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Eleanor Marx is *Not* Fine…. #eleanormarx #feminism #marxism

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I had a lovely trip to London at the start of the summer break with my BFF J. (and you probably recall the book shopping and the results of that lack of control…); and part of the visit involved dropping in to the British Library to see a little display of Karl and Eleanor Marx items. Karl, of course, I first read decades ago when I picked up The Communist Manifesto, with a little trepidation, and was relieved to find I didn’t feel thick and it made perfect sense. His daughter Eleanor had I think been on my radar long before that; I stumbled across the Russian Revolution when we studied it at school, and around that time there was a BBC drama based around Eleanor’s life which I watched. This obviously focused on the dramatic and romantic side of her life, and it seems to often be the tendency that people remember the scandal and her suicide rather than her achievements.

Anyway, I spent some of my time in London mooching around bookshops (nothing new there…) trying to see what Eleanor Marx books might be available. As I said at the time, there was a massive biography from Verso that was originally published by Virago in two volumes; but it was humongous and I couldn’t really justify it (or, indeed, carry it…) However, a visit to lovely left-wing bookshop Bookmarks (which was shamefully attacked by right-wingers not long after) revealed a small but perfectly formed volume called “A Rebel’s Guide to Eleanor Marx” by Siobhan Brown. Part of a short series of guides published by Bookmarks themselves, it seemed the ideal way to find out more about Eleanor. Well, maybe…

The book is 57 pages long and sets out to reclaim Marx’s politics from her personal life. On the plus side, it’s concise, puts her life in context, gives a good outline of her work and acts as an excellent introduction to Eleanor Marx’s achievements. She was living in interesting times: much of the life and work of the Marxes was informed by events in France; the Paris Commune of 1871 had a profound effect on left-wing thinking in Britain, and Eleanor translated a first person account by Propser-Olivier Lissagary, amongst other things.

She was very much ahead of her time with her anti-imperialistic outlook and her recognition of the political division between working-class and middle-class feminists with their differing focus and needs. However, I’m not sure I concur with her assertion that women’s interests were best served by them taking part in a working-class revolution alongside men and not one of their own; if that was the case, I think we wouldn’t have needed the Suffragettes and the various waves of feminism that recurred through the twentieth century. I’m afraid I don’t agree that all men of any class are necessarily going to agree to live, work, earn and revolt on equal terms with women – even in the twenty-first century. But that’s just cynical old me.

By Grace Black (National Portrait Gallery, London) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“The Rebel’s Guide…” was interesting in many ways, and it gave me a strong sense of the world and events Marx lived through, and occasionally her part in them; but the problem was I got no real sense of the woman herself, and the book was too wide-ranging in its focus, not really pinpointing her achievements enough for my liking. There was a tendency to set the political scene, relate the events of the time (and these were all fascinating) and then mention Marx’s involvement as almost an afterthought. I can understand the need to redress the imbalance of coverage only being of Marx’s personal life, but this went so much in the other direction that she appeared a little ghost-like in her own book, popping up here and there to become involved in the action but not really taking on enough of a presence.

So I enjoyed “The Rebel’s Guide…” for what it told me about the political and social world of Marx’s time and for the outline of her active life that it gave me; but I think I will have to look further to see if I can find something else that will give me a more wide-ranging look at Eleanor Marx’s life and work. This was an interesting little book, but not quite what I expected to read! 😀

Why a visit to London is *very* dangerous for a bibliophile… #bookfinds

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Those of you who follow me on social media might have noticed I shared a little photo of a pile of books in the lovely Foyles cafe yesterday. I met up with my dear friend J. for a day out to celebrate the start of the summer break (a little tradition we seem to be developing), and by that point we were hot and laden with books. I’m afraid this is going to be a bit of a book haul post, as we *both* got a little carried away!

The joy of train travelling is being able to read – I devoured this marvellous book over the outward and return journey!

Often we meet up with a tight agenda of an exhibition to see and specific places to go, but yesterday we’d kept things loose. I had specifically said I wanted to pop into the British Library – apart from the fact it’s just a place of worship for anyone who loves books, they had a little display in their Treasure Room devoted to Karl and Eleanor Marx. Both are fascinating figures, and I recall in my teens seeing a rather wonderful BBC drama on the life of Eleanor. So we started at the BL (after a stop for coffee and stationery in Tottenham Court Road) and the Treasure Room was just wonderful. I found it ridiculously exciting to see Marx’s Reading Room slip from all those decades ago and the whole room itself is inspirational. As I pointed out to J., there was a perfect trio of manuscripts for us on display next to each other in one of the cases – Woolf, Peake and Plath. Such an inspirational place to visit, and we managed to successfully get out of the shop without purchasing after spending some time admiring a lovely display of British Library Crime Classics!

In keeping with our plan of no real plan, we ambled off and J. suggested that as we were quite close to Skoob Books we could drop in. It’s a dangerous place which I’ve only visited once, but I couldn’t resist the idea. However, as we flaneured our way in the general direction of the Brunswick Centre we happened upon a likely looking bookshop I don’t think I’ve been aware of before – Judd Books in Marchmont Street. It would of course have been rude not to go in and so we did. And this was the result for me…

The shop is a mixture of second-hand and what look to me to be remaindered books, including a lot of US editions, and was oh! so tempting. I was distracted by a number of titles, but ended up with the two above. I couldn’t not come home with the Orwell – ’nuff said. As for Khodasevich’s poems, that one was a must. I’ve only stumbled across him recently and whilst havering away trying to decide I flicked through the book. A stunning poem called “Look for Me” hit me in the eye and I was sold. It’s a beautiful hardback Overlook/Ardis edition in dual language, with translations by Peter Daniels, and so even though I can’t read Russian I can gaze in awe at the beauty of the cyrillic script while appreciating the efforts of Daniels. J. was very happy with Judd as well as she tracked down a lovely hardback edition of Willa Cather’s letters from her wishlist. So we thought this was a propitious start and drifted on in the direction of Skoob.

And as you can see, I didn’t get out unscathed… The Machado de Assis was a no-brainer as I’ve really enjoyed all of his books I’ve read so far, plus it’s a pretty little Peter Owen edition. The Maigret has a relevant year to an upcoming event (!) – plus will also give me a chance to try one of the new translations. I thought I was getting off quite lightly until I saw the Penguin Russian Writing Today anthology on my way to the till. Oh well…. J. was even happier than earlier as she found a nice edition of a Cather novel she doesn’t have – it was a Cather kind of day for her.

After this it was a bus to Foyles for tea and regrouping. Foyles itself (and its tea!) is always such a delight, and I was sorely tempted by a gigantic biography of Eleanor Marx (a Verso edition) but decided that my shoulders wouldn’t take it. J. however was seduced by a Thames and Hudson book on Frida Kahlo (we’re visiting the V& exhibition later in the year) so added to her bulging rucksack. We decided to take a break from bookshops and trotted (well, strolled at a very leisurely pace) down Charing Cross Road to make a detour into the Cas art shop (again, I bought nothing although J. invested in some art materials) and then on into the National Portrait Gallery.

This was just a flying visit, as we both have a fondness for the wonderful Allan Ramsay self-portrait that hangs there and always pop into the NPG to say hello. As the heat was increasing, we decided to bus back up to Tottenham Court Road and got distracted again by a shop called Hema – a new one to us, but it had Stationery Which Could Not Be Resisted – oh dear… After more drinks and sitting down, we decided we were too close to the LRB bookshop and the craft shop next door to say no, and paid both a visit. Again, I succeeded in restraint, but our decision to drop by the lovely Bloomsbury Oxfam was not so successful…

I thought the two Bowles books I own comprised her meagre published output, but not so it seems. This lovely volume from Sort Of collects stories, plays, sketches and letters. Again, not to be resisted…

We had just about reached our limit of endurance of heat and heavy bags, but I was still vaguely irked that the only options for books about Eleanor Marx were mahoosive. So I persuaded J. into Bookmarks, the left-wing bookstore over the road and hurrah!

Bookmarks publish a little series of “Rebel’s Guide” books and one of their subjects was indeed Eleanor Marx! It was the last copy left and of a much more manageable size!

So these were my bookish purchases yesterday:

And I don’t regret a single one! However, the story doesn’t end there, because J. arrived with some books for me which were charity shop finds she’d read and was passing on to me. However, she didn’t tell me she was bringing six.… And unfortunately I hadn’t brought a backpack so she very bravely and stoutly carted them round all day until we exchanged books at the end of the day (I had brought one for her to borrow) – now that’s friendship. And here they are:

There are only five in the picture as one of the six was a return of my copy of Guard Your Daughters which J. had borrowed.

Phew! Four nice BLCCs and a lovely Virago edition of Gertrude Stein – how wonderful! But how heavy!! They took a bit of lugging home, I can tell you…

The blog’s trusty tote guarding the books while I have a meal in Leon!

Fortunately, I had come armed with my trusty KBR tote – a gift from Middle Child which always goes to London with me, and which although small is perfectly formed and manages to hold a surprising number of books; and also enables effective smuggling of them past OH who was feeling vaguely tense at the arrival of the six from J. There was a reason for this, as a package had arrived while I was away gallivanting containing these:

I think the BL are going into overdrive, but I’m always delighted to have review books from them – these two are out in September, and I’m very keen to read them, as Symons’ books were about a lot in my younger years. However, I can empathise a little with OH’s concern – he muttered something about having to build an annexe to the house and he has a point. I think this summer will need to see a little more pruning of books….

But all in all it  was a lovely (if warm) day out in London. It’s always wonderful to meet up with an old friend, and J. is great company. I need to put in a word for the Leon chain of restaurants too – a recent discovery for me and to which I was introduced by J. I paid two visits yesterday – one so that J. could get a late breakfast, and one for a meal later before journeying home. Their vegan options are excellent and well worth a visit!

Meantime, I need to have another bit of a book shuffle – oh dear…. =:o

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