ELEANOR MARX 1855 - 1898

Eleanor Marx

Eleanor Marx the youngest child of Karl and Jenny Marx; was born in London. Her father’s Revolutionary Socialist Politics had caused them to be expelled from France, Prussia and Belgium and Frederick Engels then living in Manchester was a friend of the family. The family was always desperately short of money and in poor health, living in a series of rented houses in Kentish town though managing to take holidays to the south coast in Hastings, Brighton and Ramsgate.

Nicknamed “Tussy” Eleanor was sent to school at the South Hampstead College for Ladies, 18 Haverstock Hill where she showed an early talent for drama and languages as well as imbibing from her father a taste for politics and literature. She travelled to France and Ireland and became as a young age involved with the Fenian Society supporting Home Rule for Ireland as well as supporting the Paris and the International Working Men’s Association. In 1873 Eleanor became engaged to Hyppolite-Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray an ex-Communard but her parents disapproved; going to Brighton with her father she decided to stay on in the town and support herself as a teacher of French with both private pupils and as a teacher in a school belong to the Misses Hall in Sussex Square. She lodged at 2 Manchester Street and then 6 Vernon Terrace, but was visited by Lissagaray - causing her removal by her mother and an enforced trip to Germany.

She returned to live and work in London frequenting the British Library Reading room and renewed or took up acquaintance with Clementina, Constance and Grace Black and the poet Amy Levy all from Brighton. Eleanor became interested in amateur dramatics, broke with Lissagaray, and around 1882 met Edward Aveling. A married man, with a selfish and unscrupulous nature, he was a socialist, atheist and writer (he once met Elizabeth Robins - who was not impressed !) however Eleanor fell in love with him and from 1883 defied convention and lived with him openly as his wife.

Their 15 years of life together centered upon the spread of Socialism and the formation of Trade Unions for the unskilled workers and the introduction of a 7 hour working week. In 1887 she was present during “Bloody Sunday” when squadrons of Guards and armed and mounted police charged demonstrating workers who had come to Parliament Square: two died, 200 were taken to hospital, 300 arrested and 160 jailed. In 1889 Eleanor was active in support of the Dock Strike and the the Silvertown Strike of Rubber Workers; during the Gasworks Strike the same year she formed the Women’s Branch of the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers and successfully helped the striking women onion skinners at the Crosse and Blackwell factory !

She frequently made speeches to mass meetings in Hyde Park and worked as an interpreter for the International Socialist Workers and other European Socialist Congresses. She also became fluent in Norwegian and translated Ibsen into English, learned shorthand and typewriting, and translated Amy Levy’s book Reuben Sachs into German. Her relationship with Aveling was unhappy; he neglected her and was serially unfaithful, he even married another woman in 1892 using a false name - though he continued to live with Eleanor in Jews Walk in Sydenham.

On 31st March 1898 Eleanor took her life by taking cyanide poison, she left two short notes but gave no reason and none has yet been identified. The reason for her suicide remains a mystery. Aveling was vilified by the socialist press as being “responsible,” he died five months later, nothing was proved.