The Gadfly is a novel by Ethel Lilian Voynich, published in , set in s Italy under the dominance of Austria, a time of tumultuous revolt and upri. The Gadfly – By E. L. Voynich – Arthur Burton, an English Catholic, travels to Italy to study to be a priest. He discovers radical ideas, renounces Catholicism and. The Gadfly [Ethel Voynich] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers . Ethel Voynich’s classic tale of revolution, romance, religion, youth, and loss.

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Some months ago I began thinking about Russian children’s books.

The reviewer, having delivered the obligatory stock sneers about Bulldog Drummond, British Intelligence, John Buchan, the Zinoviev Letter, and old Uncle Percy Blakeney and all, wistfully regretted never gadflg come across progressive children’s books, with a clean-limbed young leftist hero besting the evil forces of imperialism and finance capital; sadly, he even doubted whether anything like that had ever been written.

Ha-ha, I thought or words to that effect. For I had certainly read such books—hundreds of them, in fact.

And I started to recollect. What are they like, the children’s books on which little Russian boys and girls are edu- cated in the virtues of patriotism, courage, spying and purity? Much the same as the English ones, only worse—both more tedious and more tendentious. Yet strangely enough the most popular work of homiletic children’s fiction in the USSR voyhich an English novel—even though no non-communist Englishman I know has ever heard of the book or even its author.

I must have been about ten when I first read The Gadfly, but as I was already familiar with gadcly much better books, even at that tender age I found it hard to swallow Mrs Voynich’s preposterous plot and gushing romantic soppi- ness. It is all about the secret societies of the Italian Carbonari in the s and s. voyynich

The gadfly and the spy » 17 May » The Spectator Archive

The hero is a young Englishman, Arthur Burton, a devout Catholic, who gets mixed up with the revolutionaries—and suddenly discovers not voynivh that he has unwittingly betrayed his com- rades to the police through the perfidy of his father-confessor, but also that he is the illegitimate son of another Catholic priest whom he loves and admires, voynicb Montanelli.

Arthur fakes suicide and escapes to South America, when he reappears years later as the mysterious and dreaded revolutionary, ‘The Gadfly,’ unrecognised by all except the readers. In the end he is caught, sentenced and executed; the last rites are administered. From the moment The Gadfly first appeared, its combination of anti-clericalism, revolution- ism and high-coloured romance proved irre- sistible to the Russians.


The book was translated into RusSian the year after its English publication: Young revolutionaries swore by The Gadfly. But it was only after that it really came into its own: Innumerable polls over the years have shown that Arthur Burton was the favourite literary hero of every right-minded Soviet youth. The Gadfly became even more popular after the appearance in the early s of that other wholesome Soviet best-seller, Nikolai Ostrov- sky’s How the Steel was Tempered: But his spirit never flags, his revolutionary ardour never cools— because at every critical moment gadflt his life he turns for inspiration and moral sustenance to The Gadfly.

Before battle, Korchagin would gather his rough comrades around him and announce a reading from the Good Book: The Bat- talion Commissar gave it to me. If you’ll sit quietly I’ll read it to you. When Korchagin was critically wounded his doctors marvelled at the sixteen year old boy’s fortitude. One of them expressed her amaze- ment in her diary: I asked him, and he replied:.

And so millions of Soviet young people read The Gadfly and found out what a good revo- lutionary was supposed to be like. For a very long time, however, its author remained some- thing of a mystery. She had faded from sight early in the century, and no one had heard of her since. It was widely believed that she was dead. In a delegation of Soviet journalists visited the United States, for the first time since the onset of the Cold War. And one morning a Russian diplomat burst into the New York hotel room occupied by Boris Polevoi, a delegation member.

Almost in- coherent with excitement, he barely managed to stammer out that he had just seen Ethel Voynich! They rang the bell—and there she was before them: Ethel Lilian Voynich, the author of The Gadfly, ninety-one years of age.

She had lived in New York sinceforgotten and unread in the West, and totally unaware Soviet copyright laws being what they are of having become one of Russia’s great legendary figures. She could hardly believe it.

The gadfly and the spy

The Soviet journalists were, if anything, even more astonished: That night Polevoi wrote in his diary: Was it dream or reality? I can hardly believe that this meeting actually took place.

From that day on the old lady’s home became a place of pil- grimage for every Soviet visitor to the us— a kind of New York Marx’s grave.

Mrs Voynich died inbewildered gafdly still somevOtat unbelieving, despite the stacks of copies of various editions of The Gadfly which now occupied most of her flat. Her death was mourned as that of a great national figure. Yet one last mystery still remained unsolved.

Who was the splendid revolutionary upon whom the character of ‘The Gadfly’ had gacfly modelled? The Russian journalists eagerly put the question to Mrs Voynich. She had thought for a while, then shook her head: It was all so long ago.


Then the Soviet literary historians had a go. They dragged gadtly various nineteenth century Italian, Russian and even Polish revolutionaries Mr Voynich had been a Polebut for gadlfy reason or another none of them fitted. There the matter rested. For soon after reading the review I got down to the immensely fascinating book itself. And there, on page 27, was the answer to the problem which has occupied some of Russia’s best minds for so many years.

It appears that in Reilly had had a brief but passionate love affair with a young English woman writer, to whom he had confided the strange story of his early life. Greatly intrigued, she decided to make him the hero of her next novel. Yes, you ggadfly guessed it: It is all in it: Reilly’s Catholic upbringing, his illegitimacy, discovered by accident at the age of nineteen, his betrayal and arrest, his pre- tended suicide and journey to South America —even the details of Reilly’s odd personality and his physical appearance, down to his stammer.

The Gadfly’ is Sidney Reilly. He is gadf,y only foreign spy whose name is known to every educated Russian. Is it possible to imagine anything more weird than the fact of Soviet Russia’s most revered literary hero being based upon the real- life character of their greatest enemy? I wonder what they are going to do about it now, when ‘The Gadfly’ has finally been exposed for what he was?

Since he has already been executed twice—by the forces of reaction as ‘Arthur Burton’ and gadfl the OGPU as Sidney Reilly—they can hardly do much more along these lines. Of course, they might simply try to brazen it out.

But anyway, things could never be the same again: Sidney Reilly was a man of infinite disguises —French cure, German staff officer, Russian Bolshevik—but not one of them can compare voynifh that of ‘The Gadfly,’ in which he has suc- gsdfly insinuated himself into the heart and mind of every Soviet boy and girl brought up since the Revolution. Spotted a problem with this article? Zoom page 17 May Page 9, 17 May — The gadfly and the spy. Spectator Archive by Netcopy.