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August 04 , 2007

Wives of Fame

Mary Livingstone, Jenny Marx and Emma Darwin


Here are portraits of three very different Victorian women, all of whom married men of exceptional talent, energy and genius. To be the wife of such frenetic, explosive characters as David Livingstone, Karl Marx or Charles Darwin, especially at this period in history, demanded rare qualities. Yet the late twentieth-century view of these women is perhaps best summed up in the frequently heard comment: 'I didn't know he had a wife.'

The mid-nineteenth century was a time of unprecedented movement and upheaval. The revolutions of 1848 set Europe ablaze and sent swarms of political dissidents to seek freedom outside their homelands. Britain and her Empire were ruled by a young Queen Victoria, inspired by her enterprising, vigorous consort, Albert; it was a climate in which invention and discovery were encouraged. Men were creating new frontiers, both geographically and intellectually, and where they went their wives and families accompanied them.

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