Jenny and Karl Marx-XXXIV
KARL was eighteen years old when he spent the late summer weeks of 1836 in his parent’s home after leaving Bonn University and before proceeding to Berlin to continue his studies. During these weeks, he wooed Jenny von Westphalen, who had not only unusual beauty but also an unusual spirit and character.
The Marx and Westphalen families were friends and Jenny was the daughter of Government Councillor Ludwig von Westphalen who, in contrast to most of his colleagues in his social position and profession, was a highly educated man with liberal ideas. Karl respected Ludwig von Westphalen as a second father. Jenny was a close friend of Karl’s sister Sophie.
Jenny becoming Marx’s fiancée in secret was unprecedented for the then prevailing conventions. The young, aristocratic Jenny, the “Ball Queen”, who was recognized as the most beautiful girl in Trier; celebrated and very much sought after, certain of a brilliant marriage, gave her hand to a lawyer’s son, in defiance of all the customs of feudal and bourgeois society, without the knowledge of their parents, and without the slightest notion of what the future at his side would bring.
But for the time being Karl could hardly think of asking Government Councillor von Westphalen for Jenny’s hand. Only Karl’s father was initiated into the secret. They trusted him to prepare the ground for a successful regulation of the matter latter. Heinrich Marx undertook the task when he convinced himself of the depth and earnestness of their love and Jenny’s strength of character. But when the agreement of Jenny’s parents removed their last fears, the lovers had still to endure seven long years of separation, of faithful waiting for one another.
After reaching Berlin, at first, as he wrote his father, he was too much hindered by the storm stirred up in his soul, the suspense and anxiety of “love’s intoxicated yearning”, to dedicate himself wholly to his studies. Far from the Moselle Valley and his “wonderful Jenny”, he confessed to his father, he was “overcome by a genuine restlessness”. The thought that he would have to remain separated from
Jenny for many years made his heart heavy.
And so it was that the 18 year-old Marx did what many people in love do; he wrote poems in which he sought to express his feelings and moods. Most of his poems were about Jenny and his longing for her; but not a few were designed to inform her about his intellectual; aspirations and his need for action. Marx soon came to the conclusion that the literary merit of his poetical experiments was limited, that they were for him primarily a processes of self-recognition. But it was not Marx’s habit to lose himself in sentiments and dreams. He was filled with the urge to act; he was lured on by deeds. He “felt, above all, the urge to wrestle with philosophy.”
On April 15, 1841, Marx received his doctorate and returned to Trier. The young Doctor of Philosophy was hardly back in Trier when he hastened with all the pride of a loving youth to the Westphalen home, which “sheltered his finest treasure”, as the mature Marx would write his wife twenty years later. After the long years of separation, Jenny and Karl wanted to be united at last. But a doctoral thesis alone was not yet a livelihood, and the possibilities for a secure career had worsened drastically in that period. Thus Karl and, Jenny were again forced to wait for one another.
After working at the head of Rheinische Zeitung for some time, Marx felt a need for a place to live where he could freely and openly put forward his political and philosophical ideas. That was impossible in Germany, because feudal reaction drove the finest sons of the nation out of the country. Marx’s hopes turned towards Paris where he planned to publish a journal together with Ruge.
In mid-May 1843, he traveled to Dresden, where he discussed their joint literary plans with Ruge, and then on to Kreuznach. Here Jenny had moved with her mother after the death of her father in March 1842. Here she had received Karl several times on short visits. Apart from that she had only been able to accompany him with her thoughts and her letters. “How splendidly, how triumphantly your image stands before me,” she wrote him in one of her letters. “How my heart longs for your permanent presence, how it trembles for you in desire and delight, how it follows you wherever you go. I accompany you, and go on ahead, and follow after you. If only I could level and smooth and prepare the way for you, and clear away all obstacles in your path.”
Now at last, after seven long years in which Jenny had to endure painful clashes with some of her aristocratic relatives, the period of separation came to an end, Karl and Jenny could now be united. The wedding took place on June 19, 1843. For Karl, Jenny was to be everything: the beloved wife, the solicitous mother of his children, the trusted secretary and correspondent, the wise adviser, the ever-dependable comrade-in-arms—a brilliant example of all those women who, since the beginning of the working class movement, have stayed by the side of their husbands in the revolutionary struggle, courageous and optimistic, selfless and reliable convinced of the final victory of Socialism.
After the wedding Karl and Jenny act out on a brief honeymoon trip which took them over the Ebernburg to the Rheinpfalz and through Baden-Baden back to Kreuznach. They spent the first few months of their marriage at the home of Jenny’s mother, when Karl devoted himself to the various preparations for the founding of the planned journal.
Karl and Jenny Marx arrived in Paris from Kreuznach at the end of October 1843. In a quarter on the Left bank of the Seine, in the Rue Vanneau 38, they moved into a modest flat. There now began for both the life of privation and sacrifice of political emigrants who, out of love for their people and on behalf of freedom, democracy and national dignity, accepted exile and poverty rather than acquiesce in the decay of their fatherland.
May 1, 1844, brought the couple a joyful event. Jenny gave birth to her first child, a healthy daughter. In accordance with father’s wish, the girl was named after his beloved Jenny.
Banished later by the reactionary Prussian Government and its friends in France, Marx arrived in Brussels in early February 1845. A short time later his wife joined him, destitute, with their nine-month-old daughter. Poverty cast its shadow over them. Since the Brussels police forbade Marx the publication of anything about current politics, he was denied all means of earning a livelihood.
After more than four years’ work in Brussels, Germany and France, Marx arrived in London on August 26, 1846. The agents of reaction, strengthened once more, had driven him, along with many thousands of other refugees, into exile. Marx made the trip to England alone. His wife and children had to wait in Paris till he could arrange the money for their fares.
Poverty had become unimaginable for the family but Jenny did not despair in such situations though they broke the spirit of others. She wrote in a letter in March 1850: “Do not think that these petty sufferings have bowed me. I know only too well that our struggle is not an isolated one, and how much I belong to the lucky few, to the most favoured, since my dear husband, the pillar of my life, is still at my side.”
Along with her duties as mother and housewife, and the exhausting daily cares, many other tasks fell on Jenny’s shoulders. She was her husband’s irreplaceable secretary. She copied out almost all his manuscripts—mostly indecipherable, to others—before they were sent to the printers. She relieved her husband also of much of the wearisome and often very annoying negotiations with publishers and editors, and handled the correspondence with countless people. Marx was very proud of his wife, of her acute political judgement, her fine sense of tact, her complete reliability and selflessness. There was hardly a manuscript that he published without Jenny reading it first.
Marx was not one of those who carry their hearts on their sleeve, and since most of the letters between him and Jenny were later destroyed, there are few documents left indicating his respect, attachment and love for his wife. But a letter has remained that most effectively conveys his relationship to Jenny. When she traveled to Trier for a few months to be with her dying mother in the summer of 1856, he wrote to her:
“Great passions which through the nearness of their loved one take on the form of little habits, grow and assume their natural scope again through the magic influence of distance. So it is with my love. You need only to be separated from me through a simple dream, and I know at once that the time has only served it as the sun and rain serve the plants –for growth. My love for you, as soon as you are away appears for what it is—a giant, in which all my spirit and all the character of my heart are pressed together.”