Eleanor Marx

Eleanor Marx : A Life

4.3 (279 ratings by Goodreads)
By (author) 

Free delivery worldwide

Available. Expected delivery to the United States in 15-20 business days.

Not ordering to the United States? Click here.


Unrestrained by convention, lionhearted and free, Eleanor Marx (1855-98) was an exceptional woman. Hers was the first English translation of Flaubert's Madame Bovary. She pioneered the theater of Henrik Ibsen. She was the first woman to lead the British dock workers' and gas workers' trade unions. For years she worked tirelessly for her father, Karl Marx, as personal secretary and researcher. Later, she edited many of his key political works and laid the foundations for his biography. But foremost among her achievements was her pioneering feminism. For her, gender equality was a necessary precondition for a just society, and she crusaded for this in Britain and on a celebrated tour across America in 1886.

Drawing strength from her family and their wide circle, including Friedrich Engels and Wilhelm Liebknecht, Eleanor Marx set out into the world to make a difference. Her favorite motto: "Go ahead!" With her closest friends--among them Olive Schreiner, Havelock Ellis, George Bernard Shaw, Will Thorne, and William Morris--she was at the epicenter of British socialism. She was also the only Marx to claim her Jewishness. But her life contained a deep sadness: She loved a faithless and dishonest man, the academic, actor, and would-be playwright Edward Aveling. Yet despite the unhappiness he brought her, Eleanor Marx never wavered in her political life, ceaselessly campaigning and organizing until her untimely end.

Rachel Holmes has written a dazzling and original portrait of one of the most remarkable women of the nineteenth century.
show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 528 pages
  • 156 x 235 x 38.1mm | 862g
  • Bloomsbury Press
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 1 x 16 page B&W plate
  • 1620409704
  • 9781620409701

Review quote

"A thrillingly revisionist book, energetically researched and convincing in its argument that Eleanor Marx's life 'was one of the most significant and interesting events in the evolution of social democracy in Victorian Britain, ' leaving a substantial legacy for coming generations." --The New York Review of Books

"It captures vividly the drama of a woman with a hunger for the world who did her damnedest to live on the largest terms possible, and to a very considerable degree succeeded." --New York Times Book Review

"Eleanor Marx is both a challenging and a stimulating subject for a biographer. In this widely researched and passionately written book, Rachel Holmes has found an original way of presenting her. She balances Eleanor's political career, centred in the Reading Room of the British Museum among her Victorian Bloomsbury group colleagues, with her sobriquet, the emotional figure of 'Tussy', whose love for Edward Aveling ends in tragedy. It is as if the biographer is conducting string and wind instruments in an orchestra. The result, surprising at first, becomes profoundly satisfying." --Michael Holroyd

"I got to the end of Rachel Holmes's Eleanor Marx and wanted to start all over again. There is so much in it and yet it reads effortlessly. The scholarship that brings the second part of the nineteenth century alive is a feast, and at the center of it all, the irrepressible daughter of Karl and Jenny Marx. A giant whose character in all its complexity steps off the page to inspire another generation." --Susie Orbach, author of BODIES

"Marx produced the first English translation of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, was the first woman to lead the British dock workers' and gas workers' trade unions and worked as personal secretary to her father Karl. Holmes' vivid biography of this Victorian intellectual brings her--and her age--to life." --Financial Times

"A tragic tale of a brilliant light eclipsed by the stifling patriarchy of her age. A full-fleshed, thrilling portrait, troubling and full of family secrets." --Kirkus

"Rachel Holmes has written an engaging and compelling account of a figure well worth remembering. Even 150 years later, this estimable woman can offer lessons on what it takes to be a modern woman." --The Jewish Week

"There is never a dull moment as the book moves from her early family life and her education at the feet of Marx and Friedrich Engels; an early career as her father's secretary and researcher at the British Museum; her work as a translator, educator, and advocate for new literature and theatre, and as a socialist agitator and trade union leader; and her intellectual and ultimately tragic romantic partnership with Edward Aveling." --starred review, Library Journal

"Holmes's lucidly written biography of a woman whose role in the arenas of social justice and feminism is not nearly well enough appreciated held me spellbound from beginning to end. Through Eleanor's life, Holmes paints a fascinating, extensive picture of late Victorian life in England and America and continental Europe that could easily serve as a reference point for further exploration, and yet is detailed enough to satisfy the general reader . . . Highly recommended both as a historical reference 'keeper' and as a good read." --Historical Novels Review

"[H]er book does deliver a powerful portrait of a radical mind in all its high-keyed intensity." --Wall Street Journal

"As Rachel Holmes illustrates in her engaging new biography, she (Eleanor Marx) emerged as one of the London intellectual Left's leading thinkers and activists, forcefully insisting that advances for women and advances for workers be fought for in tandem." --Bookforum

"The volume is welcome and a compelling addition to previous accounts . . . in part because Marx is a fitting match for Holmes's flair for the dramatic . . . This passionate, entertaining page-turner is most appropriate for lay readers interested in learning about a woman whose life and literary, cultural, and political contributions continue to be relevant to feminist and socialist thought today. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers." --J. Mills, John Jay College-CUNY, CHOICE

"Holmes' passionately written, well-researched biography rescues Karl Marx's youngest daughter from obscurity." --Mail on Sunday
show more

About Rachel Holmes

Rachel Holmes is the author of The Secret Life of Dr James Barry and African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus. She is coeditor, with Lisa Appignanesi and Susie Orbach, of Fifty Shades of Feminism and coeditor, with Josie Rourke and Chris Haydon, of Sixty-Six Books 21st Century Writers Speak to the King James Bible. She lives in Gloucestershire, England.
show more

Rating details

279 ratings
4.3 out of 5 stars
5 48% (135)
4 37% (103)
3 11% (32)
2 3% (9)
1 0% (0)
Book ratings by Goodreads
Goodreads is the world's largest site for readers with over 50 million reviews. We're featuring millions of their reader ratings on our book pages to help you find your new favourite book. Close X