Famous Marriages Karl Marx and Jenny von Westphalen Part 1

About the marriage between Communist Manifesto author Karl Marx and Jenny von Westphalen, history of their courtship.


Karl Marx and Jenny von Westphalen

Courtship: Karl Marx fell in love with the girl next door.

Actually, it was not as conventional as that sounds. In fact, it was probably his first revolutionary act, because his lovely neighbor was Jenny von Westphalen, daughter of the privy councillor of Trier, Baron Ludwig von Westphalen, and a descendant of Prussian barons and Scottish earls. Karl, on the other hand, was the son of Heinrich (Hirschel before his conversion to Protestantism) Marx, descendant of a long line of Jewish rabbis.

Neither Karl nor Jenny was an ordinary, teenager. Green-eyed, auburn-haired Jenny was the acknowledged belle of Trier, and she could (when occasion demanded) play the role to perfection. But more often she was serious, introspective, broodingly romantic. Her passion was poetry; her dream, to inspire a young poet to sublimity. She was devoted to her father, to her younger brother, Edgar, who shared the same school bench with Karl at the gymnasium, and to Sophie, Karl's older sister, with whom she exchanged books, as well as confidences on the nature of life, poetry, and mankind.

Karl, for his part, grew up not so much Jenny's brother's friend as her father's. He was the son Von Westphalen would have wished to have himself--avidly intelligent, an enthusiastic listener in the course of the long walks they shared in the environs of Trier. They must have looked a strange pair--the still handsome, erect old baron and the dark-skinned schoolboy with his wild eyes and mop of black curls. With Karl the baron discoursed on philosophy and history and recited at length from Shakespeare and from Homer in the original.

Unlike his mentor, young Karl was a bit of a literary dilettante. He loved the sensation of plunging into a sea of books (how many he ever finished reading was another matter). Certainly he absorbed enough to elicit the admiration of Jenny and Sophie; the more he enlarged his vocabulary and the stock of literary allusions he used in his conversation, the more they hung on his words. Poetry, too, he found to be enormously effective. Poetry was all the fashion; it fairly pervaded Germany at that time. Heinrich Heine of Dusseldorf, also a Jew, was tremendously popular; Karl imagined himself, like Heine, conquering the world as a poet. The baron, to whom Karl first showed his verses, was not overly impressed, but Jenny (Sophie reported) would "burst into tears of joy and melancholy" upon reading them.

Just when Karl began to think of Jenny other than as his friend's sister and his sister's friend is uncertain; what is known is that by the time he graduated from the gymnasium, he and Jenny had entered into a secret agreement, known only to Sophie. By the following summer it had been confided to Karl's father as well, but Jenny's family was another matter. Liberal and enlightened though the baron may have been, and churchgoing Christians though the Marxes may have thought themselves, an invisible barrier remained. Besides, 22-year-old Jenny was four years older than Karl and of marriageable age, while Karl at 18 was only beginning his studies at the university.

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