The two Irish wives of Friedrich Engels

Socialist History - ISSN 0969-4331
Volume 2021 Number 60

The two Irish wives of Friedrich Engels
Aidan Beatty pages 5-22


Friedrich Engels maintained close relations with two Irish women; MaryBurns (ca. 1822-1863), Engels’ common law wife, and then her sister Lydia‘Lizzie’ Burns (1827-1878), who formally married Engels just before her death. The history of women, like those of the working classes and racial minorities, is always bedevilled by what E.P. Thompson called ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’, in which illiterate peoples are erased from the historical record. Yet, it is rare to find illiterate women so close(and seemingly making a major determining impact) on the lives of literate men. Drawing on Marx and Engels’ sprawling correspondence, as well as other contemporary records, this paper seeks to uncover how much we can ever truly know about these two women? How much of a role did they actually play in Engels’ political and literary work? And how much have their real lives been covered up with a Marxist romanticising of two proletarian, illiterate factory workers?

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To cite this article
Aidan Beatty (2021) The two Irish wives of Friedrich Engels, Socialist History, 2021(60), 5-22

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