In Sarah Waters’s novel Tipping the Velvet (1998), set in the 1880s, there is a scene that has significant implications both for the plot of the novel and for the subjects of this essay. The protagonist, Nan King, sits with her newly-found socialist friends Florence and Ralph Banner discussing their private fantasies of an idealized future, a paradise. As Florence muses she turns away from the others and looks at a picture that has intrigued Nan for some time:

I turned, to see what it was she was looking at: it was the family portrait, and I guessed she must be looking at her mother. But in the corner of the frame, of course, there was the smaller picture, of the grave-looking woman with the very heavy brows. I had never learned who she was, after all. Now I said to Ralph: ‘Who is that girl, in the little photo? She don’t half need a hairbrush.’

He looked at me, but did not answer. It was Florence who spoke. ‘That’s Eleanor Marx,’ she said, with a kind of quiver.

‘Eleanor Marks? Have I met her? Is she that cousin of yours, who works at the poulterers?’ … Ralph put down his fork. ‘Eleanor Marx,’ he said, ‘is a writer and a speaker and a very great socialist … ’ 1

This is a good, albeit succinct, definition of Marx and it answers Nan’s implied question – who on earth is she? The question does not need to be put so starkly, but the preoccupation of the passage (the relation between fame and anonymity, the question of social exclusion – in this instance Nan’s) is telling. In this essay I shall ask the same question about two women: one is Marx herself, the other is her contemporary, the American radical Victoria Woodhull.