Vera goes on to assassinate the governor of Archangel, shortly before Michael, another member of her radical groupuscule, kills the Czar himself--mainly to impress her since he's had a thing for her ever since their shared peasant youth. Then, in a highly un-Russian and all-too-Shakespearean twist, she commits suicide rather than plunge a dagger into the heart of her beloved, who now wears the Imperial crown with the intent to emancipate his subjects, release all political prisoners from jail or exile, and usher in an age of democracy from the steppes to the taiga. Vera thus violates the "oath" she pledged to Nihilism never to pardon monarchy and always to fight for the revolution.
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That Nihilists had such an oath to begin with was an irony tailor-made for Wilde, and later the Coen brothers. The real Vera was not so successful in her attentat , nor was she ever so soft or conflicted as her theatrical counterpart.
Vera, or the Nihilists
Petersburg's House of Preliminary Detention, a model prison based on London's Pentonville, where political prisoners were detained prior to their trials and where occurred the event that sparked Vera's decision to assassinate the city's governor. Trepov had arrived unexpectedly one day for an inspection, been horrified by the lax regime he found in place and, almost as a reflex action, ordered one of the inmates, a man called Bogolyubov, to be flogged.
Such treatment was normally never meted out to the young intellectuals held in the "Prelim," and riots ensued. Vera herself had never met Bogolyubov, but she decided to avenge him anyway, and to become a martyr for the revolution in the process.
Vera; Or The Nihilists By WILDE, Oscar podcast
Siljak recounts the story of Vera's trial in detail and with a lively sense of drama. In his summing up, the judge asked the jury to consider not only whether Vera had shot Governor Trepov about which there was really no doubt , but also whether she had intended to kill him. It took only 30 minutes for the jury, sympathetic to Vera's stated aim "to prove that no one should be sure they are beyond punishment when they violate human dignity," to clear her of all charges.
Pandemonium broke out, and the stunned Vera found herself cast in the role of heroine and founding mother of Russian terrorism. Siljak's book is unconventional because its climax -- Zasulich's attempted murder of Trepov and her subsequent trial -- are treated as a narrative post script on hundreds of pages of historical backstory.
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- Vera: or, The Nihilists?
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The author is more concerned with the intellectual-political firmament out of which Zasulich fell to earth and into bloody immortality. Left out of Rounding's review is that after Zasulich repudiated terrorism and retired to Geneva, she joined the editorial board of a vibrant little Russian exile newspaper called Iskra , the "Spark.
Trotsky joined later.
Zasulich was thus the knot that bound two tendencies of Russian revolutionism: the frayed disorder of Nihilism and the taut organization of Bolshevism. She was a disciple of Sergei Nechaev , the disaffected student cum terrorist high priest of the so-called Raznotchinsky or "Generation of the Sons. Together with his comrade Peter Tkachev -- who later prefigured the strategies and tactics of Leninism -- Nechaev drafted the Program for Revolutionary Action, which defined the role of the "professional revolutionary" as that of a self-abnegating agent of social upheaval; the member of a hive, in other words, in which the individual was utterly and completely subordinated to the revolutionary collective.
Nechaev fled Russia in in order to drum up money and support for a non-existent revolutionary committee of which he was the self-proclaimed head.
Vera; Or, the Nihilists (1880). by
Though he had disavowed all ties to kith and kin, he was charismatic and intelligent enough to prey upon the gullibility of a few sympathizers. The historian E. Carr, in his brilliant, tragic history of the Herzen family, The Romantic Exiles , summarized Nechaev's short but influential life like this: He deceived everyone he met, and when he was no longer able to deceive, his power was gone.
His audacity was unbounded; and he carried personal courage to the extreme limit of foolhardiness.
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He is an unparalleled and bewildering combination of fanatic, swashbuckler, and cad. Chief among his admirers and dupes was Mikhail Bakunin, whom he met in Switzerland. Nechaev persuaded the shaggy mastodon of anarchism to revert to a colder, steelier course of revolution. Bakunin's politics was the stuff of clownish whimsy, yet he had a rare ability to raise resources for his many fool adventures Herzen was an indulgent, if wary, benefactor in this regard. Now that he had a vicious machiavellian guiding his actions, Bakunin could do great harm indeed. He and Nechaev co-wrote the famous "Catechism of a Revolutionary," which hymned destruction for its own sake and famously began: The Revolutionist is a doomed man.
He has no private interests, no affairs, sentiments, ties, property nor even a name of his own.
His entire being is devoured by one purpose, one thought, one passion - the revolution. Heart and soul, not merely by word but by deed, he has severed every link with the social order and with the entire civilized world; with the laws, good manners, conventions, and morality of that world. He is its merciless enemy and continues to inhabit it with only one purpose - to destroy it.
Bakunin eventually extricated himself from this doomed friendship and claimed "[t]he man of [his] dreams turned out to be a figure from a nightmare. His rhetoric captivated the young Zasulich, who said she was made to feel weak against the older outlaw's decisiveness: "He could and would act - wasn't he the ringleader of the students? Yet reviews for Vera were overwhelmingly disappointing. Its critic warned:. A dramatist…who puts a gang of Nihilists upon the stage, on the ground that they are interesting characters of the time and that their convictions make them dramatic, does so at his own peril.
It was little better than fizzle. This latter publication whipped up controversy by claiming that a clique of theatre critics had conspired to crush Vera, declaring:. It has been the pleasure of the newspapers and that portion of the public which revels in its ignorance and flaunts its vulgarity to assail Mr.
Wilde with every manner of coarse, cheap and indecent indignity. The play was cancelled before the end of its short run.
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The play had already fallen foul of authorities in London and you can read about why here. Filed under Essay. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email.
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Skip to content. Its critic warned: A dramatist…who puts a gang of Nihilists upon the stage, on the ground that they are interesting characters of the time and that their convictions make them dramatic, does so at his own peril.