene Demuth. Eleanor had always believed that Engels had been the father. Helene had died in 1890, having moved to live in the Engels household when Marx died. In the mid-80s, Freddy had re-appeared, a quiet young man, a fitter and turner; he had moved into the outer orbit of the Marx-Engels family. Eleanor was distressed - distressed for her mother, for her father, for herself, but also for Freddy, to whom she became close. He seems to have known the identity of his father; but he did not divulge it openly. Nor did he reveal it to Harry Demuth, the young boy whom Freddy brought up as his son, but who (so he alleged, much later) was his nephew. Eleanor Marx's heart opened to Freddy; if there was a cry for help, it went to her new half-brother. By this time, Eleanor was living in Jew's Walk, Sydenham, an address which pleased her - towards the end of her life, she reclaimed her Jewishness, just as her father had discarded it (Karl Marx was happy enough, when it suited, to dismiss others as Jews, although his grandfather had been a rabbi).

Nemesis arrived with appalling speed. Whilst Eleanor was helping to run a miners' congress in June 1897, Aveling was busy getting married to Eva Frye, an amateur actress, aged "22". His first wife had died. He used the name under which he wrote his feeble plays: Alec Nelson. His new marriage was a secret he did not take back to The Den; but a letter, probably from Aveling's new wife, arrived there on the last day of March, 1898, revealing his double life. Worn down by his duplicity, Eleanor determined to do away with herself. The maid was sent to the chemist for chloroform, and prussic acid (supposedly "for dog", that is, to put it down). Aveling shrugged off her threats, although he may have realised that she was serious. Against her wishes, he set off for the SDF offices for the day. This was his most despicable lie. Eleanor had spent the day before searching for a wheelchair for Aveling. Now he was suddenly mobile. It is possible that he had agreed on a suicide pact; but more likely, he denounced her decision as melodramatic. He cannot have been surprised by the news when he returned home.

She wrote a note to Aveling; it spoke of "love" after "these long, sad years". She wrote another to her sister Jenny's son, urging him to live up to his grandfather. She bathed; dressed herself in a white night-dress; and swallowed the poison. Its effect was almost immediate. It was about half-past ten on March 31st. The doctor who pronounced her dead, Dr. Shackleton, was the father of the polar explorer-to-be. Aveling survived long enough to acquire her possessions, and to leave them to his new wife - but 'long enough' was only four months. He had been intermittently ill for some years, but seriously ill in more recent times, through which Eleanor had nursed him. At the time of his death, there were many who had already concluded that he had effectively murdered Eleanor.

Eleanor's sister Laura and her husband Paul Lafargue themselves committed suicide together, in 1911. Eleanor's ashes (never claimed by Aveling) were kept in an urn at the SDF offices, later those of the British Communist Party. Not until 1956 were they interred in Highgate, in the grave which held Karl, Jenny and Helene, those other occupants on the day in 1881 when the enumerator called.


Karl and Jenny Marx each had curious family connections. Marx's aunt was married to a Dutchman, Lion Philips - the same Philips whose name is perpetuated in shavers, hair-dryers, televisions and countless other contemporary gadgets. Jenny Marx had been born Jenny von Westphalen, into an aristocratic Prussian family. But through her mother, she was descended from the Duke of Argyll - some crested silver spoons were among the more dependable possessions that the Marx family hocked for ready cash.

Freddy Demuth named Harry Demuth as his "nephew" in his will. His marriage was also supposed to have been mysterious. But he married Ellen Murphy in 1873, and they were still together in 1891, at which point "Harry" was listed as Frederick in the census - and as their son. There is a strong case now that Freddy Demuth wasn't actually Marx's son after all: see here.

Eva Fry Nelson - the 'e' in Frye is an actressy pretension - was not 22 when she married, but 24. (Most accounts note that Aveling falsified his age on the marriage certificate, missing that she did, too.) She was born Eveline Annie Fry in Chelsea in 1873, the daughter of a music teacher (an organist). She did not survive Aveling for long. In November 1904, she died - still using Aveling's stage-name. She died, aged 31, in childbirth  - it is not known if any child survived.


The Life Of Eleanor Marx, by Chushichi Tsuzuki, Clarendon Press, 1967

Eleanor Marx: Family Life, by Yvonne Kapp, Lawrence & Wishart, 1972

Eleanor Marx: The Crowded Years, by Yvonne Kapp, Lawrence & Wishart, 1976

Karl Marx, by Francis Wheen, Fourth Estate, 1999

Marx, by Robert Payne, W.H. Allen, 1968

Eleanor Marx: Life, Work, Contacts ed. John Stokes, Ashgate, 2000

Eleanor Marx by Rachel Holmes, Bloomsbury, 2014


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