The Paris Review

When Oscar Wilde Colluded with the Russians

Oscar Wilde

In 1880, Oscar Wilde made the uneventful decision to write a play about Russian terrorism. I say it was uneventful because the play (his first), , appeared amid a deluge of other crime thrillers, adventure tales, and even romance novels about Russian nihilists and their terror plots. The Vera of Wilde’s play was inspired by the real-life figure of Vera Zasulich, whose attempted assassination in 1878 of the governor of Saint Petersburg made her an international lightening rod, especially in England where the public feared Russian nihilists might stoke domestic tensions and inspire Irish separatists. In many ways, fears of Russian interference unfolded in Victorian Britain in a manner not unlike what we see today. As was the case in Wilde’s era, the specter

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