We are delighted to announce that Deborah Lavin’s long-anticipated and pioneering biography of Edward Aveling, the Free Love partner of Karl Marx’s youngest daughter, Eleanor, has now been published and is available for sale in both ebook at print forms at Amazon and other book sites under the title Edward Aveling, ‘Son-in-Law of Karl Marx’: A Victorian Enigma.
Aveling has been a much neglected subject, though he was one of the most active figures in British socialism in his time. This is the first biography of Aveling ever to be offered to the public. It entailed years of research in obscure and unpublished sources. None had gone before Deborah to light the way. She left the manuscript in a nearly finished condition. It has now been brought to completion.
Why the neglect of Aveling for over a century? In virtue of his relationship with Eleanor, he enjoyed star billing as ‘son-in-law of Karl Marx’ and exerted a strong influence on Engels in the years after Marx’s death. But there lay the difficulty. Aveling simply did not live up to his billing. He was an effective organiser and popular platform speaker, but he was flighty in his allegiances and failed to build on his successes. He was distrusted by other leading figures in the socialist movement; and when Eleanor died, apparently a suicide, in 1898, he was seen by her friends in the movement as having been a faithless partner who drove her to extremity.
It is little wonder that historians have found him an awkward subject and have tended to steer clear of him. It is noteworthy, also, that in the reminiscences of contemporaries he makes only fleeting appearances, less as a figure of public note than as a strange visitor from the Victorian demi-monde, as one whose company was best avoided. And yet Aveling was a crucial presence in the British socialist movement in the decade and a half after Marx’s death. It is Deborah’s contention that his role was detrimental and that the failure of Marxism to thrive in Britain in these years, even as the Socialist Revival gained traction, was very largely a result of Aveling’s divisive and distracting influence.
Deborah also casts fresh light on the circumstances of Eleanor’s death, finding her inquest to have been conducted in a very unsatisfactory manner and the verdict it reached, despite its wide acceptance, to be unsafe and almost certainly wrong.
But there is much more to Aveling than his Marxist phase and his partnership with Eleanor. Above all he saw himself as a man of science. Before he became a Marxist and he had established a public presence in the secularist movement, where he was closely associated with Annie Besant prior to her conversion to Theosophy. Throughout his life he kept up a keen interest in the theatre and in the career of the great Shakespearean actor Henry Irving, then in his heyday. There were many strands in Aveling’s life, which tended to run in parallel without impinging on each other. He was in many respects a man of mystery even to those acquainted with him. Deborah brings him out of the shadows and into the full light of day.
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