Tristram Hunt, Karl Marx and the pregnant Maid
January 9, 2010 Leave a comment
I don’t know how to take Tristram Hunt’s comment on marriage and the left today. He notes Marx and Engel’s aversion to the bourgeios institution of marriage as a hinderance to labour freedom and as a reiteration of the Master/Slave dichotamy. But he concludes that they can’t have thought it was all that bad:
Karl Marx remained happily wedded to Jenny von Westphalen for 40 years. And even Engels the great Bohemian granted his partner Lizzy Burns her final wish with a death-bed marriage. Clearly, there was more to the family form than private gain.
Though is this a concealed knock at marriage anyway? He’s no idiot, is our Tristram, on the subject of Marx and Engels, we know this because of the book he has written recently on the subject of Engels – a subject mysteriously left out hitherto. In one review of Hunt’s book, criticism that the book was a “hatchet job” claims:
Tristram Hunt repeats the canard that Marx fathered a baby with Helene Demuth (the Marxes’ maid-housekeeper, and later Engels’ maid-housekeeper). This unsubstantiated rumour was put in motion by Louise Freyberger (first wife of Karl Kautsky) in 1898 once everyone concerned (Engels, Marx and Helen) was safely dead and unable to refute it. The rumour gained a purchase with some bourgeois historians who wanted to reinvent the hen-pecked Marx as something more akin to Che Guevera. Tristram Hunt uses it to blacken Marx as a Deadbeat Dad (not a good 21st century image).
The rumour is little more than hot air, as Francis Wheen has shown in his biography of Marx, but here the illustration is to show that Hunt has used the rumour in his book, and has not attempted to question its legitimacy. So, if he knows, and buys into this rumour, what does this now reveal about the conclusion of his article? Is it a wry commentary fit for the hermeneuticians?