By Austine Amanze Akpuda
Photo: 1. Karl Marx, 2. Jenny Marx
Please give greetings from me to my sweet, wonderful Jenny. I have read her letter twelve
times already, and always discover new delights in it.
– Karl Marx to Henirich Marx Nov. 10, 1837.
You cannot believe, darling of my heart,
how very happy you make me by your letters,
and how your last pastoral letter, you high priest and bishop of my heart
has once again restored soothing calm and peace to your poor lamb
– Jenny to Karl Marx, Aug 11-18, 1844.
Granted the larger than-life profiles that Karl and Jenny Marx occupied as intellectuals and activists it may sound queer deliberating on aspects of their love lives. However, as shall be made clear in the present discourse both Karl Marx and the former Jenny von Westphalen can be considered as models in the art of writing exciting love letters.
Before Jenny von Westphalen (1814 – 1881) married Karl Marx (1818 -1883) in 1843, the couple had exchanged between them, some of the most engaging and thrilling love letters of all time. Perhaps it is possible that through these letters one can find the answer to why Karl Marx named his four daughters, Jenny Caroline, Jenny Laura, Jenny Eveline Frances and Jenny Julian Eleanor after his wife, Jenny.
In order to fully contextualize the variables that may have led Karl Marx to write not only volumes of poems but also exceedingly romantic letters to Jenny, it is pertinent to first examine the thrust of the letters Karl Marx received from his father, Heinrich Carl Marx on a subject as important and profound as Jenny.
This is especially because, of the sixteen letters that Heinrich Marx wrote his son between November 8, 1835 and Feb. 10, 1838, six devote significant attention to Jenny von Westphalen, the lady that Karl Marx would marry five years later. Similarly, the few available letters Karl Marx wrote his father also stress the significance that Karl Marx attached to Jenny. These letters help us to know and understand better the characters and love lives of one of the most celebrated couples in recent history.
The six letters by Heinrich Marx to his son which we need to highlight here for their relevance to our topic are those of December 28, 1836; February 3, 1837; March 2, 1837; August 12, 1837; November I7, 1837; and December 9, 1837. It is from the sentiments expressed in these letters that one can appreciate the value that the Marx family placed on Jenny.
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In his December 28, 1836 letter to his son, Karl, Heinrich Marx mentions Jenny in at least two paragraphs with a third paragraph representing a postscript by Sophie, Marx’s sister. After talking about Karl’s reluctance to write his father and not making his mother happy enough, Heinrich Marx mentions Jenny as the next important subject. According to him,
I have spoken with Jenny and I should have liked to be able to set her mind at rest completely. I did all I could but it is not possible to argue everything away. She still does not know how her parents will take the relationship. Nor is the judgment of relatives and the world a trifling matter …. If I were powerful enough to protect and soothe this noble being in some respect by vigorous intervention, no sacrifice would be too great for me (my emphasis)
In the next paragraph, Heinrich Marx reminds Karl and warns him as well that “she [Jenny] is making a priceless sacrifice for you. She is showing a self-denial which can only be fully appreciated in the light of cold reason. Woe to you, if ever in your life you could forget this!”
It is because of the attachment to an Omnibus approach to letter writing that he accommodates the postscript by Sophie. Marx in a multi-decked letter featuring a postscript by Marx’s mother, Henriette Marx; a continuation from Marx’s father before the Sophie part in responding to the accusatory tone in Karl’s last letter, Sophie states as follows: “Your last letter, dear Karl, made me weep bitter tears, how could you think that I would neglect to give you news of your Jenny? I dream and think only of you two. Jenny loves you …” Beyond letting him know that Jenny’s parents “indeed think highly of you” and encouraging him to “write to them yourself, Sophie further informs her brother, Karl, that
Jenny visits us frequently. She was with us yesterday and wept tears of delight and pain on receiving your poems. Our parents and your brothers and sisters love her very much, the latter beyond all measure. She is never allowed to leave us before ten O’clock, how do you like that? Adieu, dear, good Karl, my most ardent wishes for the success of your heart’s desire.
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Heinrich Marx’s February 3, 1837 letter to Karl in quite unique in at least three ways. One is about how the love the father has for the son has made him to woo his son’s girlfriend for the son. Another has to do with the character of Jenny’s affection for Karl.
The third has to do with the recipe for writing a proper and positive love letter which is configured as a writing manual for Karl. Regarding the first variable, Heinrich Marx confesses that “You know, dear Karl, because of my love for you I have let myself in for something which is not quite in accord with my character, and indeed sometimes worries me … I have won the full confidence of your Jenny’s”. Concerning Jenny’s peculiar situation Heinrich Marx volunteers as follows:
But the good, lovable girl torments herself incessantly she is afraid of doing you harm, of making you over-exert yourself, etc, etc, etc. It weighs on her mind that her parents do not know or, as I believe, do not want to know. She cannot explain to herself how it is that she, who considers herself quite unsentimental, has left herself be so carried away (my emphasis).
On the ideal way to relate with Jenny, Heinrich Marx instructs karl as follows:
A letter from you, which you may enclose sealed, but which should not be dictated by the fanciful poet, could comfort her. It must, of course, be full of delicate, devoted feeling and pure love, as I have no doubt it will be, but it must give a clear view of your relationship and elucidate and discuss the prospects. The hopes expressed must be set out without reserve, clearly and with firm conviction, so that they in their turn are convincing.
This is the hallmark of a remarkable Father who directs his beloved son in taking major decisions including how to pursue a career that will ensure that he “can decently and safely await a professorship” (Feb 3, 1837 letter).
In his tenth letter to Karl Marx written on March 2, 1837 Heinrich Marx devotes three paragraphs to Jenny. The different ways in which the elder Marx introduces Jenny’s issue are as stylistically significant as they are emotionally instructive. As Heinrich Marx announces in the fourth paragraph of this very strategic letter.
I pass on to positive matters. Some days after receiving your letter, which Sophie brought her, Jenny visited us and spoke about your intention. She appears to approve your reasons, but fears the step itself …. For my part, I regard it as good and praiseworthy.
As she intimates, she is writing to you that you should not send the letter direct . . . what you can do to put her mind at rest is to tell us eight days before hand on what day you are posting the letter. The good girl deserves every consideration and, I repeat only a lifetime full of tender love can compensates her for what she has already suffered and even for what she will still suffer … (my emphasis)
As Jenny’s letters to Frederick Engels would reveal it is quite prophetic of Heinrich Marx to foresee “what she will still suffer”.
Granted the passion with which Heinrich Marx regards a relationship between Karl and Jenny one can understand why Karl’s father wishes the best for son and daughter-in-law to be. As Heinrich Marx states in the opening sentence of the fifth paragraph of his March 2, 1837 letter to Karl, “it is chiefly regard for her that makes me with so much that you will soon take a fortunate step forward in the world, because it would give her peace of mind, at least that is what I believe”.
That Jenny is priceless accounts for Heinrich Marx’s testimony and wish “But you see, the bewitching girl has turned my old head too, and I wish above all to see her calm and happy. Only you can do that and the aim is worthy of your undivided attention …” Towards the end of his long letter to his son, Heinrich Marx reiterates that “I should so very much like to see good Jenny calm and able to hold up her head proudly. The good child must not wear herself out”.
Heinrich Marx’s August 12, 1837 letter is quite disturbing in tone. It is filled with general misery of almost everyone being indisposed – Eduard, Sophie, Marx senior and Jenny. But the segment on Jenny is presented in a more pathetic manner to show the attachment the Marx family had for her as he informs his son.
in this situation – what with your love affair, Jenny’s prolonged indisposition, her profound worry, and the ambiguous position in which I, who have always know only the most straightforward course, find myself in relation to the Westphalens – all this has deeply affected me and at times depressed me so much that I no longer recognized myself.
In his fourteenth letter to Karl, we encounter the same tone of fondness expressed in the other letters. Thus, as a follow-up to the contents and thrust of the
March 1837 letter, Heinrich Marx reiterates the need to ensure Jenny’s psychological balance. Heinrich Marx informs his son that “the all too good parents of your jenny could hardly wait for the moment when the poor, wounded heart would be consoled, and the recipe is undoubtedly already in your hands, if a defective address has not caused the epistle to go astray”
Heinrich Marx’s roughly five page letter ( on typewritten format of A4 paper) to Karl on December 9, 1837 is quite detailed in the queries given Karl about Jenny. Quite early enough within what should be the second paragraph of the letter, Heinrich Marx wonders and queries as follows:
- What is the task of a young man on whom nature has incontestably bestowed unusual talent, in particular
- If he, as he asserts and moreover I willingly believe, reveres his father and idealises his mother,
- if he, without regard to his age and situation, has bound one of the noblest of girls to his fate, and
- has thereby put a very honourable family into the position of having to approve a relationship which apparently and according to the usual way of the world holds out great dangers and gloomy prospects for this beloved child?
As with his pledge to “settle” the above questions “a posterior”, Heinrich Marx provides the following answers as they concern Karl and Jenny.
(b) Yes, he must bear in mind that he has undertaken a duty, possibly exceeding his age, but all the more sacred on that account to sacrifice himself for the benefit of a girl who had made a great sacrifice in view of her outstanding merits and her social position in abandoning her brilliant situation and prospects for an uncertain and duller future and chaining herself to the fate of a younger man. The simple and practical solution is to procure her a future worthy of her, in the real world, not in a smoke-filled room with a reeking oil lamp at the side of a scholar grown old (my emphasis).
(c) Yes, he has a big debt to repay, and a noble family has the right to demand adequate compensation for the forfeiting of its great hopes so well justified by the excellent personality of the child. For, in truth, thousands of parents would have refused their consent. And in moments of gloom your own father almost wishes they had done so, for the welfare of this angelic girl is all too dear to my heart; -truly I love her like a daughter, and it is for that very reason that I am so anxious for her happiness (my emphasis)
No doubt, without understanding the background to the answers provided by Heinrich Marx in (b) and (c) above, it would be difficult to appreciate the harshness of his tone therein. Concerning the opportunity cost of marrying Karl Marx which Karl’s father emphasizes very bluntyviz “a girl who has made a great sacrifice in view of her outstanding merits and social position in abandoning her brilliant situation and prospects for an uncertain and duller future”, an analysis and prediction which turns prophetic as events would show, we need to rely on the biographical information provided by Fritz J. Raddatz. Without any elaboration, Raddatz informs us that Karl Marx’s love for Jenny “turned her against her fiance, second Lieutenant Karl on panneuitz” and that “before” Karl Marx “left for Berlin they were secretly engaged (21).
For Raddatz, the secrecy is strange, considering how close Karl Marx was to the family of Ludwig vonWestphalen. Apart from the fact that Karl was friendly with Jenny’s father to the point of being an informal student to him (having learnt about Homer, Shakespeare and socialism from Jenny’s father), Jenny’s brother, Edgar, “has been Karl Marx’s classmate at school (Marx Christened his favourite son Edgar) and Karl had been a frequent visitor to the house” (Raddatz 21). Moreover, in addressing other issues that brought the two families together, Raddatz records as follows:
in the first place, on the prosaic professional level Heinrich Marx had to deal with Ludwig von Westphalen in the course of legal business; second, the children went to the same school, Jenny was one of Karl’s playmates and Edgar grew up in the Marx house as if he were a child of the family (22).
The only way to appreciate the emphasis on the nobility of the Ludwig von Westephalen family is to contrast same with that of the Heinrich Marx family. Despite belonging to “a family tree” that according to Fritz J. Raddatz reads “like an extract from an almanac of Jewish aristocracy” (4), the social position of the Jew in Europe of Marx’s time was not particularly encouraging. As Raddatz documents, “until the end of the eighteenth century the Jews were still outcast in German society.
They could not own land; they could not pursue a trade, they could not follow any of the liberal professions” (4).Thus, the stereotype with which the Jew was regarded by the time of William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice was still prevalent in mid-nineteenth century Germany, according to Raddatz (4). As such, in a milieu where “both the market economy and capitalism were regarded as manifestations of the morbidly materialistic Jewish spirit” (Raddatz 4) and “as late as 1848 a craftsmen’s petition to the Frankfurt National Assembly stated that “our Germen nature, our inmost soul revolted against Jewish emancipation” (Raddatz 4-5), it becomes very clear what risks Jenny von Westphalen was taking falling in love with Karl Marx. Against a scenario where there was a standing March 11, 1812 Prussian “Edict concerning the civil position of Jews in the Prussian state” wherein according to Raddatz “Jewish lawyers were refused permission to practice, widows of Jewish soldiers killed in action had their pensions withheld, their husbands’ religion being given as the reason” (5), one can then understand why Herschel (Hinschel) Marx had to convert to Christianity and became Heinrich Marx.
In putting the situation clearer, Raddatz volunteers that “his object was not simply to be called Heinrich instead of Herschel; it was to see his family integrated into society, to ensure his livelihood or even advancement, and to preserve a modest standard of living” (5). Within such a context, one can then appreciate F.O. Orabueze’s contention that
the main issue of The Merchant of Venice appears to me to be the evil discrimination. Every act, every scene in the play is pervaded by discriminatory practices on grounds of religion, race and profession. This play dramatizes vividly the humiliation, oppression, and degradation that the minority are subjected to by the majority. Those who do not share the same creed, the same ethnicity and the same profession are treated as outcast scorned and denied justice (28-29).
Unlike the above near-pathetic heritage, Jenny von Westphalen seems to have been part of a highly regarded nobility that stretched across generations of both parents’ lineages. Regarding their “upper class” profile arising from an “aristocratic lineage”, Fritz J. Raddatz discloses that
Jenny’s grandfather had been private secretary to the Duke of Brunswick, later, during the seven years war, he became chief of the General Staff and was given a title by the King of England. He married the British commanding general’s niece and so was related to a famous family of the Scottish nobility, the Dukes of Argyue … (21)
Following Heinz Monz, the author of Karl Marx, Grundlagen der EntwicklungzuLeben und werk, Raddatz records as follows about Jenny’s father
Ludwig von Westphalen had been sent to Trier by Hardenberg in 1816 as an official of the Royal Prussian Provincial Government; with an annual salary of 1,800 taler he was one of the highest-paid civil servants in the Justice Department (21).
When one adds the fact that, according to the Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia entry on Jenny von Westphalen that Johann Ludwig von Westphalen “served as professor at Friedrick-Wilhelms-Universitat in Berlin”, it becomes clearer the type of family Jenny came from and why the elder Marx’s deference titled towards the reverential. Elsewhere, in the same letter of December 9, 1837, Heinrich Marx in condemning Karl Marx’s Edgar Allan Poe – like financial rascality vis a vis family means charges: “as if we were men of wealth, my Herrson disposed in one year of almost 700 talerscontrary to all agreement, contrary to all usage, whereas the richest spend less than 500″ (my emphasis).
Heinrich Marx’s last major reference to Jenny is prefaced roughly fiveparagraphs earlier with his castigation of the entanglements that Karl forced his parents into. As his father reports, “hardly were your wild goings-on in Bonn over, hardly were your old sins wiped out – and they were truly manifold – when, to our dismay, the pangs of love set in, and with the good nature of parents in a romantic novel we became their heralds and the bearers of their cross”. In demonstrating the extent of his personal involvement as a character in a romantic novel, Karl Marx’s Father takes a long one sentence – paragraph to appear dismissive of Karl’s complaints about Jenny.
Yes, your letter did contain something – complaints that Jenny does not write, despite the fact that at bottom you were convinced that you were favoured on all sides – at least there is no reason for despair and embitterment – but that was not enough, your dear ego yearned for the pleasure of reading what you knew already …
Karl Marx’s November 10, 1837 letter to his father is one sample letter which demonstrates to what extent it could be said that Karl tended to be more open with his father in professing his love for Jenny than the somewhat self-censorship he seems to have displayed in his letters to Jenny. It is in his November 10, 1837 letter to Heinrich Marx that Karl Marx after some seductive and almost blackmailing opening paragraphs (“and where could a more sacred dwelling place be found … than in the heart of a parent, the most merciful judge, the most intimate sympathizer, the sun of love whose warning fire is felt at the inner most center of our endeavours!”) pleads that “my dear father … allow me to review my affairs in the way I regard life in general, as the expression of an intellectual activity which develops in all directions, in science, art and private matters.
Amazingly, instead of starting in the logical order with which he itemizing the three areas of knowledge and experience that he wants to share with his Father, Karl Marx shocks his readers by going for the last issue, “private matters”. The entire paragraph is worth reproducing.
When I left you, a new world had come into existence for me, that of love, which in fact at the beginning was a passionately yearning and hopeless love. Even the journey to Berlin, which otherwise would have delighted me in the highest degree, would have inspired me to contemplate nature and fired my zest for life, left me cold. Indeed it put me strongly out of humor, for the rocks which I saw were not more rugged, more indomitable, than the emotions of my soul, the big towns not more lively than my blood, the inn meals not more extravagant, more indigestible, than the store of fantasies I carried with me, and finally, no work of art was as beautiful as Jenny, (my emphasis)
Although Karl Marx confesses a seemingly remote strand in his love and the fact that “all the poems of the first three volumes I sent to Jenny” were not necessarily love poems considering their being “marked by attacks on our times … complete opposition between what is and what ought to be” and so on, further segments of the very lengthy letter (about 9 pages on A4 paper) contain enough to demonstrate the extent of the affection he has for Jenny. “Being upset over Jenny’s illness is one of the three and the first of the major reasons that Karl Marx gives for becoming ill himself. Thus, outside the pressing need to visit home to console Eduard, Father and Mama over their illnesses, Karl Marx confesses that “believe me, my dear, dear father, I am actuated by no selfish intention (although it would be bliss for me to see Jenny again)”.