Category Archives: Sophie Perovskaya

Joaquin Miller, “Sophia Perovskaya” (1881)

Sophie Perovskaya,



Hanged April 15, 1881,

For Helping to Rid the World of a Tyrant.

Down from her high estate she stept,

            A maiden, gently born

And by the icy Volga kept

            Sad watch, and waited morn;

And peasants say that where she slept

            The new moon dipped her horn.

                        Yet on and on, through shoreless snows

                                    Stretched tow'rd the great north pole,

                        The foulest wrong the good God known

                                    Rolls as dark rivers roll.

                        While never once for all these woes

                                    Upspeaks one human soul.

She toiled, she taught the peasant, taught

            The dark-eyed Tartar. He,

Inspired with her lofty thought,

            Rose up and sought to be,

What God at the creation wrought,

            A man! God-like and free.

                        Yet e'er before him yawn the black

                                    Siberian mines! And oh,

                        The knout upon the bare white back!

                                    The blood upon the snow!

                        The gaunt wolves, close upon the track,

                                    Fight o'er the fallen so!

And this that one might wear a crown

            Snatched from a strangled sire!

And this that two might mock or frown,

            From high thrones climblng higher,

To where the parricide looks down

            With harlot in desire!

                        Yet on, beneath the great north star,

                                    Like some lost, living thing,

                        That long line stretches black and far

                                    Till buried by death's wing!

                        And great men praise the goodly czar —

                                    But God sits pitying.

The storm burst forth! From out that storm

            The clean, red lightning leapt!

And lo, a prostrate royal form!

            Like any blood, his crept

Down through the snow, all smoking warm,

            And Alexander slept!

                        Yea, one lies dead, for millions dead!

                                    One red spot in the snow

                        For one long damning line of red;

                                    While exiles endless go —

                        The babe at breast, the mother's head

                                    Bowed down, and dying so!

And did a woman do this deed?

            Then build her scaffold high,

That all may on her forehead read

            Her martyr's right to die!

Ring Cossack round on royal steed!

            Now lift her to the sky!

                        But see! From out the black hood shines

                                    A light few look upon!

                        Poor exile, see! from dark deep mines,

                                    Your star at burst of dawn !

                        A thud! a creak of hangman's lines —

                                    A frail shape jerked and drawn !

The czar is dead; the woman dead.

            About her neck a cord.

In God's house rests his royal head —

            Here in a place abhorred;

Yet I would rather have her bed

            Than thine, most royal lord!

                        Yea, rather be that woman dead,

                                    Than this new living czar,

                        To hide in dread, with both hands red,

                                    Behind great bolt and bar —

                        While like the dead, still endless tread

                                   Sad exiles tow'rd their star.

Joaquin Miller.

Joaquin Miller, “Sophie Perovskaya, Liberty’s Martyred Heroine,” Liberty 1, no. 1 (August 6, 1881): 1.


Comments Off on Joaquin Miller, “Sophia Perovskaya” (1881)

Filed under 1881, Joaquin Miller, poetry, Sophie Perovskaya

George Barlow, “Sophia Perovskaia” (1895)


Blue-eyed, fair-haired, a girl in outward seeming,
With lips, men held, that only cared to sing,
When thy foot passed along the meadows dreaming
Soft dreams and tender of the gold-haired Spring—

When other maidens dreamed with longing wonder
Of love, thou crowned with Spring’s most loving light
Beneath blue skies wast dreaming of the thunder,
Beneath the morn wast dreaming of the night .

High-born, thou didst forsake the lordly places;
Thy young heart thrilled at Freedom’s trumpet-call:
Thou wanderedst forth, a light for poor men’s faces;
Love, wealth, repose,—thou didst surrender all.

And has not yet from our free isle resounded
One song, one hymn of passionate love for thee,
Who, when the tyrant’s red-stained deeds abounded,
Didst say, “One soul in Russia still is free”?

When thou didst strike, were all our singers staggered
At thy vast force of soul that none could say,
“A strong god at a touch turned pale and haggard,
A Czar before a girl’s stroke passed away “?

I would not die without one true word spoken
Whereby, if but for one short moment’s space,
The English chill grim silence may be broken:
I love, who never looked upon thy face.

Singing, I hail thee from a land that never
For all its errors, countless though they are,
Stooped to endure, nor will it stoop for ever
To endure, the smile or sceptre of a Czar.

The message of our English ringing fountains,
The message of the fells, to thee I bear:
For thee speaks once again from cloud-crowned mountains
The voice at which world-tyrannies despair.

The greeting of our English oaks and willows,
The greeting of our flowers, I send to thee;
The royal love-song of our kingless billows,
And our sun’s song, wherewith he loves our sea:

The solemn kiss of England’s pure-souled daughters
That should have been, that one day will be, thine;
The song of stars that gleam o’er English waters;
The song that makes the enchanted night divine:

The song of English cliff and gold-flowered hollow;
The chant of poet-souls as yet unborn,
Whose stronger footsteps on my step shall follow;
The love-song of the winds that woo the morn:

All these are thine for ever.—When Love hearkened
With listening heart and tearful eyes to thee,
Thou then didst choose the loveless road that darkened;
Beloved by Time, didst choose Eternity.

Behind, a thousand flowers of varied pleasure;
In front, the scentless air, the starless gloom!
A life that might yield joy in sumptuous measure,
Glad rainbow-hopes, behind. In front, the tomb!

Yet thou didst choose the tomb. With stern lips firmer
Than hers by whom foul Marat’s fate was planned
Thou chosest death. Thou diedst without a murmur,
Thy white hand locked in Charlotte Corday’s hand.

George Barlow, From Dawn to Sunset (London: Roxburghe Press, 1895): 190-191.

Comments Off on George Barlow, “Sophia Perovskaia” (1895)

Filed under 1895, George Barlow, poetry, Sophie Perovskaya

Sir Henry Parkes, “The Beauteous Terrorist” (Sophie Perovskaya, 1885)

“She was beautiful. It was not the beauty which dazzles at first sight, but that which fascinates the more, the more it is regarded.

“A blonde, with a pair of blue eyes, serious and penetrating, under a broad and spacious forehead. A delicate little nose; a charming mouth, which showed, when she smiled, two rows of very fine white teeth.

“It was, however, her countenance as a whole which was the attraction. There was something brisk, vivacious, and at the same time, ingenuous in her rounded face. She was girlhood personified. Notwithstanding her twenty-six years, she seemed scarcely eighteen. A small, slender, and very graceful figure, and a voice as charming, silvery, and sympathetic as could be, heightened the illusion. It became almost a certainty when she began to laugh, which very often happened. She had the ready laugh of a girl, and laughed with so much heartiness, and so unaffectedly, that she really seemed a young lass of sixteen.

“She gave little thought to her appearance. She dressed in the most modest manner, and perhaps did not even know what dress or ornament was becoming or unbecoming. But she had a passion for neatness, and in this was as punctilious as a Swiss girl.

“She was very fond of children, and was an excellent schoolmistress. There was, however, another office which she filled even better, that of nurse. When any of her friends fell ill, Sophia was the first to offer herself for this difficult duty, and she performed that duty with such gentleness, cheerfulness, and patience that she won the hearts of her patients for all time.

“Yet this woman, with such an innocent appearance and with such a sweet and affectionate disposition, was one of the most dreaded members of the Terrorist party.

“Sophia Perovskaia belonged, like Krapotkine, to the highest aristocracy of Russia. The Perovski are the younger branch of the family of the famous Rasumousky, the morganatic husband of the Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, who occupied the throne of Russia in the middle of last century (1741-1762).

“Such was the family to which this woman belonged, who gave such a tremendous blow to Czarism.”— Underground Russia

The Beauteous Terrorist

Sir Henry Parkes


Soft as the morning’s pearly light,
Where yet may rise the thunder-cloud,
Her gentle face was ever bright
With noble thought and purpose proud.

Dreamt ye that those divine blue eyes,
That beauty free from pride or blame,
Were fashion’d but to terrorize
O’er Despot’s power of sword and flame?

Beware! Those beauteous lineaments
Of girlhood shrine a force sublime,
Which moulds to fearful use events,
And dares arraign Imperial crime.

A fear was in the peasants’ eyes,
A palsy smote both tongue and hand;
A network of police and spies
O’erspread the tyrant-tortured land.

The dungeons swallowed all our best—
Who next should perish none could say;
A thousand victims of arrest
Were torn from us one summer day.

The judges, sworn to guard the right,
Interpreted the tyrant’s bent;
Though cleared by witnesses of light,
‘Twas hard to save the innocent.

The Senate, in its ordered state,
Might free — its voice inspired no awe
Acquittal did not liberate —
The Autocrat annulled the law.

The tender, sweet Enthusiast,
The bright-eyed maid with hero’s soul,
Had watched the thickening shadow cast
O’er all the land, in death and dole.

Her girlhood’s secret studies, late
And early, in her princely home;
Her converse with the good and great,
The lessons taught by Greece and Rome,

Had nerved her heart to action strong ;
She joined the few who dared the worst,
Resolved to strike the monster Wrong —
To wrestle with the Thing accurst!

Pale Freedom’s devotees, whose creed
Was vengeance, who in silent trust
Prepared themselves to bear and bleed,
And bravely die — if die they must.

What matter’d, so the Despot’s doom
And Freedom’s advent, nearer drew ?
Their chosen path was through the gloom —
The perils of their choice they knew.

To give their all, even life, were sweet —
Not half, as Ananias gave —
So they might see the work complete,
Or feel it finished in the grave.

The early rose of womanhood
Had scarce illumed her angel face,
When ‘mongst conspirators she stood —
The bravest in the darkest place.

In danger, failure, suffering, she
Cheer’d on with her unchanging smile,
Still looking forth to victory,
As free from doubt as far from guile.

Stern men pursued the work of death —
No war-cry raised, no flag, unfurled —
They laid the mine whose nitric breath
Should blow the tyrant from the world.

Dark warfare! — oh, how pitiless!
What else for them? — no right of speech,
No right of meeting for redress,
No right the rights of man to teach:

How plead their cause in burning words?
How arm’d in just rebellion rise? —
Where gleam a million servile swords,
Where Drown for prey a million spies.

To counsel, organize, sustain,
To plan escape, to lead attack,
Her steady hand and luminous brain
Were ever Onward — never Back!

Her voice was like a holy bell,
Calling to highest sacrifice;
When black disaster heaviest fell,
She stood all smiles to pay the price!

Baffled surprise and bold escape,
Endurance long, at last are o’er;
The Monster’s jaws insatiate gape,
Whose cry for blood is ever “More!”

The hunters close around her path,
Her forfeit life is in their hands;
She neither bends before their wrath,
Nor braves her captor’s hireling bands.

She meets her fate serene and still,
Above all earthly hopes and fears;
If once her eyes the teardrops fill,
Her mother’s grief unlocks the tears.

The mockery of trial came,
And follow’d swift the words of doom;
But ignominy, woe, and shame
Were far from her — her dungeon-tomb

Held spiritual companions; there
A light, which others could not see,
Shone in her heart, and everywhere —
To die was only to be free!

Six days no friendly face came near,
No sister’s clinging arm, no word
From all the loved ones reach’d her ear —
Her mother’s voice no more was heard.

Six days the weeping mother sought
To see her sentenced child in vain;
Their eyes ne’er met till she was brought
Forth in the daylight — to be slain!

She stood beneath the felon rope —
Her beauty felt the hangman’s hand;
But, steadfast in her life-long hope,
She only saw “the promised land!”

The promised land of Truth and Right —
The holy cause of Freedom won!
She only saw the far-off Light,
And heard the People marching on!

She stood — her cheek rose-lighted still —
A moment, calm and iron-willed;
Then all of her which Power could kill
Was mercilessly crushed and killed.

The scaffold had its radiant prey,
The Despot’s minions breathed secure —
The proud and haughty went their way,
Spurning the dead so young and pure.

But souls like her’s survive the fate
Which tyrants in their might decree,
And ever live to animate
The nations struggling to be free.

Purged of the dross of earth, the fire
Of one great spirit’s holocaust
Will thousands wake to patriot ire —
Will raise to life a patriot host!

Sir Henry Parkes, “The Beauteous Terrorist,” The Beauteous Terrorist and Other Poems,” (Melbourne: George Robertson: 1885): 1.

Comments Off on Sir Henry Parkes, “The Beauteous Terrorist” (Sophie Perovskaya, 1885)

Filed under 1882, beautiful nihilist, Henry Parkes, poetry, Sophie Perovskaya, Stepniak

Ella Norraikow, “Woman’s Share in Russian Nihilism” (1891)

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 10.41.50 PM


Ella Norraikow

THE propagation of Nihilistic ideas in Russia received its first great impulse from the novel by Tourgenieff entitled Fathers and Children, which appeared in 1861. Since that time, while much has been written about the men who figured prominently in Nihilism, writers have failed to show the same interest in the women who participated in the movement. It was not until 1862 that women began to take an active part in Nihilism, and the movement is indebted for not a little of its success to the tact and shrewdness of the many brave and cultured ones who have made such noble sacrifices in freedom’s cause. The liberation of the serfs in the same year, by proclamation of Czar Alexander II., gave hope of still greater reforms, especially of a higher education for the gentler sex, when their intellectual pioneers applied for admission to the universities. This being refused them many of the more ambitious visited foreign lands in search of the educational opportunities denied them in Russia. In Switzerland, where the prejudice against women was less bitter, the doors of the colleges were most readily thrown open to the seekers after knowledge; and many women became devoted students, carried off the honors, and returned to their native land to take foremost rank in the professions for which they had studied. The opposition against them was intense, but with characteristic determination they overcame all obstacles. It is from such brave spirits as these that the ranks of the woman Nihilists have been recruited, and many have stepped down from high social positions to take part in a movement which they believed would give to the Russian people something of that freedom enjoyed by the nations of western Europe where civilization had made greater strides.

That the propagation of liberal ideas has not been more successful throughout the empire is owing to the fact that the rural or peasant population refused to participate in any uprising of the Nihilist party; and as they number more than half of the czar’s subjects, this proved a serious obstacle in the path of reform. Their refusal was the means of stimulating the Nihilists to more heroic efforts for the cause, and many high-born ladies donned peasant garb and mingled freely with the people, hoping thereby to secure their confidence and at the same time obtain an opportunity to disseminate liberal ideas.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 10.49.13 PMAmong the most noted of the heroines of Nihilism was Sophia Perovskaya, who sacrificed her life to her zeal in the cause of freedom. Nobly born and highly educated, her life’s story was a truly pathetic one. Deprived under very sad circumstances of a mother’s loving care while little more than a babe, she was brought up under the strict supervision of an almost brutal father. Sophia Perovskaya traced her descent from a long line of noble ancestry. Her grandfather was Minister of the Interior during the reign of Nicholas, her father was the Governor-general of St. Petersburg, and one of her great-great-uncles was the morganatic husband of the Empress Elizabeth. Her own rank was that of a countess. When eighteen years old she was acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful girls in Russia and was offered the post of maid of honor to the empress. An aide-de-camp to the late Czar Alexander II. was her accepted lover. Sophia was separated from her mother when only five years old, and believed her dead until she had reached the age of maturity, when by some means she became acquainted with the family history.

The knowledge then gained seems to have changed the whole current of her after life, and she determined to be revenged on the father who had so cruelly treated and driven from their home the countess, her mother. She also had experienced considerable of her father’s tyrannical treatment and as a consequence only too readily espoused her absent mother’s cause. She not only became imbittered against her father, but displayed the same enmity towards the government of which he was an official. About this time a woman from Switzerland appeared on the scene, whom she took into her service as a maid. It afterwards transpired that this woman had been sent by her mother to enlighten Sophia as to her whereabouts. She entered into correspondence with her mother and satisfied herself of the truth of all she had heard of the family history. Soon after she was introduced into a Nihilist circle, in which, with her beauty and high social standing, she soon took a prominent position. Her associations becoming known to her father, she was obliged to flee from home to escape his wrath, and took refuge with her mother in Switzerland. For some unknown reason she returned to St. Petersburg in disguise, and joined a group of conspirators. She had not been long at her old home when she was arrested, but through her father’s influence was released upon promising to leave the country. The motive which prompted the father’s interference was a selfish rather than a paternal one. He feared the disgrace which the disclosure of his daughter’s complicity with the Nihilists would bring. But Sophia refused to remain inactive in the cause which she had so much at heart, and once more returned to St. Petersburg. To her was assigned the task of displaying the signal for the throwing of the bomb when the assassination of Alexander n. occurred. She was again arrested, and for the second time her father’s high official influence prevented her complicity in the plot from becoming known. But a woman who had displayed such remarkable qualities of heroism was not likely to let her companions in crime suffer while she went free. Some assert that it was her determination to see her father disgraced and punished that governed her actions on this occasion, for she had never forgiven his treatment of her mother. She therefore, on the day of the trial of the other conspirators, coolly walked into court, made known her identity, and declared her intention of sharing the same fate as the prisoners who were being arraigned. Knowing her indomitable will this action did not at all surprise her associates. Her request for a trial was granted. and she confessed her guilt and was hanged with the others who were condemned.

Another daring attempt on the emperor’s life in which Sophia Perovskaya participated was that of the railway explosion between Kursk and Moscow, in which a number of carriages were destroyed; but the czar had passed safely over the road half an hour before, having changed cars at a way-station. Leo Hartmann, now in New York, and one of the participants on that occasion, has frequently described to me the parting of the conspirators previous to the firing of the mine. He says of Sophia Perovskaya that she was a woman utterly devoid of sentiment, with her mind filled with but one great purpose—the rights and freedom of her people. The world well knows how heroically she met death on the scaffold, and that while strong men fainted in anticipation of the horrible death in store for them, not a muscle of her face was seen to move. She died as she had lived—nobly.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 10.50.39 PMFor heroism and patient endurance I think we should give Vera Zassulitch the second place in the long list of martyrs to the cause of Nihilism. True, it may be a lost cause ; but we must acknowledge that the women who have espoused it have the honesty of their convictions to sustain them, and that they stand out before the world among the best and the bravest of their sex. Vera Zassulitch, whom many of the Russian people would like to adjudge insane, was moved to the committal of a fearful crime on learning of the horrible cruelty practised upon a political prisoner, one of a group of Nihilists to which she belonged. Bogoluboff was the political’s name, and his offence was a refusal to remove his hat during a visit of General Trepoff (then chief of police at St. Petersburg) to the Petropavlovski fortress. Bogoluboff had his hat knocked off by the irate general, who, in addition. ordered that the prisoner be given I00 lashes with the knout. A Nihilist who was one of the guards at the prison carried the news of the punishment to those outside. Vera and live others formed an executive committee. They met to discuss the outrage and decided on the death of Trepoff, as they held him responsible for the punishment. They drew lots to learn who should be the executioner, and the commission of the deed fell to the lot of Vera Zassulitch, who, armed with a revolver, went the next day to visit Trepoff. Securing admission under some pretext, she shot him while he sat in his chair. The case aroused the greatest excitement and being such an unusual one it was decided to try it by jury. The girl was acquitted on the ground of insanity, for it was not deemed possible that so young a woman could commit such a deed while in her rational mind. During the trial the streets adjoining the courthouse were thronged with people anxious to learn the result. When the verdict of acquittal was made known the people with one voice sent up a prolonged shout of approval. The police charged into the mob and several lives were lost. Vera Zassulitch was hurried into a carriage, where she changed her dress for the garb of a man and made her escape across the frontier, finally reaching Switzerland, where she still resides. She is not a beautiful woman, like Sophia Perovskaya, but she possesses a remarkable mind and wonderful nerve. The women of America recently collected quite a sum of money and forwarded it to her to assist in making her pathway to the grave as smooth as possible, for she is a victim of consumption and cannot live much longer.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 10.53.47 PMSophia Bardina was another shining light in Nihilism. She wrote some verses of remarkable beauty and pathos, which were universally sung by the members of her party. They were regarded as gems of Russian literature, but of a treasonable nature; and the singing of them was looked upon as a state crime, and punished as such. This gift of the muse proved the bane of Sophia Bardina’s existence, for through its exercise she was arrested, and after spending many weary months in prison she was exiled to Siberia, where she probably still remains, unless death has put an end to her sufferings.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 10.51.43 PMThe Lubotovitch sisters, Olga and Vera, were young ladies of charming personality and many accomplishments. They were also noted for their beauty and purity, and yet they incited their male coworkers to many deeds of lawlessness and cunning by their example of reckless daring. They travelled through all the large cities of the empire, disseminating liberal ideas and distributing incendiary literature. Moscow and St. Petersburg afforded them the largest fields of labor, and in those cities they succeeded in penetrating into the very offices of the police authorities, where by their winning manners and remarkable beauty they made many converts to the cause of Nihilism. But they could not long expect to escape the fate which surely follows in the wake of such daring. They were arrested and imprisoned, and after undergoing two years of solitary confinement in the Petropavlovski fortress they were sentenced to hard labor in Siberia, one sister for a period of nine years, and the other for six years.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 10.52.37 PMAlexandra Khorjevskaya, another woman who suffered for the cause of freedom, was arrested for distributing Nihilistic literature, and after being imprisoned for many months was sentenced to Siberia for five years. It is believed that she died in exile, as her friends have not been able to learn anything of her since her term of exile expired. Her fate has been that of thousands—exile, obscurity, death.

Mademoiselle Toporkova, another young woman belonging to one of the best families of the empire, was arrested while distributing incendiary literature. She, like the Lubotovitch sisters, travelled all over Russia disseminating liberal ideas, and succeeded in ingratiating herself into the favor of the poorer classes. She was also connected with the printing of forbidden books, and when arrested several of these were found on her person. At the expiration of two years confinement in prison she was sentenced to hard labor in Siberia for a period of six years. Mademoiselle Toporkova was one of the foremost women Nihilists who sprang into existence soon after the assassination of Alexander II.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 10.58.32 PMThe sisters Soobotin, Eugenie and Maria, in daring recklessness very much resembled the Lubotovitch sisters. The Soobotins were also noted for their beauty and accomplishments. They masqueraded in the role of spies for their party, and succeeded in obtaining much valuable information which many times saved Nihilists from arrest. They managed to secure the confidence of a high official, and obtained from him all the immediate plans of General Ignatieff for the suppression of Nihilism. In addition to this piece of daring they learned through another source nearly all the names of the Nihilists whom General Ignatieff considered to be implicated in the movement and whom he intended to arrest. By their cunning the whole plan was frustrated, and for the time being the Nihilists rested in their fancied security. But the real spies of the Third Section were set to work and succeeded in securing sufficient evidence to arrest the sisters. By this time they had grown reckless, and little dreamed that any suspicion attached to them. They were arrested at midnight and conveyed to the fortress. When they were missed members of their circle of Nihilists instituted a search for them, but months elapsed ere they discovered where they were imprisoned. The Soobotins, like the Lubotovitch sisters, endured solitary confinement for many months before they were finally sent to Siberia. Each sister received a sentence of six years, which in Maria’s case was afterwards increased to eight years.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 10.55.21 PMMademoiselle Ivanova, in conjunction with Mademoiselle Griaznova, played a very prominent part in Nihilism. The former was a daughter of a major in the army and became known through her connection with the secret printing office of the Terrorist organ, Narodnaya Volia (People’s Will). When the office was discovered these two ladies, revolvers in hand, kept the soldiers at bay for more than two hours. The gendarmes sought to overcome the party by firing through the doors and windows. But for lack of ammunition those inside were finally conquered and obliged to surrender. One of the gendarmes tied the hands and feet of Mademoiselle Ivanova and threw her on the ground. While in this humiliating position she reproached her comrades for their cowardice in so readily yielding up the situation. A gendarme who guarded her struck her in the face and kicked her brutally, inflicting serious injuries upon her. This man appeared against her as a witness at the trial, and when she complained of his brutality her words were disregarded, and she was condemned to fifteen years’ penal servitude. Mademoiselle Griaznova was transported to Siberia for life, and I believe the sentence of her companion was afterwards commuted to four years, through the influence of the heir-apparent, to whom the court-martial appealed.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 11.00.11 PMVera Figner, who was accused of complicity in the plot to destroy the Winter palace in 1880, but was afterwards acquitted, was twenty-two years old and the daughter of a high Russian official. She was subsequently condemned, however, to fifteen years’ penal servitude for her connection with the Terrorist party. It was Mademoiselle Figner who planned the assassination of General Strelnikoff at Odessa, which proved successful, and for which she was sentenced to death, but the penalty was afterwards commuted to imprisonment for life in the fortress of Schlusselburg. Of her ultimate fate we know nothing definite, but reports have reached the outside world that she died there in 1885.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 10.56.20 PMEugenie Figner, like her sister Vera, was a woman of ability and education. She was the associate of Kviatskovsky, a devoted fellow-worker in what she esteemed the cause of freedom. Something more than the bonds of mere friendship seems to have united them, however, as for years they labored together under assumed names. Kviatskovsky had the management of the secret press through which liberalism was propagated. Some articles written by him, discovered during a search of his apartments by the police, were deemed conclusive evidence of his complicity in the Winter palace explosion. The fact of Eugenie’s constant association with Kviatskovsky was the cause of suspicion being directed also towards her, and a search of her lodgings was made in the hope of discovering incriminating evidence. A glass vessel containing dynamite was found, and also a bundle of white paper corresponding in size to that used for the printing of Narodnaya Volia. In addition forty-five copies of a proclamation issued in connection with the railway explosion near Moscow were found, and these discoveries led to her arrest, after which she was exiled to Siberia for fifteen years.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 11.01.09 PMBut the brave women I have mentioned thus far are not the only members of their sex who have become martyrs to Nihilism. The case of Madame Sighidi, for example, is still fresh in the minds of American readers. It was she who suffered death at the Kara mines by being stripped and brutally flogged in the presence of the prison officials, for the reason that she had resented an insult offered to her womanhood by the governor of the mines. The rest of the women politicals, fearing like treatment, inaugurated a hunger strike, which lasted many days and was only broken by a promise to have the governor of the prison removed. This was not fulfilled, however, and Madame Kovalskaya, with several others, took poison and succumbed to its effects before the officials learned of their act.

The island of Saghalicn was during the past year the scene of brutal treatment to a woman whose name has not reached us, but the occurrence has been vividly described by an eye-witness.

Perhaps the most popular of recent sufferers for this cause was Madame Tschebrikova, who, while not a Nihilist, had sufficient courage to forward a letter to the czar expressive of her ideas of the administration of justice in Russia. It was a clear, logical and impassioned appeal to the ruler of more than one hundred millions of people for the reorganization of the tchinovnik (official) system throughout the empire. With what result the letter was received the world already knows. The noble-minded woman, who, having the courage of her convictions did not hesitate to speak, now languishes in an obscure village in the westernmost part of the province of Archangelsk. The latest accounts received describe her condition as truly pitiable.

The present attitude of Russia toward her people is not such as to inspire confidence in the Nihilistic movement in the future. Russian possessions must be Russianized at all hazards, and centralization appears to be the sole aim of the government. Suppression and not expansion seems to be the motto of the ruler of Russia. In a country where the rights of the people receive little or no recognition it is but natural to look for discontent, and to find in constant motion a movement toward the amelioration of the condition of the masses. That it will ever reach greater proportions than at present is doubtful, for the chief of the dreaded Third Section has such means at his disposal in the form of spies as to make a successful uprising well-nigh impossible.

The agitators fail to understand that education alone can achieve the end they are trying to gain by force. A broader education is now permitted to certain classes which before were restricted in this matter; but the fact still remains that the peasant or rural population at the present day is as densely ignorant as it was at the time of its emancipation more than a quarter of a century ago. Until this state of things is changed the leaders of the liberal movement, who comprise the educated people of the empire, can hope for little success from any scheme tending to better their condition. True, thousands of lives have been sacrificed on the altar of freedom, and it is also true that many thousands more will share the same fate, for the rising generation is imbued with ideas of freedom amounting almost to fanaticism. No persecution, no suppression or oppression, will eradicate these ideas, and men and women will continue to suffer and yield up their lives for what, I fear, will in the end prove a lost cause.

The social and political conditions of the empire have developed a peculiar class of women whose one aim in life is the liberation of their people from the thraldom of oppression, and who, to attain that end, are willing to sacrifice home, friends, and even life if necessary. Tourgenieff, in the following quotation from his Verses and Prose, portrays the character of these women more forcibly than could any words of mine:

“I see a huge building with a narrow door in its front wall. The door is open and a dismal darkness stretches beyond. Before the high threshold stands a girl—a Russian girl. Frost breathes out of the impenetrable darkness, and with the icy draught from the depths of the building there comes forth a slow and hollow voice:

‘‘‘Oh! thou who art wanting to cross this threshold; dost thou know what awaits thee?’

“‘I know it,’ answers the girl.

“‘Cold, hunger, hatred, derision, contempt, insults, a fearful death even?’

“‘I know it.’

“‘Complete isolation and separation from all?’

“‘I know it. I am ready. I will bear all sorrows and miseries.’

“‘Not only if inflicted by enemies, but when done by kindred and friends?’

“‘ Yes, even when done by them.’

“‘Well, are you ready for self-sacrifice?’


“‘For anonymous self-sacrifice? You shall die, and nobody shall know even whose memory is to be honored.’

“‘I want neither gratitude nor pity. I want no name.’

“‘Are you ready for a crime?’

“The girl bent her head. ‘I am ready even for a crime.’

“The voice paused awhile before renewing its interrogatories.

“Then again, ‘Dost thou know,’ it said at last, ‘that thou mayest lose thy faith in what thou now believest, that thou mayest feel that thou hast teen mistaken, and hast lost thy young life in vain?’

“‘I know that also, and nevertheless I will enter.’

“‘Enter, then.’

“The girl crossed the threshold and a heavy curtain fell behind her.

“‘A fool,’ gnashed someone outside.

“‘A saint,’ answered a voice from somewhere.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 10.43.42 PM

The Countess Ella Norrnikow is not a Russian by birth, although she has long been interested in the cause of popular government in Russia.

She was born in Toronto, Canada, and her first literary work, a story, was published while she was in her teens. She married young and spent many years in travel, living successively in most of the European capitals. She returned to America a widow, and in 1837 took up her residence in New York, where she has since married the exiled Russian nobleman whose name she hears. She is considered to be well posted upon matters pertaining to Russia, though she is a persistent foe of the czar’s government. She has been a contributor to a number of the best periodicals, and her articles have been quoted by the friends of democracy throughout the world. To her interest in their cause many Polish and Russian exiles in America are deeply indebted. She has written a book on Nihilism which will soon be published. and which will be a comprehensive description of the Russian revolutionary movement.

Ella Norraikow, “Woman’s Share in Russian Nihilism,” Cosmopolitan 11 (September 1891): 619-627.

Comments Off on Ella Norraikow, “Woman’s Share in Russian Nihilism” (1891)

Filed under 1891, Alexandra Khorjevskaya, Anna Toporkova, Eugenie Figner, nihilism, Olga Lubotovitch, Sophia Bardina, Sophie Perovskaya, Vera Figner, Vera Lubotovitch, Vera Zasulich

The Beautiful Nihilist (Sophie Perovskaya, 1889)


“She was beautiful.” Those are the three words with which a Russian writer, who was intimately acquainted with her, commences his personal description of Sophie Perovsky. “Hers was not,” he continues, “the beauty which dazzles at first sight, but that which fascinates the more it is regarded. A blonde, with a pair of blue eyes, serious and penetrating, under a broad and spacious forehead. A delicate little nose, a charming mouth,. which showed, when she smiled, two rows of very fine white teeth. It was, however, her countenance as a whole which was the attraction. There was something brisk, vivacious, and at the same time ingenuous, in her rounded face. She was girlhood personified. Notwithstanding her twenty-six years, she seemed scarcely eighteen. A small, slender, and very graceful figure, and a voice as charming, silvery, and sympathetic as could be, heightened this illusion. It became almost a certainty when she began to laugh, which very often happened. She had the ready laugh of a girl, and laughed with so much heartiness, and so unaffectedly, that she really seemed a young lass of sixteen.”

Who, it is likely to be asked, was this fascinating Russian girl? Surely, it will be thought, she could not be a very terrible revolutionist. We shall see.

Sophie Perovsky was a member of the highest aristocracy of Russia, her ancestors having been connected by marriage with the imperial family of Romanoff. Her father was Governor-General of St. Petersburg, in which city she was born in 1554. Count Perovsky was a domestic tyrant, before whom his wife and daughters were taught to quail; and to this circumstance may be ascribed Sophie’s early development of a hatred of oppression and sympathy with the downtrodden which she retained throughout her brief and stormy life. Always tender and affectionate in her disposition, she possessed a strong mind, an iron will, and a temperament full of enthusiasm.

She had just entered her fifteenth year when she caught the contagion of the desire for higher education which was then passing like a wave over the young womanhood of Russia. Many ladies of the highest families, finding no colleges open to them in their own country, proceeded to Zurich to study there, in free Switzerland. Sophie wished to join them, but her father refused his consent. Following the example of many others, she left her home, and repaired secretly to the house of a friend, from which she negotiated with her father, who, after vain endeavours during several weeks to discover her retreat by means of the police, gave a reluctant; consent to the course she wished to pursue, and sent her a passport. Her mother provided her with a small sum of money, and she found herself free to study.

There were other things to be learned in Zurich besides medicine, to which most of the girl student’s from Russia at first devoted themselves. That little Swiss town was at that time one of the chief centres of the Socialist refugees of Germany. Gradually Sophie Perovsky and her young friends forsook the study of medicine for that of political economy, which they read in the works of Marx and Proudhon. These studies were interrupted, however, by the imperial decree of 1871, ordering all subjects of the Czar to leave Zurich and return home, under the penalty of outlawry. The result, was the return of some scores of j young persons of both sexes, with their heads full of Socialism and Democracy, to disseminate among all with whom they came in contact the ideas they had imbibed in the free West.

Unfortunately, everything which is done in Russia, if at variance with the absolute system of the Czar, has to be done in secret. Sophie Perovsky, with some other students of both sexes, formed the nucleus of a propagandist circle, which was gradually enlarged by the adhesion of others until it became strong enough to send out lecturers to spread their principles among the working classes of St. Petersburg. This movement was mainly due to the initiative of Sophie Perovsky, who was always endeavouring to find new means of activity and to open new channels for the diffusion of the political and social opinions which she had embraced so ardently.

In the autumn of 1873, while engaged in the work of propagandism in the great industrial quarter of the Alexander Nevsky, in conjunction with Prince Peter Krapotkine, our young lady was arrested and lodged in prison, where, though there was no evidence upon which she could be convicted of treason, or even sedition, and though she was not placed on trial, she was detained for a year. She was then released on her father becoming bail for her, but was obliged to leave the capital and reside in the Crimea, where the family possessed an estate. There she remained for three years, under strict surveillance, and was then ordered to go up for trial with 192 other members of the propagandist circle which she had assisted to form on her return from Zurich. She was acquitted, but not released, the Czar’s method of dealing with political offenders being, when they cannot be convicted, to have them removed by the police to some distant town, which they are not allowed to leave without permission.

From this time, however, Sophie Perovsky resolved to set the will of the Czar at defiance. In 1878, after four years’ enforced sojourn in a northern town, she succeeded in evading the (surveillance of the police, without any assistance, or even communication with her friends, and returned to St. Petersburg. The Terrorist phase of the Nihilist movement had then commenced, consequent upon the severities of the Government. General Trepoff had a political prisoner severely flogged, and he was shot by Vera Zassulitch, whom the Czar strove to arrest a second time, after she had been tried and acquitted. This startling event was followed, a few months afterwards, by another—General Mezentsoff was shot dead in the street. Sophie Perovsky threw herself, with all her energy, her iron will, and her fertility in resources, into this new and terrible phase of the movement to which she had devoted herself. She again took up the work of propagandism among the working classes of the capital, and was one of the founders of the society to which Professor Michailoff belonged, implicated in the plot for the assassination of Alexander II.

Once embarked on this dangerous course, all who knew Sophie Perovsky knew that she was not one who would turn back from it. Henceforth she played a prominent part in all the most desperate undertakings of the revolutionists. The first of these in which she participated was the attempt to rescue Voinaralsky, which failed. In the plot to blow up the imperial train at Moscow the duty was assigned to her by the Revolutionary Committee of exploding the deposit of nitro-glycerine, so as to destroy the house and everyone in it in the event of the police coming to arrest the conspirators. This will be remembered as the plot with which Hartmann was connected. Plots against the life of the Czar followed each other rapidly about this time. The blowing up of the stone bridge over the Neva was not accomplished, owing to one of the conspirators failing to keep his appointment, and the plot to blow up the imperial steamer was discovered by the police, the only Nihilist plot they ever succeeded in discovering.

Then came the fearful tragedy of the 13th March, 1881, when a grenade charged with nitro-glycerine was thrown at the Czar, and, exploding at his feet, inflicted such dreadful injuries that he died shortly afterwards. On this dreadful occasion it was Sophie Perovsky who directed the arrangements and had charge of the signals. Geliaboff, who had been concerned in the Moscow attempt, with Michailoff and others, were under her direction. No arrests were made on the spot. The authorities seemed paralysed by mingled fear and horror.

Four days after the tragedy a lady waited upon the Russian writer whose nom de plume is “Stepniak,” with a request that he would go to Sophie Perovsky. He was unaware that she had participated in the crime of the 13th, but he knew the part she had played in the Moscow conspiracy, and concluded that she wished for his assistance in getting out of the country. He found her pale and excited, but without any intention of leaving the city. Full of hope and enthusiasm, she said it was impossible to leave at such a crisis; there was so much to do, so many persons to be seen. She wanted information of “the enemy.” Several arrests had been made, and one of the suspected had committed suicide. The man she loved, too, was compromised, though he had not directly participated in the Killing of Alexander.

There was a police official of high rank with whom “Stepniak” had been acquainted for some years previously, and upon whom he waited at once, after making an appointment with Sophie for the evening. From him he learned that the fate of all the accused was sealed; there would be a trial, but it would only be a form. On meeting Sophie in the evening, he again entreated her to escape from the country; but. she was on that point immovable. She appears, however, to have been much less hopeful of the future than she had been in the morning. They parted a little before midnight, with the intention of meeting again on the following afternoon; but Sophie arrived first at the appointed place, and hurried away again without waiting for her friend’s arrival. Two days afterwards she was arrested. The Countess Perovsky, who travelled in haste from the Crimea on hearing of her arrest, was not allowed to see her until the day on which the trial terminated with a sentence of death upon all the accused. Six days elapsed between the sentence and the execution, and on each day the Countess Perovsky presented herself at the portals of her daughter’s prison, begging to be permitted to see her again, and on the fifth day was told she should see her on the morrow. The unhappy lady went, but only to see Sophie in the fatal cart on the way to execution.

“Sophie Perovsky,” said the St. Petersburg correspondent of the Kolnische Zeitung, in narrating the execution of the conspirators, “displayed extraordinary moral strength. Her cheeks oven preserved their rose colour, while her face, always serious, without the slightest trace of parade, was full of true courage and endless abnegation. Her look was calm and peaceful; not the slightest sign of ostentation could be discerned in it.”

“The Beautiful Nihilist,” New Zealand Herald 30 no. 9416 (July 13, 1889): 2.

Comments Off on The Beautiful Nihilist (Sophie Perovskaya, 1889)

Filed under 1889, beautiful nihilist, Sophie Perovskaya

The Stuff of which Nihilist Martyrs are Made (Sophie Perovskaya, 1881)

The Stuff of which Nihilist Martyrs are Made.

Sophie Perowski, recently executed for complicity in the murder of the Czar, was, according to the Intransigeant, a woman of the highest endowments and accomplishments, who at the age of 16 devoted herself to the propaganda of socialist doctrines. For twelve years she never shrank from any sacrifice and never showed lack of courage or want of presence of mind. She cast aside honors, wealth, case, and submitted to tile coarsest drudgery. She walked alone the whole course of the Volga, her energy triumphing over old cold, tempests, hunger and malady. She felt that her mission was to rouse the peasant from torpor, and to this end worked as a harvest woman in hay and wheat fluids, sometimes dressed as a man. She lived in miserable lodging-houses, and entered into work-shops seeking for employment. She was forced into violence by persecution. Three years ago, after twenty-four months’ detention, she was condemned to transportation to the extreme north, and her sentence was executed in mid-winter. She contrived to drug the tea of her guards, and escaped. She worked her way back to St. Petersburg in a peasant’s dress, and then to Moscow, where she joined in the railway mine conspiracy. The people with whom she lodged never suspected her of being a lady, she went so bravely through the most toilsome drudgery. She had also lived so much with poor people as to be able to enter into ail their ideas.

“The Stuff of which Nihilist Martyrs are Made,” Los Angeles Herald 15 no. 91 (May 18, 1881): 1.

Comments Off on The Stuff of which Nihilist Martyrs are Made (Sophie Perovskaya, 1881)

Filed under 1881, clippings, Sophie Perovskaya