Capital is a work of fiction, but it involves a number of real-life historical figures. Here are a few of them:
The Father of Communism, Karl Marx was born in the Kingdom of Prussia (now Germany) where he began to develop a revolutionary new philosophy. In 1848, he published The Communist Manifesto together with Friedrich Engels. The following year, he was forced to move to England, where he spent the rest of his life. During the 1850s, Marx worked as a journalist, writing as a British correspondent for the New York Tribune. Though he had published his philosophical writings in German, to most people in England he was simply an immigrant newspaperman of little importance. However, when he wasn’t writing articles for the Tribune he was doing research at the British Library and working on a massive writing project that eventually became his masterpiece, Das Kapital.
The eldest daughter of Karl Marx and his wife Jenny was also named Jenny, but to avoid confusion was often referred to as “Jennychen” instead. Born in 1844, she was a young teenager when the play takes place. She was raised for most of her life in London, but eventually married the French journalist Charles Longuit. Though Jenny later became a political activist like her father, the play envisions her as a typical teenager, far more concerned with the latest fads and fashions than with politics.
Horace Greeley does not appear in the play, but he was an important figure in Marx’s life during the 1850s. Greeley founded the New York Tribune in 1841 and eventually hired a number of foreign correspondents to bring back news from around the world. While much of the paper was considered to be of high quality, Greeley was not above dealing in scandal and sensationalism. During the break-up of the marriage of Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine, the New York Tribune published on its front page a private letter by Dickens along with a lengthy editorial condemning the novelist. No on knows for sure how Greeley obtained the letter, but the only correspondent he had working in London at the time was Karl Marx, so who knows….
The most famous novelist of his day, Charles Dickens wrote numerous books championing ordinary, working people. These included Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, Bleak House, and Hard Times. His marriage began happily enough, but he and his wife Catherine increasingly drifted apart. By the late 1850s he had become dissatisfied with his life to the point of becoming suicidal, reporting to his friends that writing was the only thing still keeping him alive. He and his wife Catherine never officially divorced, but they had a legal separation drawn up between them. The separation agreement provided handsomely for Catherine economically, though the two spouses never spoke to one another afterward.
The actress Ellen Ternan–affectionately known as “Nelly”–met Charles Dickens during an amateur performance of the play The Frozen Deep, written by Dickens’s friend Wilkie Collins (with considerable rewrites by Dickens himself). By the time they met, the novelist’s marriage had already deteriorated, but he was certainly fond of her and wanted to shield her from scandal. After the formal separation of Charles and Catherine Dickens, he spent a great deal of time with Ternan and ultimately left money to her in his will. Most Dickens scholars agree the two had a romantic relationship, though it is unclear how close they were at the time of the play.
While the Dickens’s marriage was reaching its end in a legally negotiated separation, Charles Dickens embarked on a pre-arranged speaking tour. The tour was managed by Arthur Smith. With rumors abound, Smith found that many of the people who were running venues for the tour had questions about the novelist and the publicly discussed break-up of his marriage. To ease concerns, Dickens wrote a letter presenting the break-up from his own point of view and instructed Smith to share it with anyone who might have questions about the matter. When that letter became public, however, Dickens was distraught, and referred to it as “the violated letter” for the rest of his life.