Well done to Tom, Y13, for his success in the 16-19 Critical category - highly commended for his work on 'The True Story of Eleanor Marx in Ten Parts' by Tara Bergin.
Please see below for Tom’s entry:
The True Story of Eleanor Marx in Ten Parts
The True Story of Eleanor Marx in Ten Parts is a refreshingly undramatic and unsentimental account of the subject matter. It is remarkably brief, made formal by its format of numbered parts.
The opening line of the poem defines Marx as ‘Eleanor of the eight-hour day’. In this line there is a strange contrast between the ostentatious, old-fashioned phrasing and the reference to an unglamorous working day. This phrasing is repeated for ‘Edward of the two faces’, making the two sound like opponents from Old English legend, while grounding them in reality with the reference to an ‘eight hour day’.
Much of the poem is occupied with the distinction between appearance and reality, perhaps relating the events Edward’s dishonesty in his affair. Marx dies in a white dress that appears to be a ‘bridal dress’, but is really from her childhood; she appears ‘as if asleep’ but has ‘strangely purple cheeks’ and though her cremation appears to be a rising phoenix, she only transforms into an urn full of ashes.
There is also a focus on negative phrasing, focusing on what is not true but could have been. ‘The Phoenix, / [...] / Doesn’t Rise’, ‘Edward doesn’t claim her’, ‘And she crushes nothing’. Again, by contrasting reality against what could have happened, Bergin draws attention to the unclimactic, undramatic nature of the death. She draws pictures of a ‘woman who knew the power of the proletariat’ compressed into ‘ashes’.
Aside from this mundanity, the speaker is forceful in their condemnation of ‘Edward of the two faces’, who they call ‘feeble’, who cannot correctly state his wife’s age and whose infidelity is criticised with irony in the line ‘Because now he has a real wife’. The criticisms of Edward suggest that the poem is an elegy to Marx, not just a matter-of-fact recollection of events - they suggest a definite sympathy, claiming that Marx bit the apple ‘under duress’ (from Edward).
The last part of the poem is the most unexpected: ‘Nearly all of this is true’, a line that almost chastises the reader for being too trusting of the speaker. It emphasises that the content of the poem is speculation, an imaginative interpretation of real events rather than a factual account. This conforms to the ongoing theme of distorted truth.
I find The True Story of Eleanor Marx in Ten Parts interesting because its tone is incongruent with its themes. While many poems that memorialise the dead are either reverent or condemning, Eleanor simply recounts past events with none of the sensational tone of its counterparts.