Image by Duncan Kidd


There is much to be said between a man and wife, and their loyalties to each other. Through personal letters and diaries, historians can find true identities, attitudes, and mannerisms between two spouses. With regards to Karl and Jenny Marx, in The Portable Karl Marx, historians can only analyze very few letters between the two. However, the letters that we were given in The Portable Karl Marx allows us to see the difficult financial struggles, poverty, and the emotional stress that Jenny went through during her marriage. With these failures, historians must wonder why Marx, himself, could not hold down a writing career, and why he did not implement socialism in his own personal life. By breaking down the letters from Jenny and Karl, historians come to understand that Karl’s failures seriously impacted his wife and children: emotionally, physically, and mentally.

In the first letter, from Jenny to Karl, Jenny expresses her love to Karl and how much she misses him, on March 1843, Jenny writes:

If only you are here now, my dear Karlchen, what capacity for joy you would find in your brave little wife; however wicked a purchase, whatever evil intentions you might display, I would still not take retaliatory measures; I would patiently lay down my head as a sacrifice to my naughty boy. Do you still remember our talks at twilight, how we used to wave and wave to one another, our hours of rest? Dear heart, how good how dear, how indulgent, how happy you were!1

Historians can only guess what Jenny meant by “evil intensions.” What was evil about Karl Marx? What did he do that made him “evil.” Was it something that she seen, experienced, or was she referring to a young man’s passions or seductions? This word evil should give us a pause. Regardless of Jenny’s choice of words, there is not one letter or document showing or hinting about violence. Thus, historians are left wondering and speculating.

But by the time 1850 arrived, Jenny had changed. She was insecure and stressed due to Karl’s lack of leadership, financial support, and neglect. During this time Jenny was not the happy, naïve, or passionate wife she once was. Yet she continued to make excuses for Marx about their financial problems. On May 20, 1850, Jenny writes to Joseph Weydemeyer (a family friend):

Dear Herr Weydemeyer,

…Circumstances, however, force me to take up my pen. I beg you to send us as soon as possible any money that has been or will be received from the Revue (“Marx lectures to German Workers’ Educational Association to help German refugees in London, and to recognize the Communist League.”).2It is through this publication where “Marx establishes a contract with French Blanquists in London, which called to celebrate Robespierre’s birthday. Engels and Harney are among the speakers. As a result, Marx became the president for the social-democratic committee of emigres.”3This is where Marx “denies charges of political favoritism in distributing relief.”4And in April, “Marx has his household articles seized in Chelsea for arrears of rent; the family moves briefly to a hotel and then to 64 Dean Street, Soho.”5Jenny’s letter continues on to say –

We need [money] it very, very much. Certainly nobody can reproach us with ever having made much case of the sacrifices we have been making and bearing for years, the public has never or almost never been informed of our circumstances; my husband is very sensitive in such matters and he would rather sacrifice his last than resort to democratic begging like officially recognized ‘great men.’ But he could have expected active and energetic support for his Revue from his friends, particularly those in Cologne. He could have expected such support above all from those who knew his sacrifices for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. But instead of that the business has been completely ruined by negligent and disorderly management, and one cannot say whether the delays of the bookseller or of the business managers or acquaintances in Cologne or the attitude of the Democrats as a whole were the most ruinous.6

Jenny then begins to describe to Herr Weydemeyer their living circumstances under financial strain. “You know that we kept nothing from ourselves. I went to Frankfurt to pawn my silver – the last that we had – and I sold my furniture in Cologne because I was in danger having my linen and everything sequestrated.”7 But the worst part about all of this is that the fact Marx’s children were greatly suffering due to his financial and professional failures.

She [the landlord] denied the agreement and demanded five pounds that we still owed her. As we did not have the money at the time (Naut’s letter came too late) two bailiffs came and sequestrated all my few possessions – beds, linen, clothes – everything, even my poor child’s cradle and the better toys of my daughters, who stood there weeping bitterly.8

Marx continued to push these issues away, ignoring them entirely. He consumed himself with democratic-socialism that he and Engels were creating and fighting for. On June 21, 1856, Marx writes to Jenny, expressing his love but never addressing his failures to provide for his family. Through this letter, it is clearly seen that Marx lived in his own world. He refused to acknowledge the problems that he and his family faced.

Dearest Heart,

I am writing to you again because I am alone, and because I find it embarrassing always to hold conversations with you in my head, without your knowing anything about them or hearing them or being able to answer me. Bad as your portrait is, it serves me very well and I can now understand how even the “black madonnas,” the most vulgar portraits of the Mother of God, find the most devoted admirers, and even more admirers than the good portraits. In any case, no such black Madonna has been kissed more often, has been eyed and adored more often than your photograph which is admittedly not black, but which is sour, and does not, by any means, reflect your dear, sweet, kissable, “dolce” face…9

Why did Marx continue to allow his family to suffer through poverty, neglect, and uncertainty? For a highly educated man, he could have become a teacher, tutor, or business owner. Both Jenny and Karl received inheritances from deceased family members. This money could have allowed Marx to open his own printing business, school, or publishing house. What kept him away from these successes? Marxism was an ideal fantasy, that Marx himself could not escape from. As such, Marx could not implement it in his own personal life. It had no mathematical or scientific base. As such, socialism became empty words without reason. It was a fake ideology that he could not prove or work through. Socialism sounds good to the ears; it looks great on paper; but it can and never will be implemented because the system is wrong – mathematically and scientifically.

1Eugene Kamenka, The Portable Karl Marx (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 1983), 25.

2 Kamenka, The Portable, lxxi.

3Kamenka, The Portable, lxxi.

4 Kamenka, The Portable, lxxi.

5 Kamenka, The Portable, lxxi-lxxii.

6Kamenka, The Portable, 33.

7Kamenka, The Portable, 34.

8Kamenka, The Portable, 35.

9Kamenka, The Portable, 45.


Kamenka, Eugene. The Portable Karl Marx. New York: Penguin Group, 1983