Thursday, 22 November 2012

Helen Macfarlane - a woman with a past

In 1850 a shooting star crossed the skies of Revolutionary Europe - Helen Macfarlane. A radical journalist hanging out with Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in Soho, the star columnist of Chartist newspaper The Red Republican who wrote under the pen-name Howard Morton, the first translator of the Communist Manifesto into English.

Karl Marx admiringly said of her that she was the only one on the paper who had any original ideas. But when the jealous Scottish wife of her editor turned on her and mortally insulted her - Helen walked out, never to be seen by history again. No-one knew where she came from and no-one knew where she went to.

David Black and Louise Yeoman have changed that. At first working independently and then together, they found that Helen came from Barrhead just outside Paisley. They found her family's business and Scottish background - and the personal catastrophe that may have set her on the road to radicalism.

Helped by South African historian Shelagh Spencer, they traced Helen's Scottish family to South Africa. Helen married a refugee from the revolutions - Frederick Proust and then she pitched up in Cape Town, minus her husband who jumped ship, but with a short-lived baby named like a manifesto - poor wee Consuela Pauline Roland Proust - named after a feminist character in a novel and a radical French feminist political prisoner.

Within a few days of the traumatic voyage the baby died. Helen, broken-hearted and maybe out of place in the young colony couldn't stay there. What became of her? A radio programme for BBC Scotland reveals her utterly surprising fate. You'll never guess where she ended up.

Monday 26 November 2012 14.05 pm
Presented by Susan Morrison

See also David Black's Helen Macfarlane: A Feminist, Revolutionary Journalist, and Philosopher in Mid 19th Century England

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