"Neta crushed under the wheels, the best friend I ever had" Read the full letter

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Eleanor Marx

Eleanor Marx (1855 - 1898), the youngest daughter of Karl Marx, became a close friend of Olive Schreiner's during the 1880s. Eleanor, like other friends of Schreiner, was one of the British Museum Reading room set in 1880s London, and Schreiner also knew Marx's two sisters and on occasion stayed in Paris with Eleanor's sister Jenny Lafargue. Eleanor Marx entered a common law marriage with Edward Aveling, who never divorced his wife, something which introduced stresses and strains into the friendships many people had with Eleanor Marx-Aveling, due to Aveling's lack of financial probity and also his sexual infidelities. People generally loved Eleanor but felt distaste for Aveling, a response shared by Schreiner.

One result of these events was the debate about whether or not to invite Marx-Aveling to join the Men and Women's Club which surfaces in many of Schreiner's letters of the time, with Schreiner not wanting her friend to be hurt by the possible responses of some of the more conventional Club members. Schreiner and Marx were close friends, spent time and went on holiday together, although the introduction of Aveling caused problems, not least because on one such occasion he left behind an unpaid bill for food and accommodation. After Eleanor killed herself, Schreiner was sad and perplexed about the events which had led to this, leading her later to express the thought to a mutual friend, Dollie Radford (nee Maitland), that at least Eleanor had finally escaped from Aveling. Yvonne Kapp's biography both misrepresents what Schreiner wrote in this letter and also fails to understand the feeling it conveys.

When Schreiner returned to South Africa, it is clear than Eleanor Marx was included in the family circulation of her letters, with comments about this appearing in various of them. Schreiner most probably wrote a very large number of letters to Eleanor Marx, but which are no longer extant, perhaps destroyed by Aveling in the wake of Eleanor's death. As Schreiner referred to Eleanor Marx as her 'mental champagne', and they were intellectual equals who largely shared a political analysis, this loss is particularly regrettable.

For further information see:
Yvonne Kapp (1972) Eleanor Marx: Family Life (1855-1883) London: Lawrence and Wishart
Yvonne Kapp (1976) Eleanor Marx: The Crowded Years (1884-1898) London: Lawrence and Wishart
David McLellan (2004) 'Marx, (Jenny Julia) Eleanor (1855-1898)' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/40945
Olga Meier (ed, 1984) Daughters of Karl Marx: The Family Correspondence 1868-98 Harmondsworth: Penguin
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