Angel of Vengeance: The Girl Who Shot the Governor of St. Petersburg and Sparked the Age of Assassination

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9780312364014: Angel of Vengeance: The Girl Who Shot the Governor of St. Petersburg and Sparked the Age of Assassination

In the Russian winter of 1878 a shy, aristocratic young woman named Vera Zasulich walked into the office of the governor of St. Petersburg, pulled a revolver from underneath her shawl, and shot General Fedor Trepov point blank. "Revenge!," she cried, for the governor's brutal treatment of a political prisoner. Her trial for murder later that year became Russia's "trial of the century," closely followed by people all across Europe and America. On the day of the trial, huge crowds packed the courtroom. The cream of Russian society, attired in the finery of the day, arrived to witness the theatrical testimony and deliberations in the case of the young angel of vengeance. After the trial, Vera became a celebrated martyr for all social classes in Russia and became the public face of a burgeoning revolutionary fervor. Dostoyevsky (who attended the trial), Turgenev, Engels, and even Oscar Wilde all wrote about her extraordinary case. Her astonishing acquittal was celebrated across Europe, crowds filled the streets and the decision marked the changing face of Russia. After fleeing to Switzerland, Vera Zasulich became Russia's most famous "terroristka," inspiring a whole generation of Russian and European revolutionaries to embrace violence and martyrdom. Her influence led to a series of acts that collectively became part of "the age of assassinations." In the now-forgotten story of Russia's most notorious terrorist, Ana Siljak captures Vera's extraordinary life story--from privileged child of nobility to revolutionary conspirator, from assassin to martyr to socialist icon and saint-- while colorfully evoking the drama of one of the world's most closely watched trials and a Russia where political celebrities held sway.

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About the Author:

ANA SILJAK is a professor of history at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. She received her Ph.D. in Russian History from Harvard University, and specializes in the subjects of pre-Revolutionary Russia and the history of terrorism. She lives in Kingston with her husband and two children.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Angel of Vengeance
CHAPTER 1 Assassin  
 
Zasulich was not a terrorist. She was the angel of vengeance, and not of terror. She was a victim who voluntarily threw herself into the jaws of the monster in order to cleanse the honour of the party from a moral outrage. Yet this occurrence gave to the Terrorism a most powerful impulse. It illuminated it with its divine aureola, and gave to it the sanction of sacrifice and of public opinion. --SERGEI KRAVCHINSKII, UNDERGROUND RUSSIA1 On the evening of January 23, 1878, a few close friends gathered spontaneously at Evtikhii Karpov's small, three-room flat on Rizhkii Street in St. Petersburg. Though sparsely furnished in the typical nomadic revolutionary style, with mismatched creaking chairs and a few wooden-plank beds, Karpov's apartment beckoned with its unending hospitality. On any given night, someone was visiting--taking tea, sharing news, or staying the night on the sitting room floor. The gas stove always had something cooking, and the samovar was always bubbling. On that evening, however, gloom settled over the kitchen table. Gathered around their teacups, Karpov's guests found they had little to say. Vera Zasulich was particularly silent and withdrawn. Only Masha Kolenkina, in her usual irrepressible manner, occasionally made a joke or a comment, though no one responded. Finally, to dispel the gloom, Nikolai Shevyrev poured beer for everyone and proposed a toast to Vera and Masha, wishing them the best of luck. Without a word, everyone clinked glasses. To break the silence, Vera asked Nikolai to sing "High Mountain," a mournful Ukrainian folk tune. Shevyrev obligingly began in his gentle tenor, "Yonder stands a mountain high ...," and was soon accompanied by Sergei Chubarov's melodious baritone. Vera laid her head on Masha's shoulder and closed her eyes. Around the room, many an eye was filled with tears. Masha alone refused to submit to the general melancholy. To lift the spirits of her comrades, she asked that they all join in singing "She Lives On,Our Ukraine," the patriotic Ukrainian tune that, for the group, evoked memories of days spent on the southern steppe lands, preaching revolution to the peasants. Her ploy worked. The conversation turned to reminiscences of those headier times, when Russia seemed poised on the brink of revolt. Soon enough, many began to laugh as Sergei Chubarov regaled the gathering with comical anecdotes about village life in Ukraine. Not one person yet dared to mention what awaited them the next day, though the thought weighed heavily on all of them. On January 24, 1878, Vera and Masha planned to kill two government officials. For that, most likely, they would pay the ultimate price.2  
The plot had been months in the making. Vera Zasulich would appear in the office of the governor of St. Petersburg, General Fedor Trepov, during the morning hours when petitioners were granted an audience. This was the best time: While the governor was "receiving," almost any person could walk in off the street and stand in line to present him with a request. And petitioners were invariably a timid, downtrodden lot. An anxious woman would arouse no suspicion in the midst of such company. Her "petition" was simple. She would present herself as Elizaveta Kozlova, a prospective governess, and would carry a request for a certificate of conduct, a document required by those who sought to teach children. She bought a plain but respectable new dress and hat. In the seams of her clothes she carefully sewed the initials EK, so that they would be discovered during the police search. Most important, she purchased a voluminous gray shawl that was appropriate for the icy winter weather and large enough to conceal a gun. Through a comrade she obtained a six-chamber English Bulldog revolver--it was powerful, but easy to handle and small enough to be hidden in the folds of her clothing. She told her landlady that she was leaving for Moscow for good and gave instructions on where to send any remaining personal effects.3 Masha's plan was even simpler. She was to visit the prosecutor Vladislav Zhelekhovskii on the same day. Weeks of surveillance revealed that the prosecutor did not have regular receiving hours, so Masha had to bribe one of his servants to let her into his offices at the appointed time. Like Vera, she planned to hide a revolver under her coat, but she decided not to carry a petition with her. She planned to shoot Zhelekhovskii on sight.4 Two simultaneous gunshots, aimed at two government officials, would be fired on the same day. The women had no doubt: January 24, 1878, would be remembered in Russian history. On the evening of January 23, after the festivities, Vera and Masha returned to Vera's tiny one-bedroom apartment and made their final arrangements in silence. Vera sat and carefully wrote her formal petition to the governor. Both women laid out their clothing for the next day. Then they went to bed.5 Up until the moment she laid her head on the pillow, Vera had been remarkably calm. This was no last-minute impulse but a long-deliberated decision, and she had no regrets. She was not afraid. She fully expected that the worst consequences would follow her act: imprisonment, exile, even death. Long before this night, she had mentally forsaken everything in her life. Her only desire was to pass through this "transitional state" so that she could embrace her fate. But trepidation could not be delayed forever. Sleep eluded Vera that fateful night, as she struggled against a heavy spiritual weight that felt as if it were crushing her chest. Unbidden images flitted through her mind: The governor would approach her, perhaps look her right in the eyes. Mere feet would separate them. Then she would have to pull out the gun, point it at him, and pull the trigger. Despite her anger and hatred, despite her hard determination, that one act suddenly seemed "deathly difficult." It was as if she realized for the first time that she was about to kill a human being. When she finally drifted into sleep, she was swept into a recurrent nightmare. She dreamed that she was lying in her bed, as if awake, fully conscious of losing her mind. In the dream, something pulled at her, dragged her into a dark corridor and compelled her to scream with all of her might; the urge was so relentless, she ran out of the room and began to scream and scream. Masha woke her up: Vera had cried out in her sleep. She closed her eyes again, but the dream reappeared, enveloping her, dragging her back into the corridor. Relief only came with the first gray light of dawn. The women quickly got up and began to dress. Vera's thoughts and movements were now mechanical, as if previously rehearsed. She put on her old clothing, so that the new clothes would not arouse the curiosity of the landlady. The large gray shawl was particularly striking, and the landlady, who was up at all hours, would be sure to notice, and to remember when the newspaper accounts appeared. Masha accompanied Vera to the train station and helped her to change her clothes. The two women embraced briefly, and then Vera boarded the train to St. Petersburg. Masha would follow later. They did not know when they would see each other again, if ever. Vera's thoughts were now silenced, except for the single observation that the streets of the city seemed empty, cold, and dark on that January morning in 1878.  
Nineteenth-century travelers to St. Petersburg found a curious mix of the ordinary and the exotic. The city was born in the imagination of Tsar Peter the Great in the very early years of the eighteenth century, when that indomitable ruler decided to take a swamp and transform it into nothing less than a "window to Western Europe." Peter wanted his new city to be thoroughly European--he patterned its streets and canals on the city layout of Amsterdam--and the tsars that followed him remained faithful to his plan, importing architects and masons from Italy and other parts of Europe to design and build graceful mansions, palaces, and gardens. In 1712, when Peter unilaterally declared St. Petersburg the new capital of Russia and summarily ordered a thousand aristocrats to move there, it was widely considered a disease-ridden backwater. But by the end of the nineteenth century, visitors regularly compared St. Petersburg to Paris and London.6 By 1878, the city had become a first-rank European capital. Opportunityseeking Russians and Europeans flocked to it in droves. The streets teemed with all classes and ethnic groups. Modest clerks mingled with aristocrats; high-ranking officials and destitute migrant workers often lived on different floors of the same building. From all over the growing Russian Empire, representatives from subject nationalities came to the capital to do business. 7 Nevskii Prospekt, St. Petersburg's main thoroughfare, was appropriately grand and opulent, running in a straight line from the Aleksandr Nevskii Monastery at one end to the Admiralty building on the other. Even the most sophisticated of Europeans remarked on the street's "bejeweled" magnificence. Enormously wide, Nevskii was flanked on either side by rows of neatly constructed, pale stucco buildings. Gilded letters on azure or crimson backdrops adorned storefronts, and within the stores, discerning customers could find anything from costly jewels to Persian carpets, silver weapons from the Far East, leather boots, and European artwork. Food was imported from all over the world, and shops sought to tempt passersby with their exotic fruits and varieties of caviar heaped high in the windows.8 Nevskii was St. Petersburg's main promenade, the center of the city's social life. By noon on winter days it overflowed with humanity, as if everyone in the city had crowded onto one street. Elegant ladies rode in open carriages,their laps protected with piles of warm fur, while more modest sorts traveled in tiny one-horse cabs that recklessly careened through the crowds. Russian nannies in traditional red headdresses wheeled small carriages containing tightly wrapped babies. Boys in dusty street clothes sold rolls and pirogi from baskets on the sidewalks. Class, nationality, and rank were each marked by appropriate costume: gray coats for the guard officers, dark green for the civil servants, blue caftans for the merchants, glorious sable or black fox for the wealthy women, and plain cotton kerchiefs for the less well-born.9 But early on that January morning, when Vera ventured into the center of the city, Nevskii Prospekt was virtually deserted. In the heart of winter, when the nights were endless and bitter, the residents of St. Petersburg rose late. To compensate for the cold and dark, the city had a vibrant and colorful nightlife. Those who could afford it dined at restaurants and played cards at chandelier-lit clubs. Those who could not stayed outside to enjoy skating or sledding on enormous, man-made ice hills, accompanied by brass bands thumping out popular music. But since the winter sun did not rise until after 9:00 A.M., neither did the city. Foreigners complained that it was difficult to get so much as a newspaper before 11:00 in the morning.10 Dressed neatly in a new fur cap and thick gray cloak, Vera would have been an odd sight at that hour. Respectable women rarely ventured out so early, and they did not walk. But few were around to take notice. Yawning doormen swept snow off stoops, and muzhiks--servants wearing their characteristic high black boots and long shirts--carried pine baskets to the bakeries to fetch fresh bread for breakfast. In their tiny horse-drawn cabs, the izvoshchiks slumped over their reins, waiting for their first customers. Everyone else stayed sheltered behind frosted double-paned windows, sipping morning tea.11 The governor's apartments were situated directly across from the tall golden Admiralty spire that stood at the top of Nevskii Prospekt and marked the center of St. Petersburg. He lived and worked in the center of Russian officialdom, in close proximity to the Senate Building, the various ministry buildings, and the tsar's sprawling Winter Palace. This was a wellheeled neighborhood, home to the most elegant cafés and clubs. On sunny winter afternoons, the residents of the area strolled in all their finery--the men in gold-braided uniforms and the women in fox-trimmed velvet cloaks.12 When Vera appeared at the governor's door, the people who hovered in the entryway were a very different sort. A motley group of petitioners hadgathered, a few poor clerks in threadbare overcoats, soldiers in faded military uniforms, and women hunched beneath tattered shawls. They were careful to be extremely punctual--the governor's receiving hours began precisely at 10:00 A.M.13 The plight of the petitioner in nineteenth-century Russia was almost medieval. Though bureaucratization had long ago introduced formal procedures for getting a document signed or a passport stamped, much was still done in the time-honored way: by personally presenting a request to an important person. Whether it was something relatively insignificant, like replacing a passport or finding an item of lost mail, or something of crucial importance, like resolving a property dispute or locating an imprisoned family member, formal bureaucratic channels were often useless. Thus did the routine of petitioning grind on as it had for centuries. Receiving hours in an important official's home often played out like an elaborate court ceremony. As a petitioner, you might be forced to wait for hours until the official appeared. While you waited, it was advisable to carefully craft the wording of your petition, especially if it was a complicated request. Russian officials were known to cut off petitioners as they spoke, or take offense at minor mistakes in wording. And it was wise to speak in tones of the greatest humility, with bowed head and downcast eyes, since any hint of arrogance could inspire an official to reduce a petitioner to tears.14 When later questioned by the police, the petitioners who waited in Trepov's office on January 24 remembered nothing about Vera Zasulich. One clerk recalled that he had not even looked at the other people in the room, so intently was he rehearsing his petition.15 Vera, however, was utterly calm. Quietly standing with the rest of the petitioners in the specially reserved waiting room, she felt confident enough to assist a fellow petitioner, a weepy and poor old woman, who asked Vera to read over a tear-stained document. Testing her nerves, Vera escorted the woman to the guard on duty, asking him to confirm that everything was in order. Her voice did not waver, and she gave no sign of agitation. Her confidence rose.16 After what seemed like a long time, an adjutant appeared from behind a door and ushered the petitioners into the governor's grand, wood-paneled reception room. The petitioners barely had time to line up against the back wall when the large, ornate double doors that led to Trepov's private office were flung open, and the governor strode in with his retinue of military officers. He was regally attired in a deep blue general's uniform. Among his array ofmedals was the Cross of St. Anne, hanging immediately under his chin. Trepov was known for a meticulously cultivated air of importance, constantly frowning as if in deep thought. Unfortunately, his portraits revealed a slightly comical appearance, with long, thick mustaches and a small round head perched on a thin neck.17 At that moment, a glitch nearly spoiled Vera's plans. She had intended to fire the gun when the governor approached the person in front of her, but she...

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Descrizione libro Griffin Publishing, United States, 2010. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.In the winter of 1878, Vera Zasulich shot the governor of St. Petersburg for his brutal treatment of a political prisoner. Her trial became Russia s first trial of the century as the courtrooms filled with the cream of society. Vera was a celebrated martyr to all Russian social classes and a public face of the growing revolutionary fervour. Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Bakunin all wrote in her support. Her astonishing acquittal was cheered, marking the changing face of Russia. Vera became Russia s most famous terroristka , inspiring a generation of revolutionaries to embrace violence and martyrdom, culminating in the assassination of Alexander II. In the story of Russia s most infamous terrorist, Ana Siljak captures Vera s extraordinary life story - from privileged nobility to revolutionary conspirator to assassin and then saint - all while offering a vivid window into the fiery political upheaval of Russia. Codice libro della libreria AAV9780312364014

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Descrizione libro Griffin Publishing, United States, 2010. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. In the winter of 1878, Vera Zasulich shot the governor of St. Petersburg for his brutal treatment of a political prisoner. Her trial became Russia s first trial of the century as the courtrooms filled with the cream of society. Vera was a celebrated martyr to all Russian social classes and a public face of the growing revolutionary fervour. Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Bakunin all wrote in her support. Her astonishing acquittal was cheered, marking the changing face of Russia. Vera became Russia s most famous terroristka , inspiring a generation of revolutionaries to embrace violence and martyrdom, culminating in the assassination of Alexander II. In the story of Russia s most infamous terrorist, Ana Siljak captures Vera s extraordinary life story - from privileged nobility to revolutionary conspirator to assassin and then saint - all while offering a vivid window into the fiery political upheaval of Russia. Codice libro della libreria AAV9780312364014

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