When we study the biographies of creative personalities, whether scientists or artists, poets or philosophers, we become aware that because of their non-traditional lifestyle and their dedication to their creativity, their spouses pay a heavy emotional and social price for loving them. The situation becomes more profound when these personalities become reformers and revolutionaries, as a number of financial, legal and political factors complicate the situation. Spouses must make ongoing sacrifices to maintain a marital relationship.

Karl Marx was no exception. Jenny, his teenage sweetheart, who later became his wife and the mother of his children, suffered in many ways to fulfill the commitment she had made to him in her youth. She had no idea what hardships she would face living with and loving a revolutionary, the creator of Das Kapital, and the prophet of Communism.

          When we review Jenny’s intimate relationship with Karl Marx we become aware of the struggles.


When Jenny and Karl Marx fell in love he was eighteen and she was twenty-two. They had to wait for seven years before they could get married and live together.  Jenny kept her love affair a secret from her family, fearing they would disapprove of Marx who was not of their social status. Additionally, Marx faced educational and financial struggles before he could marry and provide for a family.

          During those seven years Marx sent Jenny a number of gifts, love poems and letters sharing his strong feelings for her. He ended one letter, “To my dear, eternally loved Jenny von Westphalen, Berlin, 1836, at the end of autumn”. (p 17) Jenny would respond to his letters with love mixed with anxiety and the fear of an unpredictable future. She wrote, “That I am not in a condition to return your youthful romantic love, I knew from the very beginning and felt deeply even before it was explained to me so coldly, cleverly and rationally. Oh, Karl, my distress lies precisely in the fact that your beautiful, touching passionate love, your indescribably beautiful descriptions of it, the enrapturing images, conjured up by your imagination, that would fill any other girl with ineffable delight, only serve to make me anxious and often uncertain.” (p 21)


Karl Marx, in spite of his pre-occupation with money and finances and efforts to create a philosophy of a political economy for the working class, had no practical sense of managing money.  He never had a steady job, a stable income or a secure bank balance. His biographer David McLellan wrote, “With the suppression of the Rheinsche Zeitung, Marx found himself once again an unemployed intellectual. His immediate preoccupations were to find a secure job and get married.” (p 59) Even after his marriage his financially uncertain and economically unstable life continued. Such a situation created repeated crises for Jenny who was responsible for paying the bills and looking after the children. Shouldering all the responsibility but with no financial authority, she had to tolerate Marx’s financially irresponsible behaviour.  Often there was no money for food for the children or they had to pawn their clothes and furniture to pay the rent. Such financial hardships created much stress for Jenny who had grown up in a well to do family and had never to worry about day-to-day expenses. On a number of occasions Marx’s mother and friends helped him financially.

          At one point Marx wrote, “My wife is ill, little Jenny is ill, Lenchen has a sort of nervous fever. I have no money for medicine.” He could not even work as a journalist—he had to read newspapers to write his columns and on one typical occasion noted, “I did not write any articles for Dana, because I did not have the penny to go and get newspapers.” (p 242)


Alongside emotional and financial struggles Jenny had to endure the pain of exile as Marx was unwelcome in his country of residence whether Germany or France because of his political beliefs and journalistic activities, and was forced to move to Brussels or England for his safety. Each time Jenny followed him. McLellan called his life “a long and sleepless night of exile.” (p 231)

Alongside the pain of exile Jenny had to endure the distress of witnessing the arrest of her husband by the police in Brussels. Marx narrated the story in these words: “I was occupied in preparing my departure when a police commissioner accompanied by ten civil guards penetrated into my home, searched the whole house and finally arrested me on the pretext of having no papers….” (p178) On one occasion Jenny was picked up and hustled off to the police station. Marx wrote,”…On the pretext of vagabondage my wife was taken to the prison of the Town Hall and locked in a dark room with lost women.” (p178). The harassment occurred because government authorities believed that through his writings, Karl Marx was inciting people towards revolt and revolution.  McLellan wrote, “…Wilhelm Wolff was arrested and a list of foreigners to be deported was drawn up, with Marx’s name at the top.”


Marx possessed an organized mind but a disorganized and disorderly daily routine, like many creative personalities who do not pay any attention to time or cleanliness. Jenny had to put up with his strange behaviours and routines. A Prussian government spy, describing Marx to a judge, noted that “in private life he is an extremely disorderly cynical human being, and a bad host. He leads a real gypsy existence. Washing, grooming and changing his linen are things he does rarely, and he is often drunk. Though he is often idle for days on end, he will work day and night with tireless endurance when he has a great deal of work to do. He has no fixed times to sleep and wake up. He often stays up all night, and then lies down fully clothed on the sofa at midday and sleeps till evening untroubled by the whole world coming and going through the room.”


Jenny, who had tolerated many emotional, social and political hardships, was heartbroken when she discovered that Karl Marx had had an affair with a woman far younger than she and had made her pregnant. She wrote in her autobiography, “In the early summer of 1851, an event occurred that I do not wish to relate here in detail, although it greatly contributed to an increase in our worries, both personal and otherwise…” (p 249) Marx’s biographer McLellan states, “…this event was the birth of Marx’s illegitimate son Frederich—the mother was Helene Demuth, 27 years old, and while no beauty, she was nice looking with rather pleasing features. She had no lack of admirers…” To cover up the whole episode and avoid scandal, Karl Marx’s friend Frederick Engels, whom Jenny resented because of his womanizing, volunteered to accept legal paternity of the child.

          The tragedy was that Jenny could not even discuss the matter with friends and relatives as she was so embarrassed by her husband’s behaviour. She was angry, frustrated and depressed but as with many other pains of her intimate life with him, she endured that one in silence.


There were many times in Jenny and Marx’s life that they felt depressed and desperate. In 1852 Marx wrote, “When I see the sufferings of my wife and my own powerlessness I could rush into the devil’s place…” and later wrote, “I became wild from time to time that there is no end to the muck.” Jenny was equally troubled by the chronic state of stress in which they lived. She wrote, “I sit here and almost weep my eyes out and can find no help. My head is disintegrating. For a week I have kept my strength up and I can no more…” (p 250)


In spite of all the hardships Jenny still loved her husband and dedicated her life to him. She was not only his friend and lover but also the mother of his children. Although at times she felt depressed and desperate, she recovered from those episodes and carried on with her life. Marx had not realized how difficult it would be to keep a balance between his political and family lives but he tried his best to be a dedicated father and husband. His hardships were more political, trying to find a place in the pages of history, while Jenny’s hardships were because of her passionate relationship with a revolutionary, trying desperately to find some room in his heart. She knew that he loved her in his bizarre, strange and mysterious way. They exchanged love letters all their lives. In 1856 he wrote in his letter,

“Dear Heart,

Your letter delighted me very much. You need never be embarrassed to tell me everything. If you, poor darling, have to go through the bitter reality, it is no more than reasonable than I should at least share the suffering in spirit? …where can I find another face in which every trait, even every wrinkle brings back the greatest and sweetest memories of my life. Even my infinite sorrows, my irreplaceable losses I can read on your sweet countenance, and I kiss my sorrows away when I kiss your sweet face. “Buried in your arms, awoken by your kisses—that is, in your arms and by your kisses…” (p 251)

It was letters like this that kept Jenny hoping for better days. In spite of her pains and struggles she loved him dearly till the end of her life. Jenny died in 1881 at the age of 67 being married to Karl Marx for 38 years. Marx did not live very long after that as he felt lost without her and died in 1883 at the age of 65.


McLellan David….Karl Marx…A Biography….

Palgrave MacMillan Publishers New York USA 2006