Born in London, she was the sixth daughter of Marx and his wife Jenny von Westphalen. She was called "Tussy" from a young age. She showed an early interest in politics, even writing to political figures during her childhood. The hanging of the Manchester Martyrs when she was twelve, for example, horrified her and shaped her life-long sympathy for the Fenians. Her father's story-telling also inspired an interest in literature in her, she could recite passages by William Shakespeare at the age of three.
At the age of sixteen, Eleanor became her father's secretary and accompanied him around the world to socialist conferences. A year later, she fell in love with Hippolyte Lissagaray, a journalist and member of the Paris Commune, who had had to flee to London after the Commune's suppression. Although he agreed with the man politically, Karl Marx disapproved of the relationship because of the large age gap between the two, Lissagaray being 34 years old. Eleanor then moved away from home to Brighton working as a schoolteacher. A year later she helped Lissagaray write History of the Commune of 1871. Her father liked the book enough to translate it into English, while still disapproving of his daughter's relationship with its author. By 1880, Karl changed his view, however, allowing her to marry him, but her second thoughts led her to terminate the relationship in 1882.
In the early 1880s, she had to nurse her aging parents, but her mother died in December 1881 and her father in March 1883. He gave her the task of taking care of the publication of his unfinished manuscripts and the English language version of his main work, Capital.
In 1884, she 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. In the same year, a split of the organisation led her to leave it and found the rival Socialist League. The split had two root causes: personality problems, as Hyndman was accused of leading the SDF in a dictatorial fashion, and disagreements on the issue of internationalism. In this point Hyndman was accused by Marx among others of nationalist tendencies. He was, for example, opposed to Marx's idea of sending delegates to the French Workers' Party calling the proposal a "family manoeuvre", since Eleanor Marx' sister Laura and her husband Paul Lafargue were members of that party. Therefore, both Marx and Aveling became founding members of the Socialist League, whose most prominent member was William Morris.
Marx regularly wrote in the League's monthly newspaper, Commonweal, on women's issues. In 1885, she helped organize the International Socialist Congress in Paris. The following year, she toured the United States along with Aveling and the German socialist Wilhelm Liebknecht, raising money for the Social Democratic Party of Germany. The Socialist League would only exist until 1889. Anarchists, to whose influence Marx was bitterly opposed, entered it in large numbers, which led to a split and eventually the end of the organisation.
In 1884, Marx also met Clementina Black, a painter and trade unionist, and became involved in the Women's Trade Union League. She would go on to support numerous strikes including the Bryant & May strike of 1888 and the London Dock Strike of 1889. She helped organise the Gasworkers' Union and wrote numerous books and articles.
In the 1880s, Marx became more interested in theatre and took up acting. She believed in the art as a socialist and feminist tool. She also translated various literary works, including the first English translation of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. She also translated Henrik Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea and An Enemy of the People. In 1886, she performed a groundbreaking if critically unsuccessful reading of Ibsen's A Doll's House in London, with herself as Nora Helmer, Aveling as Torvald Helmer, and George Bernard Shaw as Krogstad.
In 1893, Keir Hardie founded the Independent Labour Party (ILP), Marx attended the founding conference as an observer, while Aveling was a delegate. Their goal of shifting the ILP's positions towards Marxism failed, however, as the party remained under a strong Christian socialist influence. In 1897, Marx and Aveling re-joined the Social Democratic Federation, like most former members of the Socialist League.
Unlike her father, she considered herself Jewish, took an interest in her Jewish ancestors, and had a warm appreciation for the Jewish workers in the East End of London.
In 1898, she discovered Aveling had secretly married a young actress. He proposed a suicide pact, which he never intended to follow through. Instead, he supplied her with prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide), which she then used to kill herself, and left the house. He was widely reviled for his actions, but an inquest cleared him of criminal liability. Aveling died four months later.
The Daughter of Modern Socialism Eleanor Marx Was Fearless in Her Pursuit of Bohemian Ideals, but Ultimately Constrained by Her Traditional Roles as Daughter and Lover
Apr 01, 1998; It was 100 years ago yesterday that Karl Marx's youngest daughter, a bohemian, socialist and radical intellectual, went to her...