This should perhaps be subtitled The Wonderful, Tragic Life of Tussy Marx. Eleanor (Tussy), the youngest daughter Karl and Jenny, has shamefully beenThis should perhaps be subtitled The Wonderful, Tragic Life of Tussy Marx. Eleanor (Tussy), the youngest daughter Karl and Jenny, has shamefully been too long written out of orthodox Marxist parties’ patriarchal story of the growth of their outlook and basis of struggle. There is little doubt that she was smart, brilliant, energetic and the activist that few others in her family were or considered taking up. Her 43 years covered some of the most important events and moments in British history – the growth of the mass organised labour movement, the challenge to the dominance of élite craft workers in British trade unionism, the mass action of dockers, of gas workers, of railway workers and others; much of this action she played a significant and often leading role in. She translated her father’s work and that of Engels, did large sections of the research that underpinned Capital and acted as one of Britain’s leading advocates for Marxism.
But she was also an aspiring actor, and early translator (and big fan) of Ibsen and provided what was for many years the standard English translation of Madam Bovary, active in feminist politics and close to some of the leading feminists of the late 19th century and an early influence on a 13 year old Sylvia Pankhurst; she was, like many intellectuals of her era, a polymath. She is also the author of the first biographical work about Marx on which nearly all subsequent biographers have, in part, drawn and relied. The tragedy of Tussy’s life is that in so much of her adult personal life she seems as if she is a mixture of both Nora Helmer (of The Doll’s House) and Emma Bovary.
Yet in most of these things she appears as a footnote to the men she worked with: Marx & Engels, Will Thorne of the Gas Workers’ Union, Wilhelm Liebknecht (of the German SDP), Paul Lafarge (of the French Workers Party and her brother in law) and most shamefully for Marxist parties of various persuasions Edward Aveling, her husband in all but ceremony. Aveling quite properly appears as the villain of the piece – in this at least orthodox Marxism-Leninism has it right – as exploiting her, claiming her status as his and as in nearly every way responsible for her demise. But not far behind him is the powerplay of the German SDP (Bebel, Adler & Singer) who installed the former Louise Kautsky in Engels’ house in a substantially successful effort to secure control over the Marx-Engels archive. It suggests the degree of conflict and complicity in orthodox Marxism-Leninism in the footnoting of Tussy that one of the two versions of Volume One of Capital (the official Soviet English language edition) on my bookcase is shown as translated by Edward Aveling and Samuel Moore, when all the evidence (not only from this book) tells us that the correct distribution of labour would list the translators as Eleanor Marx, Edward Aveling and Samuel Moore.
Holme’s great success in this biography is manifold, and turns on four principal axes. First, she has restored Eleanor to the centre of her own story (this is the third full length biography in English, and first since the early 1970s) and in doing so granted her the agency dominant narratives deny. Second, in placing a feminist woman at the centre of a history of late 19th century British and international socialism disrupted both the dominance of orthodox Marxism’s labourist/patriarchal narrative and that of mainstream labour history that fetishizes the industrial working man over the much more nuanced and rich labour history of production and reproduction that sees working women (and to a lesser extent children) in industrial workforce not as victims to be protected but as workers in struggle. Third, in highlighting the Marx family’s rich cultural life and drawing out a child’s vision of that family she has restored culture, joy and freedom (part of what the French Marxist Henri Lefebvre calls disalienation) to a socialist vision and practice. Finally, in taking us into the rich life of Eleanor the writer, translator, pragmatist in a world of realpolitik and propagandist Holmes has rebalanced late 19th century British socialism as not just a war of egos between various forms of nativistic, often nationalistic socialism, in contest with itself and anarchism as much as it was with capital and the labour aristocracy (as the élite craft workers were often labelled).
This is not, however, a hagiography. Eleanor is certainly a dynamic and engaging woman but she is also obsessive, short sighted in some of her key personal relations, suffers from a close-to-sanctification of her father and suffers many of the traumas, distresses and unhappiness of Victorian women. She appears, in her late teens and early twenties, to be anorexic; her empathy means she seldom cares for herself; she makes a series foolish choices in lovers (Aveling being by far the worst – an insecure, egotistic liar – who she repeatedly choses over friends and family) and remains blinded by what seems to be a desperate search for the return to halcyon, romanticised days of her childhood relationship with her idolised father. But she was also intensely loyal to the extended family, including those associated with Engels, as well as to her friends even when they stayed away out of their dislike for Aveling.
Holmes has a light hand in complex issues, not only of the domestic relations of extended Marx-Engels family but also the political and economic analyses emerging from that family, the political contests with British and European socialism and the broader political left. As with any really good biography, we learn as much about the context of the life and its subject; in this case we have an impressive history of late 19th century British socialism (that I hope many of the subject area’s scholars and activists read having shaken off their dogmatism), a sharp exposition on Marxist and related socialist theory and practice and a rethinking of the ways feminist politics developed well beyond the suffrage movement.
This excellent piece adds greatly to our histories of European socialism and Marxism. It sits alongside essential English language biographies of women such as Alexandra Kollontai and Rosa Luxemburg as vital to understand the rich interplay between feminist politics and socialism: now, if only we could have similar quality work done about Clara Zetkin and Sylvia Pankhurst we’d have most of the leading women socialists of the pre-WW1 era (or in Pankhurt's case the 1920s as well). It is also a really good read, well-paced and just enough quirky snippets (such as the Marx family connection to the Phillips radio and light bulb empire) to keep us entertained as well as informed and engaged.
This is not the sort of book I would normally read – a local history of a provincial English town, but then it is the one I have lived in for over a dThis is not the sort of book I would normally read – a local history of a provincial English town, but then it is the one I have lived in for over a decade and have only the slightest local historical knowledge. As sumptuous as the presentation of this is – high quality paper, great and a large number of images and all that – it suffers from any of the problems of local histories including detailed lists and a sense of too much detail with not enough contextualisation, but it is much better than most.
That said, Jones as a pleasant writing style and a good sense of telling a story of the place. There is a good of myth debunking moments that serves to give the town, both medieval and modern, a longer and richer sense of its past that is often popularly assumed. On top of that, she has done well to recover and unravel some the history from below, even if it is to highlight the town’s large poor and working populations, remind us that the vacation centre it became relied on workers to serve the wealthy and as much as possible to draw out at least some of their experiences – easier for the 19th and 20th centuries that for the earlier periods, given the character of records.
My major gripe, given the conventions of local histories, is an absence of maps: I live here, I know the town (not well, but I know it) and in many places I had trouble trying to work out how the places she was discussing and the town she was exploring fitted together – a problem that is even more frustrating because in the preface she notes that the intention of the book is to “unravel the factors that underlie the topography and street plan of the present town.”
Even so, as I walk the town now I see things slightly differently and read some of the town’s underpinning architecture differently – so I guess she has done the job, although not as well as I’d hoped. ...more
This is a simply suberb local history of a single Islington street during the first half of the 20th century. White has a subtle and sophisticated graThis is a simply suberb local history of a single Islington street during the first half of the 20th century. White has a subtle and sophisticated grasp of the dynamics of London life, and in this case takes us inside a working class part of town in a way that is carefully aware of class and gender dynamics, the significance of both work and everyday life in making peoples. This is one of a small cluster of books that inspired me to begin to call myself a historian, and to continue to study. It has a major place in my heart....more
I really enjoyed this – as both a synthesis of published work and some new material. It is thematically organised to show that inter-war English sportI really enjoyed this – as both a synthesis of published work and some new material. It is thematically organised to show that inter-war English sport tells us an awful lot about England and Englishness. The authors are quite convincing in their discussions of meaning making, of representations of sport, of change and continuity, and of the national significance of sport. The reading and analysis is careful, and concludes that if we take sport as a measure, the English were for the most part comfortable in their world and in themselves – maybe this just shows how deluded the inter-war English were. I'll be using this with and for my undergraduate students – it is well pitched to them. All-in-all, a fine piece of scholarly sports/social/cultural history....more
I found this captivating, and as one who has hunted but now is repulsed by blood sports felt like I'd got a good grasp of the appeal, the significant,I found this captivating, and as one who has hunted but now is repulsed by blood sports felt like I'd got a good grasp of the appeal, the significant, the corruption of hunting from the hunter against the prey in its habitat to the absurdity of hordes of people chasing small dog-like creature across the countryside. She also does a good job of unpacking the pro-hunt lobby in early 21st century Britain....more
An excellent analysis of the relations between feminism and socialism in early 19th century Britain. One of the quite proper criticisms of E.P. ThompsAn excellent analysis of the relations between feminism and socialism in early 19th century Britain. One of the quite proper criticisms of E.P. Thompson's Making of the English Working Class is that it pays too little attention to women in late 18th and early 19th century radical politics: this book is an excellent antidote to that shortcoming. Although the specific focus is a concentration on Owenite (or as Engels labelled it, utopian) socialism, the key role that the Owenites played in polticial activism - Chartism and so forth - and in re-imagining the culture of capitalist life as well as new communalist and socialist ways of living means that this book takes us right inside the key developments in early 19th century British working class life. Essential social history weaving socilaism and feminism into a scepitcal, critical study of the kind we should continue to be envious and aspire to....more
A sophisticated and scholarly historical engagement with the issues of identity in England that gets beyond the silliness of red post boxes, the dangeA sophisticated and scholarly historical engagement with the issues of identity in England that gets beyond the silliness of red post boxes, the dangerous attempts to define Englishness, and the banality of much journalistic writing to explore how the English might conceive of themselves. I worry that not enough people who venture into print on these issues have read this book....more
Perhaps the classic social history of sport in British society – scholarly, insightful, and now 20 years after it was written still the best introductPerhaps the classic social history of sport in British society – scholarly, insightful, and now 20 years after it was written still the best introduction to British sports history. I spoke in 2010 at a conference exploring the book - a copy of the paper is at http://glos.academia.edu/MalcolmMacLe......more
Writing contemporary cultural history is extremely difficult, but Sinfield manages to explore and reveal links between cultural, economic, social, andWriting contemporary cultural history is extremely difficult, but Sinfield manages to explore and reveal links between cultural, economic, social, and political experiences of post-WWII Britain. One of the best bits of contemporary history there is....more
Tony Collins's history of the emergence of two rugby football codes in the late 19th century is an exceptional piece of social and sports history thatTony Collins's history of the emergence of two rugby football codes in the late 19th century is an exceptional piece of social and sports history that debunks the simple explanation of causes, undermines the conventional views of professionalism and amateurism in British sport, and is quite simply a fine read....more
Scholarly and revealing: this book gets beyond a disturbing academic sense that sport is somehow distinct from leisure to unpack the social and culturScholarly and revealing: this book gets beyond a disturbing academic sense that sport is somehow distinct from leisure to unpack the social and cultural bases and forms of twentieth century British sport. Hill's eye for and grasp of the subtle cultural significances of various forms of sport and leisure, of the shifting class and gender dynamics associated with both leisure and sport (in different ways), and the political, policy and infrastructural bases of sport & leisure makes tis a major piece of work. Ironically, given their centrality to both sport & leisure, this is one of the few general histories of twentieth century sport that pays much attention to clubs. ...more
I am loathe to use the word monumental because that would make this engaging, readable, history of British class culture seem daunting (and the size oI am loathe to use the word monumental because that would make this engaging, readable, history of British class culture seem daunting (and the size of the book does that anyway). This really is excellent – scholarly, impassioned, rigorous. It makes Britain make sense....more