Many of us have had that experience of being in love with someone and then they end up being your enemy and there’s a stranger in your bed.
Eleanor Marx was her father’s first biographer. All subsequent biographies of Karl Marx, and most of Engels, draw on her work as their primary sources for the family history, often without knowing it. I think if she’d been a son, she would have been referenced more.
Men want to destroy the women: you’ve become bigger than me, people love you more, you have a public platform, that’s my space you’re taking up. I can’t just divorce you, I have to destroy you.
All of us are many different people over time. We have our childhood selves, people that we remember, but they’re very different to our adult selves and the way that we create our own naratives is not that dissimilar, I think, to how a biographer structures their narrative of a life.
People don’t give up power and privilege out of the goodness of their hearts.
We’re all story-telling creatures, and also I think that’s the point about biography because the life is exemplary.
Eleanor [Marx] was involved in the 1889 Paris congress resolution that established May Day as an annual demonstration of the international solidarity of labour in the demand for a legal eight-hour day.
The fight against unfair scheduling is like the fight for a regulated work day – it’s people fighting for reasonable conditions at work and to have a life, so you can have some leisure.
The trade unions in the UK are campaigning around zero-hours contracts, which isn’t about feminism, but it’s a feminist issue. Women are affected by zero-hours contracts, and the recession has and is affecting women more than men.
The goal of the first International May Day celebrations was the eight-hour working day.
For me the fascination with biography is the life of the individual in the context of history.
Before my book, the most common assessment of Eleanor Marx is “Yes, she’s great but basically she’s in the shadow of her father.” Absolute bollocks. She fought him, she resisted, and she was not a kind of trocadateur of his ideas.
Eleanor Marx was a pragmatic person of actions and deeds and she was an organizer.
My maternal family are South African and when I was small and my parents separated my mother and I went back to South Africa. So for me the emergence of my own childhood consciousness was in the context of 1970s and 1980s apartheid South Africa and the movement there.
The great difficulty is that you cannot be nice. If you want to take back the power, you have to behave in ways that are not conforming and will not be about pleasing other people.
When you’re writing, you’re making decisions about compression and the shape of a life, which are very similar to how we experience our inner consciousness.
A biography is never a biography of one person, of course, but the individual life of your protagonist will never conform. It will always bang up against history.
One of the key things about the entitlement and power of patriarchy, but also within feminism, is not that it’s wilful nastiness. But you can’t ask for permission. You can negotiate and you can bring people on board and you can build a base but you can’t expect for it to be given.