5 Things: Eleanor Marx

The youngest daughter of Karl Marx, a socialist activist and literary translator, she had a full but short life.

The World Today Published 6 June 2014 Updated 7 December 2018 1 minute READ
Eleanor Marx, the mother of socialist feminism. Photo: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty

Eleanor Marx, the mother of socialist feminism. Photo: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty

1 Eleanor Marx produced the first English translation of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary in 1886. She was also a popularizer of Ibsen in Britain, translating The Lady from the Sea and An Enemy of the People into English.

2 She spent a large part of her life editing and translating her father’s Das Kapital and his subsequent volumes, whose distribution exceeded that of the Bible and Shakespeare in the 20th century. She was also her father’s first biographer.

3 She was the mother of socialist feminism, moving the ‘woman question’ away from its narrow bourgeois suffrage and property-rights agenda. She co-wrote The Woman Question: From a Socialist Point of View with her partner Edward Aveling, a prominent British Marxist. Many believe this stands beside Wollstonecraft and Engels (her godfather) in its significance as a revolutionary text.

4 Eleanor founded the Socialist League, numerous trade unions and helped organize workers’ strikes across the country. She was heavily involved in the Bryant & May match girls’ strike, the gasworkers’ strike and the dock strike, which gave birth to the Dockers’ Union – later the Transport and General Workers’ Union, one of the most powerful bargaining collectives in Britain.

5 In March 1898, after discovering that Aveling had secretly married a young actress in June the previous year, she committed suicide by poison. She was 43. As Aveling was an unpopular figure in the socialist movement at the time, and had signed the chit for the prussic acid she swallowed, many of her contemporaries thought he had in fact murdered her.

Eleanor Marx: A Life by Rachel Holmes, Bloomsbury