7 Jews Walk, London SE26 6PL, UK
Highgate Cemetery, 85 Swain's Lane, Camden Town, Greater London N6 6PJ
Jenny Julia Eleanor Marx (16 January 1855 – 31 March 1898), sometimes called Eleanor Aveling and known to her family as Tussy, was the first woman Women’s Trades Union Assoc. founder in 1889. Deborah Epstein Nord has highlighted the importance of female community in the lives of pioneering women who lived outside residential communities. Focusing on one female network in late-XIX century London, she traces the connections between Beatrice Potter Webb, her cousin Margaret Harkness and Amy Levy, who all lived and worked in London in the 1880s and were part of a broader network, including the South African novelist Olive Schreiner and Eleanor Marx. Both Levy and Harkness also wrote novels, while Beatrice Potter Webb served as a Charity Organization Society worker and a rent collector in the East End. Nord suggests that, although the women did not partecipate in an organised female community, their membership in this more fluid netwoek sustained them and gave them identity and purpose focused on their work, socially marginal status and resistance of marriage and family.
Eleanor Marx was the English-born youngest daughter of Karl Marx. She was herself a socialist activist who sometimes worked as a literary translator.
A near contemporary of Clementina Black was Clara Collet, one of the first female civil servants, a distinguished economist and specialist on all matters relating to women’s employment. They were born eight years apart, Black in 1852 and Collet in 1860, with their mutual friend Eleanor Marx in the middle, in 1855. Both Black and Collet visited the Marxes in their crowded, argumentative household in North London, and both were actors in the ‘Dogberry Club’, a group of family and friends founded by Clara Collet and Eleanor Marx in 1877 to read Shakespeare plays. Named after Mr Dogberry, the self-important constable in Much ado about nothing, the Club’s performances were, like much of what went on in the Marx household, subject to the nice irony of surveillance by Scotland Yard. Clara was the second daughter and fourth child, and she went to North London Collegiate School, where she was taught statistics by Edward Aveling, who would later form a tense relationship with her friend Eleanor Marx.
In the 1880s and 1890s in the British Museum Reading Room, British Fabian socialist, researcher and cofounder of the LSE Beatrice Webb was there, researching trade unions, encouraged by Sidney, who thought she should do more of this kind of sensible documentary research rather than spending her time interviewing or observing. Beatrice talked to Marx’s fiery daughter Eleanor Marx in the refreshment room, thinking her slovenly in appearance and peculiar in her views about love: Marx herself was outraged to discover the Library’s copy of the Kama Sutra locked up and unavailable to women. Other women who used the Reading Room as what one of them called a ‘workshop’ and a ‘refuge’ included the social investigator Clementina Black and the writers Margaret Harkness, Amy Levy, Vernon Lee and Olive Schreiner, whose reputation for both fact and fiction weaves its way through any story about what women did and thought during these transformative years.
Margaret Harkness was one of the defiant band of female activists and reformers who disturbed the masculine peace of the British Museum Reading Room. She was another of Beatrice Webb’s cousins, and a close friend of Eleanor Marx.
In 1884, Eleanor joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) led by Henry Hyndman and was elected to its executive. During her work in the SDF, she met Edward Aveling, with whom she would spend the rest of her life despite his faithlessness, thievery from the movement, and mental cruelty.
Eleanor Marx and Olive Schreiner - two of the most prominent New Woman figures of the fin de siècle - enjoyed a passionate friendship. Havelock Ellis's comment that Eleanor was 'probably the nearest of Olive's new women friends in London' actually seems to understate the intimacy of their alliance.' In 1884 they travelled into Derbyshire with their respective partners - Edward Aveling and Havelock Ellis - for a 'honey-moon' (neither were married). Whilst their relationships with the two men eventually foundered, Schreiner and Marx remained dose. Olive disliked Edward Aveling and wrote to Havelock Ellis that: 'I love her (Eleanor), but he makes me unhappy. You can't think what a horror I am getting to have of Dr Aveling."
The trade union movement was Clementina Black’s route into the world of poverty research and industrial reform. She joined the Women’s Trade Union Association in 1886 through her friend Eleanor Marx. Black’s own ‘social realism’ novel, much admired by Eleanor Marx, was The agitator, about the vicissitudes of a strike leader.
In November 1889 Honor Brooke accompanied Eleanor Marx and another female friend to address the Silvertown strikers at an open air meeting. Marx was also a good friend of Charlotte Despard and Amy Levy.
In 1898, Eleanor discovered that the ailing Edward Aveling had secretly married a young actress, to whom he remained committed. Aveling's illness seemed to her to be terminal, and Eleanor was deeply depressed by the faithlessness of the man she loved.
On 31 March 1898, Eleanor sent her maid to the local chemist with a note to which she signed the initials of the man the chemist knew as "Dr. Aveling," asking for chloroform (some sources say "padiorium") and a small quantity of hydrogen cyanide (then called "prussic acid") for her dog. On receiving the package, Eleanor signed a receipt for the poisons, sending the maid back to the chemists to return the receipt book. Eleanor then retired to her room, wrote two brief suicide notes, undressed, got into bed, and swallowed the poison.
The maid discovered Eleanor in bed, scarcely breathing, when she returned. A doctor was called for but Eleanor had died by the time he arrived. She was 43. A post mortem examination determined the cause of death to have been poison. A subsequent coroner's inquest delivered a verdict of "suicide while in a state of temporary insanity," clearing Aveling of criminal wrongdoing, but he was widely reviled throughout the socialist community as having caused Eleanor to take her life.
A funeral service was held in a room at the London Necropolis railway station at Waterloo on 5 April 1898, attended by a large throng of mourners. Speeches were made by Aveling, Robert Banner, Eduard Bernstein, Pete Curran, Henry Hyndman and Will Thorne. Following the memorial, Eleanor Marx's body was taken by rail to Woking and cremated. An urn containing her ashes was subsequently kept safe by a succession of left wing organisations, including the Social Democratic Federation, the British Socialist Party, and the Communist Party of Great Britain, before finally being buried alongside the remains of Karl Marx and other family members in the tomb of Karl Marx at Highgate Cemetery in London in 1956.
On 9 September 2008 an English Heritage blue plaque was placed on the house at 7 Jews Walk, Sydenham, south-east London, where Eleanor spent the last few years of her life.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE