But Jenny, once the horrific reality of marriage to a stateless, workless revolutionary had dawned on her, would willingly have settled for a bourgeois existence, however petty. From the beginning of 1848 and for at least the next ten years, her life was a nightmare. On 3 March 1848 a Belgian expulsion order was issued against Marx and he was taken to prison; Jenny spent the night in a cell too, with a crowd of prostitutes; the next day the family was taken under police escort to the frontier. Much of the next year Marx was on the run or on trial. By June 1849 he was destitute. Next month he confessed to a friend: ‘already the last piece of jewellery belonging to my wife has found its way to the pawnshop.’ He kept up his own spirits by an absurd, perennial revolutionary optimism, writing to Engels: ‘In spite of everything a colossal outbreak of the revolutionary volcano was never more imminent. Details later.’ But for her there was no such consolation, and she was pregnant. They found safety in England, but degradation too.
She now had three children, Jenny, Laura and Edgar, and gave birth to a fourth, Guy or Guido, in November 1849. Five months later they were evicted from their rooms in Chelsea for nonpayment of rent, being turned out onto the pavement before (wrote Jenny) ‘the entire mob of Chelsea’. Their beds were sold to pay the butcher, milkman, chemist and baker. They found refuge in a squalid German boardinghouse in Leicester Square and there, that winter, the baby Guido died. Jenny left a despairing account of these days, from which her spirits, and her affection for Marx, never really recovered. On 24 May 1850 the British Ambassador in Berlin, the Earl of Westmoreland, was given a copy of a report by a clever Prussian police spy describing in great detail the activities of the German revolutionaries centred around Marx. Nothing more clearly conveys what Jenny had to put up with: [Marx] leads the existence of a Bohemian intellectual. Washing, grooming and changing his linen are things he does rarely, and he is often drunk. Though he is frequently idle for days on end, he will work day and night with tireless endurance when he has much work to do. He has no fixed time for going to sleep or waking up. He often stays up all night and then lies down fully clothed on the sofa at midday, and sleeps till evening, untroubled by the whole world coming and going through their room [there were only two altogether]….
There is not one clean and solid piece of furniture. Everything is broken, tattered and torn, with half an inch of dust over everything and the greatest disorder everywhere. In the middle of the [living room] there is a large, old-fashioned table covered with oilcloth and on it lie manuscripts, books and newspapers, as well as the children’s toys, rags and tatters of his wife’s sewing basket, several cups with chipped rims, knives, forks, lamps, an inkpot, tumblers, Dutch clay pipes, tobacco, ash…a junk-shop owner would be ashamed to give away such a remarkable collection of odds and ends. When you enter Marx’s room smoke and tobacco fumes make your eyes water… Everything is dirty and covered with dust, so that to sit down becomes a hazardous business. Here is a chair with three legs. On another chair the children are playing at cooking. This chair happens to have four legs. This is the one that is offered to the visitor, but the children’s cooking has not been wiped away and if you sit down you risk a pair of trousers.