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Key Character Backstories

Sidney Reilly (ne Sigmund Rosenblum)

Reilly’s psychological/emotional trigger is rooted in a hostile relationship with his father that climaxes when his father discovers Reilly’s affair with his cousin, Elena.  The result is the loss of his family (his father disowns him and tosses him out) and of his cousin-lover, who quickly ends the affair.   For Reilly this is abandonment and betrayal times two.  The moral responsibility for both is too much for the sixteen-year-old boy to shoulder.  He escapes, both physically and emotionally, from authority, from moral imperative to the clearer ground of pure practicality.  This transformation becomes the central element in his career in politics and espionage. 

The New Family

Reilly has lost his first family but acquires a second one in Nadezhda Petrova and her daughter Katya and son Sasha and half-son, Alex, and later Katya’s children Anna and Ilya.  This begins at Warsaw University, where Reilly, Sasha and Alex meet Volodia Orlov.  The four become small players in various student revolutionary groups based mostly on beer hall philosophy, unlike Dzerzhinsky and Savinkov who in much the same political milieu opt for hard-headed Socialism and terrorist tactics.  Reilly’s behavior makes him a political enemy of the Tsar’s Okhrana secret police and results in arrest(s).  

Alex Petrov, Sasha’s half-brother, is murdered by the Tsar’s police while reading radical Socialist poetry at an anti-Tsarist demonstration.   The authorities are able to coopt Sasha and Volodia with a combination of threats against their families and friends and the promise of high-level jobs once they graduate.  Reilly expresses anger at the police and his friends, and disappears with the Okhrana in pursuit.  He rejoins his friends at some later point. 

Nadezhda Petrova (backstory only)

Nadezhda, a widow, is the mother of Sasha, Katya and the late Alexander.  After Sasha’s graduation from Warsaw University, Nadezhda beckons her son, daughter, Reilly and Volodia to live with her in her mansion.  She still suffers from the loss of a son and a husband.  But, more than loneliness, she values the ties that they have formed together, which are at least as strong as those of many biological families.  Reilly is usually away, but has a room in Nadezhda’s house when in St. Petersburg and is very much a family authority figure.

Nadezhda is a pacifist with radical Socialist views similar to those of her late son Alex, but without the doctrinal view of terrorism that Savinkov and Dzerzhinsky hold.  In 1905 a great crowd grows in the streets of St. Petersburg and marches to the Winter Palace to stage a political protest.  Nadezhda organizes a small demonstration with friends who intend to give flowers to the police as a sign of goodwill.  But an Okhrana officer orders his men to shoot her.  Violence breaks out, the police slaughter hundreds and an Okhrana agent murders Nadezhda. 

Anna, Ilya and Elena

The family stays in Nadezhda’s house.  Anna and Ilya are born while Reilly is away.  They are told that their father died a hero in the Japanese War at Port Arthur, but no one ever speaks about it, even to Reilly when he returns.   Anna and Ilya both come to sense a mystery concerning the identity of their father, and later about the deaths of their grandmother and uncle.  While they treat the de-mystification of these events differently, both idolize Reilly, Anna romantically and Ilya as a boyhood hero.  Later, Anna wonders out loud whether Reilly might be her father.

Sometime around 1910, Elena returns to St. Petersburg and contacts Reilly but refuses to re-engage him romantically.  She takes a Bolshevik lover, calls herself “Linda” (Rosenblum) and establishes a close friendship with Katya, who confides to her that a police villain years earlier raped her and fathered Anna and Ilya.  For political reasons, “Linda” (Elena) is forced to escape the Okhrana in late 1916 but returns the following April by train with Lenin and his comrades.

Boris Savinkov

Savinkov has been friendly with Sasha and Volodia, whom he meets in law school in St Petersburg.  Later he becomes close to Reilly and Reilly’s cousin Elena.  In the late 1890’s he subscribes to a philosophy of persistent but peaceful resistance (of the Victor Chernov variety), and enters law school in St. Petersburg.  But Savinkov is emotionally supercharged, especially where Russia and patriotism are concerned, and not surprisingly is expelled from law school for participation in student rioting.  He becomes a salon writer, poet, revolutionary philosopher, and eventually a leader of the SR Combat Organization after the outing of the strange Yevno Azev.  He plans and carries off numerous anti-Monarchist terrorist acts, including assassinations of Russian Interior Minister von Plehve and Grand Duke Sergei.  He is arrested and escapes to Europe, where he eventually serves in the French Army in the early years of the First World War. 

Savinkov is devoted to a radical SR theology that approves revolutionary violence but demands in exchange a life of self-sacrifice, even death in The Revolution’s service.  Absent self-sacrifice, this theology considers terrorism a sin in the Orthodox sense, for which there is no atonement and consequently no salvation.  Except for political practicality, this creed requires self-examination and honesty.

Feliks Dzerzhinsky

Dzerzhinsky is a Polish Catholic whose early years are lived in a monastery.  He becomes impatient and disgusted with the bureaucratic politics of the institution, its Christian theology and unquestioning faith that seem only to perpetuate the established order.  He demonstrates brilliance in his studies; one Elder after another attempts to establish exclusive conjugal relations.  One in particular does not, and Dzerzhinsky accepts his offer to establish a master-student relationship in which his faith is re-kindled.  But when the Elder is murdered, Dzerzhinsky runs away to Moscow where he joins the Leninists in their atheistic, revolutionary activities.   He has no longer any faith, except in his own power to influence by intimidation.