The lives of Eleanor Marx (1855–98) and Clara Pater (1841–1910) substantially overlap, and both fall into that ambivalent category of their day, ‘advanced women’, a badge of honour or dishonour depending on the discourse. Both were women who participated in campaigns and other forms of public, civic life without the benefits of much formal education, both used skills in languages to develop their careers, and both lived unconventional sexual lives: Eleanor Marx lived with her (married) lover in a free union and Clara Pater, who also never married, moved in homosocial circles and has been represented as a lesbian. 1 Neither, while indisputably ‘advanced’, identified unreservedly with what is viewed/constructed as the mainstream of the women’s movement of their time, even if from our perspective both are conspicuous among the identifiable pioneers of change for women in the period. But it is their common familial relation with ‘men of letters’ or, as feminists would have it, their contemporary representation as ‘old mistresses’, 2 that prompted me initially to compare Clara Pater with Eleanor Marx and, for all the differences in milieus, to explore the parallels their careers invite when set against their respective lovers/fathers/brothers.