Havelock Ellis

Eleanor Marx


Written: Modern Monthly, Volume 9, 1935.

I had planned to do the English edition of some of Ibsen's social plays, to be published in a cheap popular series, and as Ibsen was a congenial subject for her, I asked Eleanor to translate An Enemy of Society. The volume appeared in 1888. Her Socialist activities were not yet absorbing, and she had already done literary work, notably her translation of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, not indeed a faultless piece of work but for many years the only version of that masterpiece available for English readers; In August of the same year I planned a second Ibsen volume and asked for her co-operation. "I think it would be splendid," she wrote, "I should love to work at that." Nearly all the letters of Eleanor's I have preserved are concerned with literary work and often with schemes in which she could co-operate. Although I was in touch with many of the active Socialist leaders at that time, I was not associated with any movement, being taken up by my medical studies and the literary avocations which more and more absorbed my spare time. Eleanor, who was also keenly interested in literary matters, seems to have felt no impulse to draw me into the questions in which she was still more closely concerned.

In December of 1884 she had written to me from Great Russell Street: "On Jan. 15 evening we are going to have a reading here of 'Nora' [at that time the usual title in England of The Dolls' House]. I feel I must do something to make people understand our Ibsen a little more than they do, and I know by experience that a play read to them often affects people more than when read by themselves. This is especially the case with so essentially a dramatic writer as Ibsen. We want to have only people who we know do love and understand Ibsen already, or those who will love and understand him, and who in turn will go on preaching him to others. I still half hope Olive will come--she would like to--and I very much hope you will come. William Morris and his daughter will be here, and just a few people worth reading 'Nora' to. We both hope to see you here on the 15th. Yours very sincerely, Eleanor Marx Aveling." She mentions in a postscript, a previous attempt to invite me to spend an evening at their flat, but addressed by mistake to Guy's Hospital, and not to my Hospital, St. Thomas'. A little later came the card with the names of readers of the parts. Aveling as Helmer, Eleanor as Nora, Bernard Shaw as Krogstadt, and so on. Still later, the day before the reading, came another letter. "Olive has told you of my plan to have someone read or say a few introductory words on "Nora" tomorrow evening, and she has told me that since she can't come up and is not well enough to write she has asked you to do this little 'introduction' for her. I do hope you will. I have just written to Olive I would rather she could have done it, but if the right woman can't, then we must have the right man. I know you will say just what one wants said. We must make people know Ibsen. It is, it seems to me, a real duty to spread such great teachings as his and my little effort is just a poor beginning. I long to do more, but to make a few people the better by knowing Ibsen is something. I hope you will not mind my asking you to do this. see though I have met you so little I seem to know you very, very well. There are some people one gets to know at once--I mean to know in the essentials--and others that one is a stranger to after a life-time passed together--I really count on you for tomorrow." It is certain, however, that I was not present at the reading, and in any case, I should not, then or later, have agreed to speak or read in public.......

The next letter I have preserved is dated four months later [July 1887] just before the Avelings were leaving for New York, and just after the publication of the Ibsen volume I had edited with Eleanor's translation in it of An Enemy of Society: "It is too vexing about that letter! That is about the sixth letter to or from us that has gone wrong in about as many months. Only on Saturday we sent a most important, letter to Stepniak, and when we saw Stepniak yesterday the letter had not then arrived--I have sent the address to Newcastle and have wired to you, or rather Edward will wire if he doesn't see you at the Museum.

I have read your Introduction [to the Ibsen volume and later included in my New Spirit] and I like it. It is simple and to the point. But I am sorry 'Nora' was not included in the volume. It should have been, I think in any first volume of Ibsen.

"When we were at Minneapolis one morning we were startled by the appearance at our hotel of Kristofer Janson. Of course you know his books, and that he, too is one of the 'new school'. He spoke most sympathetically of our Socialist work, and he also told us Ibsen was a Socialist. To hear and see Janson talk of Ibsen was delightful. Janson is a great big fellow over six feet and broad in proportion, and he has the cleverest, honestest blue eyes I have ever seen. And the whole face lit up when he spoke of Ibsen. He seemed to positively worship his genius and to love the man.