The End of the Dogberry DaysBy Jake Wilson
Diagnosed with 'hysteria' after the deaths of her elderly parents and medicated by her doctor, Eleanor Marx Aveling is sent to Brighton to rest. In the town she knows and loves for its tolerance of creativity and free-thinking she emerges from the shadows of the charismatic men in her life: her famous father Karl Marx; her ex-fiancé fiery Parisian duellist Lissagaray; and the man whose lies and womanising would eventually lead to tragedy, her partner Edward Aveling.
Frustrated by the many obstacles encountered while campaigning for equality and social reform, she has hopes of reaching the conscience of the nation through theatre. At 31 years of age, she is confident and outgoing both on the stage and and at political gatherings, but in her personal life things have always been very different.
At 17 she met Lissagaray, then twice her age. Disapproving, her parents sent her away to Brighton where she worked as a teacher. Ten years later her dying father finally blessed the relationship Eleanor had stubbornly maintained, but by then it was over and she broke off the engagement. Soon afterwards she met Edward through a mutual love of theatre and politics. She told him of her passion for the plight of the Irish and of her love of French politics. He told her of his French-Irish ancestry, the first of many lies.
Two years later Edward accompanies Eleanor to Brighton. He has begun to find her protracted state of mourning tiresome and his eyes are wandering. By chance they meet Lissagaray who is in England on business. At first Edward tries to gain the upper hand, but the the Frenchman shrugs it off hardly noticing. Having fought on the battlements at the Paris Commune he will not be dominated by a middle-class English playwright. Edward, always the opportunist, slips off to indulge in distractions of his own. Eleanor tells Lissagaray she knows of Edward's love of female company, but that she has complete trust in him. It is misplaced.
Eleanor noticeably relaxes and her need for tea and cigarettes diminishes. She is with a man whom she has no compulsion to impress, she feels no need to perform. Lissagaray is her past, her restless days of youth. Edward is her future, uncertain days of hard work. They talk of people, of failure and of hopes. On each point they seem to disagree, but they enjoy themselves.
Eleanor and Lissagaray promenade against a backdrop of Victorian sights. From the old aquarium clock tower they stroll to the electric railway, while around them small groups of people are engaged in amiable discussions. People walk by in company, breathing the air and talking to each other. Many have come here to escape the cloying confinements of smoke-heavy London, not seeking entertainment, rather looking for clarity and a place to think. Eleanor wonders at the changes since she was 17, both in the town and in herself.
As Lissagaray's militant fire begins to undo the good it has done her, Eleanor leads them to the house of a friend – George Holyoake. Utopian, political speaker and famous blasphemer, Holyoake's down to earth manner is at first a relief from the Frenchman's certainty. Soon though she is left feeling empty. Despite all her walking she has gone nowhere.
Fortified by tea and a cigarette she volunteers to provide entertainment by performing a soliloquy from a current West End favourite, the Greek tragedy 'Medea'. Before her father's death, Eleanor, family and friends had often read plays for him, calling themselves the 'Dogberry Club'. Eleanor admits to Holyoake he reminds her a little of her father. The soliloquy resonates with Eleanor's life in ways only the reader will grasp. Betrayed and alone, Medea is driven to extremes. Like many of her contemporaries, Eleanor sees the lives of working-class women reflected in the play and sees a political message within, but taking on the role for the first time grants her an epiphany. Her love of theatre has led to this moment but it has also held her back. To move on she must let go of her girlhood fantasies, stop trying to reconcile the differences between the theatre and the hard world, and choose a more selfless path to reach her goal. She faces the fact that those people who need help will never see her on stage. Theatre has been her indulgence, but it has not been her dream and this realisation empowers her to step from the shadows. Her father's legacy had been a weight but now, free to choose her own path, it is an asset.
The final panels summarise the next few years:
Lissagaray – A newspaper headline “Rochefort duels with Lissagaray! The duel arose out of electioneering squabbles...”. Beneath it the two men clash swords.
Edward – Beneath hotel bedsheets with a young woman.
And Eleanor – Trafalgar Square, November 13th 1887. 'Bloody Sunday'. She stands upon a lion at the base of Nelson's column, banners calling for freedom are draped across it. Police charge with batons into the crowd and Eleanor, at the heart of it, rallies the demonstrators to resist.
A final line and a quote:
1898, on discovering Edward had secretly married another woman, Eleanor Marx Aveling took her own life.
“But for this tragedy, I believe Eleanor would still be living and would be a greater women's leader than the greatest of contemporary women.” William Thorne, 1925.
This page was amended on 09/04/2014