I recently finished reading Memoirs of a Revolutionist by Peter Kropotkin – a superb book (especially first two thirds) which I heartily recommend. Kropotkin himself comes over as a man of genius but there are many other characters that appear in the narrative who were obviously extraordinary people and deserve to be more than historical footnotes.

One of the most striking is Sofiya Peróvskaya, who was hanged in 1881 for her part in the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. In Kropotkin’s words

The letter she wrote to her mother a few hours before she went to the scaffold is one of the best expressions of a loving soul that a woman’s heart ever dictated.

Here is a translation of the letter that I managed to find on the internet.

Mother, mother! Beloved, beloved one! If you only knew how cruelly I suffer at the thought of the sorrow and torture I have caused you, dearest! I beg and beseech you not to rack your tender heart for my sake. Spare yourself and think of all those who are round you at home, and who love you no less than I do, and need you constantly; and who, more than I, are entitled to your love and affection. Spare yourself too, for the sake of me, who would be so happy if only the agonising thought of the sorrow I have caused you did not torture me so unspeakably. Sorrow not over my fate which I created for myself, as you know, at the strict behest of my conscience. You know that I could not have acted differently, that I was obliged to do what my heart ordered, that I had to go and leave you, beloved mother, when my country called me. Do not think that the death that inevitably awaits me has any terror for my soul. That which has happened is only, you know, what I have been expecting every day, every hour, during all those years, and what sooner or later, must overtake me and my friends. Soon in the course of a few days I must die for the cause, for the idea, for which I devoted my life and all the powers of my soul and body. How happy I should be then, dearest, beloved! Once more I beseech you not to mourn for me. You are well aware how ineffably I love you. I have always, always loved you. By this love I conjure you to forgive your Sonya! Again and again I kiss your beloved hands, and on my knees, thank you for all you have given me during every moment of my life. On my knees I beseech you to bear to all the dear ones at home my last loving greetings! Tomorrow I shall stand once more in the presence of my judges; probably for the last time. But my clothes are so shabby and I wanted to tidy myself up a bit. Buy and send me, dearest mama, a little white collar and a pair of simple loose sleeves with links. Perhaps it will be vouchsafed us once again to meet. Until then, farewell! Do not forget my last fervent prayer, my last thought: forgive me and do not bewail me.

A 1967 Russian film directed by Lev Arnshtam dramatised her life. Dmitri Shostakovich wrote the score. If you’d like to watch it, here it is. No subtitles though.

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