Parenting the Enemy

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 | ,

Scene: 9 Grafton Terrace, Kentish Town, London. 1860.

A man with the beard of a biblical prophet sits writing at a desk under a cloud of pipe smoke. This is Karl Marx. Two four-year-old girls walk in. The first has dark hair and the same nose as the man. This is his daughter, Eleanor (affectionately known as "Tussy"). The second girl is lovely with blond curls. This is Tussy's new friend, Dollie Catnatch.

Tussy. Shall we take the phaeton to Schönbrunn this afternoon, your royal highness? I should think a picnic near the Ruin of Carthage might cure what remains of the diphtheria you have been contending with these many weeks.

Dollie. You're such a silly goose, Princess Maria. Surely the captain of the royal guard would never allow just the two of us to escape in the phaeton unnoticed. Alas, it will take a good hour for the royal coach to be ready. Those coachmen can be so lazy. They deserve a good thrashing.

The man looks up from his writing and stares curiously over at the two girls.

Tussy. I suppose that means we are stuck here at the Hofburg. I'm bored. Are they hanging any anarchists today?

Dollie. Not that I am aware of, but my room in the Neue Berg has an excellent view of the gallows.

Marx. Excuse me, young misses, what exactly are you playing today?

Tussy. Why father, we are playing princesses, of course!

Marx. Princesses?

Tussy. Dollie here is Gisela Louise Marie, Princess Imperial and Archduchess of Austria, the Princess of Hungary and Bohemia, and the Princess of Bavaria. I, of course, am her cousin Maria Theresa Anna of Austria-Teschen, daughter of Princess Hildegard of Bavaria.

Marx [aside] What is this madness?

Dollie. We have decided we are bored with our many palaces and are eager for adventure. Perhaps we will whip those Turks my dragoons captured at the siege of Sevastopol or visit an enchantress in Klosterneuburg to help us find that troupe of laboring dwarfs who love to whistle whilst they work.

Marx. Tussy, who is this tiny person speaking to me?

Tussy. Father, this my friend, Dollie Catnatch.

Marx. Is she related to James Catnatch, publisher of that penny dreadful Molls of the Monarchs?

Dollie. Why, he's my father! Here's his latest publication, sir. It's called Catnatch's Lives of the Princesses, A Ha'Penny Book for Girls.

Marx. What is this pap? [snatching it, reading aloud] "The mud on Prince Albert's brogues: what does his cobbler know?"; "Win over your own Prince Charming in five easy steps"; "Victoria says Spitalfields satin and Honiton lace are so 1840." And what in blazes is this ink color?

Dollie. It's called fuchsia. My father invented it.

Marx. I'm not sure I approve of the amount of stocking this princess on the cover is showing.

Tussy. Come on, Dollie. Let's play "The Czarina's Wardrobe."

Marx. Can't you two girls play something respectable, like "Fenians Revolt!" or "The Conditions in Manchester's Textile Mills"?

Tussy. Sorry, Papa, but princesses are beautiful and have lovely clothing. Textile mill workers and the Irish are dirty and ugly.

Marx. Oy, this is why Engels never had children.

Scene 2. The Marx bedroom, that same evening

Karl and his wife, Jenny, sit in their bedclothes. Karl has his arms folded across his chest.

Marx. You should have seen the frock she was wearing today. It was
pink merino trimmed with white swan's down. Next she'll be asking for an ermine coat.

Jenny. Yesterday she begged me to let her two take of my finest silver spoons down to the smithy to forge a crude tiara.

Marx. Doesn't she understand that even a constitutional monarchy is an anachronism, a tool used to perpetuate the slavery of women and workers, a reserve weapon of reaction and a distraction of pomp and glitter? Bah!

Jenny. Maybe you could write a pamphlet about a beautiful young girl who inspires The Revolution after working long hours in an oyster-shucking factory. You could call it "Proletarian Princess."

Marx. I would have to illustrate her in a fuchsia petticoat just to get her attention. Do you know the price of color ink! I'm afraid this Catnatch girl is a bad influence. Don't any of our revolutionary friends from the June Days Uprising have a daughter her age?

Jenny. Now Karl, they're only girls. Once you were a boy, even if it was a very long time ago. Surely even Karl Marx once enjoyed playing Prince Theseus and the Minotaur or Prince Siegfried bathed on the blood of the dragon?

Marx. When I was her age I was too busy fighting rats in the Prussian streets for crumbs to feed my six brothers and sisters.

Jenny. Wasn't your father a lawyer?

Marx. Not a very good one.

Jenny. Well, someday I'm sure she'll come to understand your feelings Karl. For now, let's just be glad she doesn't need to fight the rats for crumbs. We've given her a safe home here in London and enough bread on the table that she can feel like a princess.

Marx. Oh, how bourgeois.