Charlotte Haldane

Charlotte Haldane

Charlotte Franken, the daughter of Jewish immigrants, was born in London on 27th April 1894. Her father, Joseph Franken, was a fur dealer from Germany. In 1906 the family moved to Belgium when Franken opened a branch of his business in Antwerp.

Charlotte was planning to attend Bedford College for Women to study languages when her father's business suffered a financial collapse. Instead she enrolled in a shorthand and typing course at a business school in London. This led to work as a secretary at a concert agency.

On the outbreak of the First World War Charlotte's father was interned as an enemy alien. He was eventually released and in February 1915 was allowed to emigrate with his wife to the United States.

Charlotte had a strong desire to become a writer and in October 1916 had her story, Retaliation: A Revenge by Hypnotic Suggestion, published in the Bystander magazine. On 30th July 1918, Charlotte married Jack Burghes, and soon afterwards gave birth to a son, Ronnie Burghes.

In 1920 Charlotte began working as a freelance journalist for the Daily Express until being given a full-time post by Lord Beaverbrook. Charlotte contributed several articles on the role of women. A feminist, Charlotte was particularly critical of women politicians such as Nancy Astor and Margaret Winteringham, who she believed had a disappointing record in the House of Commons.

In 1923 Charlotte interviewed Vera Terrington, the Liberal Party candidate for Wycombe. In the article that appeared in the Daily Express Terrington was quoted as saying: "If I am elected to Westminster I intend to wear my best clothes. I shall put on my ospreys and my fur coat and my pearls. Everyone here knows I live in a large house and keep men servants, and can afford a motorcar and a fur coat. Every woman would do the same if she could. It is sheer hypocrisy to pretend in public life that you have no nice things and not to display them in your home."

Terrington took objection to the way the story was presented in the newspaper. She particularly disliked the headline 'Aim If Elected - Furs and Pearls'. The Daily Express was sued by Terrington, who claimed that the article written by Charlotte made her look "vain, frivolous, and an extravagant woman". The judge ruled that Lady Terrington had not suffered "a farthings worth of damage" and she lost her case.

Charlotte also wrote for the political magazine Time and Tide. The journal's owner, Margaret Haig Thomas, had on the death of her father, David Alfred Thomas, attempted to take her seat in the House of Lords as Viscountess Rhondda, but was kept out after extensive legal proceedings. Charlotte joined in her campaign and in the Daily Express wrote that women should be represented in both houses of parliament.

In 1924 Charlotte interviewed the scientist John Haldane and best selling author of Daedalus, Or Science and The Future. They soon became close friends and in October 1925 Charlotte set up the Science News Service, an agency syndicating articles by them on the latest scientific discoveries. These articles appeared in national newspapers and helped to educate people about modern science.

In order to obtain a divorce from her husband, Charlotte arranged with a private detective to spend the night with John Haldane at the Adelphi Hotel in London. On 20th October 1925 Jack Burghes successfully obtained a divorce on the grounds of adultery. The case received national publicity and as a result Haldane was dismissed from Cambridge University for "gross immorality". The couple were married on 11th May 1926.

After her marriage to John Haldane Charlotte continued to write for the Daily Express and the New Statesman. She also wrote books about women's issues such as Motherhood and Its Enemies and the novels Man's World (1926), Brother to Bert (1930), I Bring Not Peace (1932), Youth Is A Crime (1934) and Melusine (1936).

Charlotte was a member of the Labour Party and like her husband was heavily involved in left-wing politics. She was particularly concerned about the emergence of fascism in Germany and Italy. In 1933 she travelled to Spain where she gave her support to the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the Communist Party (PCE) in the struggle with the Falange Española and other extreme right-wing parties.

On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Charlotte supported the Popular Front government and was highly critical of the British government's non-intervention policy. Charlotte and her husband both joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and were active in raising men and money for the International Brigades. Her 16 year old son, Ronnie Burghes, also joined. She later wrote: " You cannot have your propaganda and deny to your first, most loyal convert, the right to accept and act upon it. He was only doing what, had I been his age and sex, I would myself have done."

Haldane was involved in organizing the system for the vetting and transportation of the British volunteers from Paris to Spain. She later wrote about these volunteers: "The vast majority were men of splendid types, honest and brave, who in greater or lesser degree were conscious of being engaged in a crusade to rescue democracy from the grip of Fascism. They were not all Communists nor members of their respective parties, although the leadership was always entrusted to Party members, most of whom set a high example in discipline and devotion to the rest. To them, and to all the poorly paid workers in the organisation, the material reward was trivial."

In May 1937 Haldane joined with Duchess of Atholl, Eleanor Rathbone, Ellen Wilkinson and J. B. Priestley to establish the Dependents Aid Committee, an organization which raised money for the families of men who were members of the British Battalion in Spain.

Ronnie Haldane was badly injured at Jarama and in August 1937 was forced to return to England. Later that year Charlotte visited Spain with Paul Robeson and Eslanda Goode and reported on the war for the Daily Worker.

After attending the World Congress Against Fascism in France in May 1938, Haldane was sent by the Daily Herald to report on the Communist International being held in China. In February 1939 Haldane was appointed editor of Woman Today, a journal for left-wing feminists. She also established the Women's Committee for Peace and Democracy.

On the outbreak of the Second World War Charlotte attempted to become a front-line war reporter. At that time there were no women war correspondents in Britain and she was turned down by the Daily Herald and the Daily Express. In August 1941 the Daily Sketch decided to employ her as a war reporter in the Soviet Union. Charlotte was shocked at the level of censorship taking place under Joseph Stalin. For example, Haldane discovered that the Russian people had not been told that England was being bombed by the Luftwaffe.

Disillusioned by events in the Soviet Union, Charlotte left the Communist Party of Great Britain when she returned to London in November 1941. She later wrote that membership of the party and affected her journalism: "I had lied, cheated, acted under false pretenses, obeyed and carried out orders from on high, denied all my inner ethical tenets and spiritual codes for the good of the cause, convincing myself that the end justified the means." Charlotte wrote about her experiences in the USSR in her book Russian Newsreel (1941).

In 1942 Charlotte joined George Orwell at the Eastern Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and recorded eight programes about Russia and China. She also contributed articles for the Daily Herald, the Evening Standard and the Tribune.

During the Second World War Charlotte wrote a play, Justice Is Deaf. Set in the near future, the story involves a Communist takeover of Britain. The BBC refused to broadcast it for political reasons during the war as it was considered to be anti-Soviet. When it eventually appeared in 1950 it was condemned by the Daily Worker. The newspaper reported that "most Communists listened to the play with roars of laughter, but it is not a laughing matter, because, crude though this stuff seems to us, there are thousands whom the newspapers have already taught to believe that Soviet justice is like this."

John Haldane obtained a divorce from his wife in November 1945. He remained a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain but Charlotte continued to attack the rule of Joseph Stalin. In an article for the Sunday Times (27th April 1952) she argued that Stalinism was a modern form of Russian imperialism and that the Soviet Union was "a State tyranny which recognises no religion or moral sanctions and stifled every vestige of free personal activity and expression."

Haldane published her autobiography, Truth Will Out, in 1949. Other books by Haldane included Marcel Proust (1951), The Gallyslaves of Love (1957), Mozart (1960), Daughter of Paris (1961), The Last Great Empress of China (1965) and Queen of Hearts: Marguerite of Valois (1968).

Charlotte Haldane died of pneumonia on 16th March, 1969.

Primary Sources

(1) Charlotte Haldane, Who Will Lead the Women?, Daily Express (28th September, 1922)

We have women MPs, women JPs, women labour leaders, women preachers, women economists, women welfare workers. It is doubtful, however, whether the average woman would be any the worse off if the whole lot were scrapped tomorrow.

What have they done to guide us? When do they endeavour to enlighten us? How much have they taught us of the workings of the great world? Where, at the height of the recent war crisis, were our spokeswomen? Where were Lady Astor, MP, and Mrs Winteringham, MP? The voices that should have spoken to us in the hour of action were strangely dumb.

The woman in the street has even less time and ability than the man in the street to study those intricate problems on which her future and that of her children depend. It is a pity that some of those who aspire to share the honour of the government equally with men are so chary to take upon themselves its responsibility. It is a pity that their arduous public duties leave them no time to call at the back doors of Mrs Smith and Mrs Brown in order to bring there some spark of their over flowing enlightenment.

(2) Charlotte Haldane, What Women Brings to the New Year, Daily Express (30th December, 1922)

Women did much for the war, and the war did much for women, but its chief legacies to them were undoubtedly the false values and false vanity it implanted. At the beginning of this year those values threatened to upset our best possession - our practical sense of our own value. In our ambition to hold our own in man's world we foolishly aped all his worst stupidities. We bobbed our hair, we copied his poses, his drinks, his games, his very clothes.

(3) Charlotte Haldane, Daily Express (5th October, 1927)

There has never been a time, perhaps, when the maternal point of view has been more necessary as an inspiration and a practical means of help to the whole nation. A small boy beaten by an adult will beat the smaller boy simply because he has experienced the fact that it is safe to hurt some one smaller than himself. The beating of younger children is probably one of the contributory causes of world wars. It is, therefore, a crime against civilization.

The education of mothers is a matter of urgency in every modern state. But it is not a simple task. It requires first of all a realisation of the profound importance of the mother, and the necessity of so arranging matters that she-has a chance to do her job properly. Overcrowding, inadequate housing arrangements, old-fashioned installation for lighting, heating, washing, and cooking make it impossible for women to concentrate on motherhood. Maternal instincts are not good enough for the modern civilized mother. A vigorous campaign against flies and dirt is more effective than the passionate instincts of a million mothers in reducing the baby mortality from infantile diarrhoea.

(4) Charlotte Haldane, Sunday Express (10th November, 1935)

If one develops more rapidly than the other, or if one shows signs of ceasing to develop sooner than the other, disaster threatens the marriage. There follows boredom, irritation, misunderstanding, unwillingness to co-operate, and all the psychological causes which lead to divorce - provided one is rich enough to afford divorce. With immense care and tact and tenderness on both sides a state of deep affection and friendship would supercede or be added to the earlier state of passion, which may only have been transient. Once this has been achieved it is almost bound to be lasting. I am firmly convinced - although this may shock many - that during the middle years of marriage a very great deal more freedom should be allowed to both husbands and wives. Our laws on sexual matters - breach of promise as well as divorce - may have something to be said in their favour. But what is certainly to be said against them is that they justify, if they do not sanctify, two of the basest of all human emotions - predatoriness and jealousy. They justify vindictiveness. And for this reason they are morally unsound. There is no financial compensation possible for loss of love.

(5) Charlotte Haldane visited Spain with John Haldane in 1933. Charlotte later wrote about their experiences in her autobiography, Truth Will Out (1949)

The poverty was tragic. It was bad in Cordoba, worse in Granada, almost universal in Seville. Everywhere was economic, mental and physical depression. There was a lot of local opposition to the Republic, led and organized by the Church. The Government's natural idealistic incompetence was encouraged by systematic sabotage of every project attempted. The male working population was almost unanimously anarchist. The CNT and particularly the FAI were the strongest revolutionary parties. Socialism and Communism, or rather the Trotskyist deviation from that political creed, were in the minority. But almost the entire female population was firmly attached to Church politics, under the spiritual and political domination of the priesthood. Underneath all the beauty and glamour of the landscape, the architecture, the tradition, the romance, were rumblings of the political earthquake to come.

(6) After encouraging other people to volunteer for Spain Charlotte Haldane found it impossible to try and stop her son Ronnie Haldane, from joining the International Brigades. She wrote about it in her autobiography, Truth Will Out (1949)

With the same pitiable gallantry, I had (at his age) vowed myself to the cause of Woman's Suffrage. You cannot have your propaganda and deny to your first, most loyal convert, the right to accept and act upon it. He was only doing what, had I been his age and sex, I would myself have done.

(7) Charlotte Haldane, Truth Will Out (1949)

The vast majority were men of splendid types, honest and brave, who in greater or lesser degree were conscious of being engaged in a crusade to rescue democracy from the grip of Fascism. They were not all Communists nor members of their respective parties, although the leadership was always entrusted to Party members, most of whom set a high example in discipline and devotion to the rest. To them, and to all the poorly paid workers in the organisation, the material reward was trivial. They were bound fast in the service of an ideal, which they believed with religious fervor to be embodied and exemplified with brilliant success in the Soviet Fatherland.

(8) James Hopkins, Into the Heart of the Fire (1998)

Even Charlotte Haldane, who wrote as a staunch ex-communist, would not deny the selflessness of those, like herself, who helped in the formative stages of the International Brigades or of the men and women who fought in its ranks. She organized the system for the vetting and transportation of the British volunteers from Paris to Spain.

(9) Charlotte Haldane, Truth Will Out (1949)

The fact that I would be aiding and abetting a transaction declared illegal by the British Government did not worry me at all. I was wholly on the side of the International Brigade and opposed to the Chamberlain Government's policy on Spain, disgusted by its apparent fraternisation with the German Nazis and the Italian Fascists. I had allowed my only child to volunteer, and he was fighting the Fascists on the outskirts of Madrid. I was doing my best to help him and his comrades and their dependents; I was speaking everywhere in aid of Spain; I was an active worker in a noble, just, and lofty cause. The only nation in the whole world that was sponsoring the fight of the Spanish workers against Fascism was the Soviet Union; the Third International was putting to shame the timorous, almost traitorous inactivity of the Second International. I was proud to belong to the Party and the movement that was dedicated to freedom and liberty under the banners of Marx, Engels and Lenin.

(10) Charlotte Haldane met Dolores Ibárruri, one of the leaders of the Spanish Communist Party, in 1938. She wrote about it in her autobiography, Truth Will Out (1949)

Back in Barcelona, I was particularly anxious to meet La Pasionaria, the famous Spanish woman Communist leader. After I had been kept waiting for some days, an appointment was made for me through the British political commissar. I bought a huge bunch of scarlet gladioli - there was no food in the shops, but there were plenty of flowers - and presented myself at the headquarters of the Spanish Communist Party, a large building, as closely fortified and guarded as a fortress. There were armed men everywhere. In due course I was ushered into an important and well-furnished office. Dolores Ibarruri rose from her seat behind a big mahogany desk, and came forward to greet me. She had a matronly but magnificent figure, and bore herself with that unselfconscious nobility and dignity that is so characteristic of certain

Spaniards, irrespective of birth or class. Her features were regular, aquiline; her eyes dark and flashing. She had splendid teeth, and her smile was young and feminine. The voice that in public meetings could enthrall thousands was, in private conversation, low and melodious, though still decisive. She told me with gleeful amusement stories of the terrible tales that had been spread about her by her political enemies. To the fascists she was a dread, Medusa-like legend. In fact, she was the daughter of an Asturian miner, and from childhood had been used to abject poverty and violent political strikes and battles to gain even the slightest amelioration of the living and working conditions of her people. She had been illiterate until her teens. Against tremendous odds, however, she had educated herself whilst earning her living. Her devotion to the Spanish working class was absolute and completely sincere. She became one of the greatest orators her country has produced, on a par with such oratorical stars as Jaures and Cachin in France. Her nickname was due to the fact that the passion which filled her whole personality and her voice when she defended her people or attacked their enemies was a mystical one, and the passion with which she preached her cause was akin to religious fervour. The hatred which she was certainly capable of feeling as well as inspiring was due to an unusual sensibility, an outraged compassion for her fellow men and women, the inversion of the immense love and loyalty by which she was equally inspired.