Mariya Spiridonova: Russian Martyr and British Heroine? The Portrayal of a Russian Female Terrorist in the British Press



In his biographical notes to The Russian Revolution 191721, James D. White records that Mariya Aleksandrovna Spiridonova (1884–1941) attempted to assassinate General Luzhenovskii in 1906 as reprisal for his brutal suppression of local peasant disturbances in Tambov.1 Anna Geifman suggests that this assassination is particularly noteworthy due to the fact that it was widely publicised and received a great deal of attention both inside Russia itself and abroad, mainly because Spiridonova was reportedly beaten by the general’s guards, then tortured and sexually assaulted during interrogation.2 Indeed, there was what might be described as a lurid press campaign in support of Spiridonova which influenced western public opinion to see her as a martyr rather than a terrorist, as a victim rather than an assassin. Spiridonova came to epitomise the Russian female revolutionary, as reflected in Jaakoff Prelooker’s 1908 publication Heroes and Heroines of Russia, and 90 years later, in Margaret Maxwell’s Narodniki Women: Russian Women Who Sacrificed Themselves for the Dream of Freedom.3 As a British reviewer of Prelooker’s book wrote, ‘whilst Russian women give not only themselves, but their daughters to the holy war (does not Maria Spiridonova’s mother call herself “the proudest mother in Russia”?) it must triumph’.4


Death Sentence Political Prisoner Labour Leader Russian Woman Russian Revolution 
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Copyright information

© Jane McDermid 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SouthamptonUK

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