November 01, 2019

Pale Horse and Remembering Leningrad



Pale Horse and Remembering Leningrad

Boris Savinkov (1879-1925) was a participant in revolutionary terror and was arrested for the assassination of the tsar’s uncle, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, in 1905. “Victim” he was not; victims the novel’s characters aren’t. All of them are more or less committed terrorists who justify their murders of government officials and members of the tsar’s family.

The narrator is “George,” the brains of the operation, who plans the assassination of, sure enough, the grand duke; one of George’s comrades in terror, Vanya, is the novel’s soul. Vanya, who Savinkov based on the revolutionary Ivan Kalyayev, kills in the name of Christ. “We are lacking in faith and we are weak as children; therefore we wield the sword,” he tells the skeptical, nihilistic George. “We raise it not because we are strong, but out of fear and weakness.”

We learn from George’s half-year’s diary as a hit-man that he hates the grand duke, but he wishes he had an actual purpose or belief beyond murder. He snivels: “Why is it all right to kill for the terror, necessary to kill for the fatherland, but for oneself – impossible?” George would like, perhaps, to be as mysterious and wicked as The Brothers Karamazov’s Smerdyakov, but he is after all only a third-rate Raskolnikov. Erna, a bomb-making chemist, is love-lorn for George, who meanwhile is obsessed about his lover Elena, who is married to a military man. She prefers not to choose between her two men. That melodramatic detour is a dead-end.


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See Also

1917 Diary

1917 Diary

In which we look at the revolutionary year through the eyes of the people living through it. In this issue, the politicians, the tsar, and Alexander Blok.
1917 Diary

1917 Diary

In which we look at the revolutionary year through the eyes of the people living through it.

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