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Michael Heinrich on Jenny Marx

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

How important was Jenny for the work of Karl Marx?

Jenny was important in many respects for Marx. She was his lifelong partner and I think it is correct when some authors say that Marx couldn’t become Marx without Jenny.

Would Marx have written Capital without Jenny?

[Heinrich laughs] It’s a very difficult question. What might have happened, nobody knows. In any case, we can say that she was the most important person in his life. When she died in 1881, I think this was such a big blow for him that it (at least) contributed to his early death.

What about the conflicts and tensions in their relationship?

Even in bad conditions he could not leave his writing. He had in mind to write big, influential works and the family had no money to fulfill their basic needs. Jenny never had doubts that Karl had to write his works and that these works were very important.

Jenny also published reviews of theatre plays…

She did this for German Newspapers. Here, we have to be a little bit cautious. It sounds as if the man is the serious scientist, and the woman is occupied with some nice things like literature or theatrical plays. For Marx, also as a scientist, literature played a crucial role. You can see this when you read Capital. There are a lot of quotations from Shakespeare and Greek authors like Aeschylus. This was not just so that Marx could prove how educated he was. All of these quotations have a certain function ­– they are important. Insofar, the occupation with literature or theatre plays was not just a hobby for educated people – it was much more. It was a certain source to learn about society and about the changing of society. And it also constituted (for Jenny) a certain companionship with Karl and with the children. The family discussed the literature they read and even organized, sometimes at the weekend, to play a part of a Shakespeare play with different roles. It was as source of great joy.

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