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SHEILA FITZPATRICK begins her London Review of Books article “To King’s Cross Station,” January 7, 2021, with “Lenin liked London. He arrived in April 1902, not long after his release from Siberian exile, and spent about a year in the city before moving on to Geneva, returning for several briefer visits over the next decade. Like a good tourist, he explored the East End on foot and investigated the rest of the city from the top of a bus.”

And, as described in Robert Henderson’s The Spark That Lit the Revolution, Lenin’s real love in London was the Reading Room of the British Museum.

The Spark That Lit a Revolution: Lenin in London and the Politics That Changed the World, by Robert Henderson, I.B. Tauris, 2020.

Here are tidbits gleaned from Sheila Fitzpatrick’s review, together with my usual Internet sleuthing that LRB articles so delightfully encourage.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka N. Lenin, 1870–1924, Russian revolutionary, first and founding head of Soviet Russia, 1917–1924, Soviet Union, 1922–1924.

The N in Vladimir Ilynich Ulyanov’s pseudonym N. Lenin did not stand for anything, a popular misconception being it stood for Nikolai. He adopted this pseudonym in 1901, after having served a three-year exile in eastern Siberia; his crime, anti-tsarist activities.

Nadya, Not Exactly a Love. Nadezhda “Nadya” Krupskaya wasn’t exactly one of Lenin’s loves, though they were married in 1898 so that they could share the Siberian exile together. 

Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya, 1869–1939, Russian revolutionary and wife of N. Lenin.

The LRB’s Fitzpatrick quotes Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn on the Lenin/Krupskaya relationship: “…even ‘on the most trivial of subjects’ Krupskaya’s ‘thoughts and feelings never differed from his own,’ but later notes that their conversations had started to bore him: ‘Her replies, delivered with long-winded solemnity, were so obvious as to be superfluous. Never a fresh and original response.’ ”

Author Henderson notes her “unflattering party nicknames (‘fish’, ‘herring’),” and a contemporary description of her in 1905 as a 32-year-old woman, tall, brown hair, blinks her eyes, walks with a slight stoop, dressed in dark grey.”

Fitzpatrick cites a Lenin contemporary describing Nadya as “ ‘a very commonplace woman…’ with a tendency to enunciate truisms ‘in the tone of a schoolmistress.’ ”


And Then There’s Apollinariya. Fitzpatrick writes, “A woman of ‘rare beauty’ possessed of an ‘unconquerable spirit,’ Apollinariya Yakubova has clearly won Henderson’s heart, and he thinks she won Lenin’s, too.”

Fitzpatrick continues, “Rumour has it that before proposing to Krupskaya… Lenin had proposed to Yakubova and been turned down.”

Fitzpatrick notes, “Henderson’s book includes six glossy photographs of Yakubova, out of a total of 29 plates…. I liked the look of her from the pictures. As a young woman she was lively-looking and attractive (‘rare beauty’ may be going too far)….”

Apollinariya Alexandrovna Yakubova, died 1913 or 1917, Russian revolutionary and, with N. Lenin, one of the founders of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. Image from the The Independent, May 2, 2015.

The Independent, May 2, 2015, wrote, “She was described admiringly by Vladimir Lenin’s wife as the ‘primeval force of the Black Earth,’ a revolutionary firebrand with sparkling brown eyes whose natural aroma was of ‘fresh meadow grasses.’ It is no wonder then that the search for an image of Apollinariya Yakubova, considered by some to be the Communist leader’s true love, has captured the imagination of generations of historians.”

The Independent continued: “Dr. Robert Henderson, a Russian history expert at Queen Mary University, made an unexpected discovery in the State Archive of the Russian Federation earlier this month while researching the life of another revolutionary.” Namely, he discovered photographs of Apollinariya Yakubova.

A Love Triangle. Nadya Krupskaya and “Lirochka” Yakubova, as Lenin called her, were initially best of revolutionary pals, though later the trio had a serious falling out over ideological differences. The Independent reported that “Yakubova preferred a brand of ‘organised democracy’ where working people were more involved in the party compared with Lenin’s favoured ‘centralism,’ where a small group of professional revolutionaries called the shots.”

Needless to say, Lenin won on this dialectical issue. The Independent noted, “What became of Yakubova in Russia is not known. The last-known trace of Lenin’s lost love came from Takhtarev [her husband], who in 1924 described Yakubova as ‘my selfless friend who magnanimously sacrificed her life for the cause of the emancipation of labour’. She is believed to have died between 1913 and 1917.”

Lenin’s Real Love? Wikipedia cites biographer Louis Fischer describing Lenin as “ ‘a lover of radical change and maximum upheaval,’ a man for whom ‘there was never a middle-ground.’ ”

And, perhaps, a lover of the Reading Room of the British Museum. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021

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