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The third and youngest of Karl Marx ’ daughter

We spoke with author Rachel Holmes who recently published an interesting and gripping biography of Eleanor Marx (Eleanor Marx, Bloomsbury)

Rachel Holmes-marx

We spoke with author Rachel Holmes who recently published an interesting and gripping biography of Eleanor Marx (Eleanor Marx, Bloomsbury), the third and youngest of Karl Marx’ daughter.

  • How did you find Eleanor Marx, or did she find you?
  • She found me, and wouldn’t let me go until I wrote her story.
  • What did you do to get to know her? How did you approach her and her environment?
  • All the experience of my own life, personally and politically, helped me to get to know her and enabled me to live in her environment. We recognize her because she is like us.
  • How difficult it was to find and consult sources? Which were your main sources?
  • There is no shortage of sources. I used the Marxian Nachlass and all the key archives, especially the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam. Correspondence was very important.  And then I used a number of archives not used before in the search of Eleanor Marx, such as trade union archives and the correspondence of friends and comrades.
  • You open your preface with these words: “Eleanor Marx changed the world. In the process she revolutionized herself”. I know is almost impossible to summarize it, but in a few words, how would you say she changed the world and in which way she revolutionized herself. In other words, what events, acts, words, works best demonstrate your opening sentence.
  • My biography is the story of how she changed the world and in the process revolutionized herself, I hope that readers who want to know how she did it will share the journey.
  • Clearly the biography of Eleanor is also the biography of the people she lived with, starting from her father, mother, sisters, Engels etc… She was the favourite daughter of the family, as you said. How much was this a “limitation” in forging of her personality? Or indeed this being the favourite was a “helping factor” in shaping her future being?
  • We are all shaped by the people around us, our families, our friends, and the institutions of society and state that we inhabit in the world. Eleanor Marx had a profound understanding that other people enabled each other to be what they are. Or place limitations on each other.
  • You said also that “Eleanor went out into the world to put into practice and to test what she’d learned from Marx and Engels and the family hearth”. As far as you could establish, did she managed to do that? To what extent? And what was the conclusion she could draw of what she had learned? – again, this is quite clear in your book, but for those who have not read it yet, how would you summarize it?
  • Karl Marx was the theory; Eleanor Marx was the practice.
  • I quote again from your preface: “The life of Eleanor Marx was one the most significant and interesting events in the evolution of social democracy in Victorian Britain”. If you were to say how her life managed to help this evolution, what would you say? – once again, I apologize for the limit the question has in itself…but for those who haven’t read the book it might provide a sort of “guide”.
  • She was a pioneering socialist, feminist, trade unionist and internationalist.
  • In a few lines how would you summarize the environment Eleanor grew up in. You quote agent Stieber describing the Marx’s house…
  • Many readers have told me that they were surprised to discover the environment she grew up in, and delighted to experience her own description of it, and her family, that is in the story the book tells.
  • How was Eleanor contribution to women’s liberation and emancipation?
  • At the forefront of her political project. She understood that the struggle for women’s equalityhad to be a broad-based democratic movement working for economic equality, social and political change, and not just a single-issue cause for suffrage (the vote).
  • Her relation with Edward Aveling somehow reflects Eleanor’s own contradiction. While researching this relationship, how were your feelings, impressions?
  • My duty as her biographer was to see it and feel it from her point of view.
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