My Jewish hero is a feminist, a socialist and an activist – a woman for whom the word tireless might have been invented.
But before reading Rachel Holmes’ biography of Eleanor Marx as part of our book club at Kingston Liberal Synagogue, I did not even know that the third and most-beloved daughter of Karl Marx and Jenny von Westphalen even existed.
Eleanor was integral to the social democratic movement of the late 19th century and the early days of the Labour Party.
Without her, so many things we take for granted would have taken much longer to come about. We can thank her and her contemporaries for the eight-hour working day, outlawing of child labour, access to equal education, freedom of expression, trade unions, universal suffrage and democratically selected parliamentary representation, regardless of class, religion, gender or ethnicity.
She organised, wrote, authored, essayed, researched, fundraised, lectured, taught, tutored, translated, acted, produced, befriended, promoted, led, supported, critiqued, spoke, rallied and founded.
Yet it’s not just in social action that she excelled. Without her, our appreciation of Ibsen, for which she taught herself Norwegian to translate his work, would have been delayed.
The same is true of the introduction of Madame Bovary to the English-speaking world – she was the first to translate Flaubert’s seminal novel. She and her parents helped to foster the revival of Shakespeare.
Although not a practising Jew, she took pride in her Jewish antecedents, posthumously conferring Jewish identity on her father and speaking out against anti-Semitism and the persecution of working-class Jews in London’s East End.
Discovering Eleanor Marx reassured me that the campaigning, writing and activism I have been doing for the past two years is the right path for me to be following.