Tang of Blood

Christian Lorentzen

How should a biographer describe the subject’s birth? A simple way is to note the time and place, the state of the family and any complications. In Eleanor Marx: A Life (Bloomsbury, £25), Rachel Holmes tries for something more vivid; ‘was born’ won’t do. She uses the present tense, and an active verb: ‘Eleanor Marx tumbles prematurely into the world in London at the moment before dawn on Tuesday 16 January 1855.’ Where is her father? ‘Puffing anxiously on a cigar in the corner of the overcrowded room at 28 Dean Street is Europe’s greatest political scientist. Karl and Jenny Marx have another child.’ Holmes is fond of the one-line paragraph:

They’d hoped for a boy. It’s a girl.

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