“Morte accidentale di un anarchico”*

*play by Italian playwright Dario Fo that premiered in 1970. Considered a classic of 20th-century theater, the play is based on the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing.

From Gill Clegg’s Chiswick People:

“Sergius Stepniak was the name used in Britain by Sergius Mikhailovich Kravchinsky, a Russian anarchist and revolutionary. Stepniak (which means ‘man of the steppes’) fled Russia in 1878 after being implicated in a murder. Stepniak (1851-1895) arrived in London in 1885 where he worked as a journalist and published a book on the Russian revolutionary movement (Underground Russia) which was to have a great impact on the early British Socialist movement.

Stepniak numbered William Morris, Walter Sickert and George Bernard Shaw among his friends and was extremely popular: ‘one of the gentlest of men, a man of a sweet and lovable nature’ is how one friend described him. It is said that Stepniak was the model for the Russian exile in Edith Nesbit’s novel The Railway Children.

Stepniak lived at 31 Blandford Road from 1893 to 1895 when he moved to 48 Woodstock Road (pictured). Later that year he was killed on the level crossing of the North & South Western Junction Railway line in Woodstock Road. Around a thousand mourners turned out for his funeral procession from Chiswick to Waterloo (he was buried at Brookwood cemetery near Woking).”

From Wikipedia:

“On 23 December 1895 the Ukrainian exile and anarchist Sergey Stepnyak-Kravchinsky (usually known as Stepniak) was killed by a train on the Hammersmith branch at Woodstock Road; there was a pedestrian crossing there, and the site later became the Woodstock Road station. He was walking from his house in Woodstock Road to resume a conference in Shepherds Bush, a moderately short walk. Climbing the stile at the crossing, he seems not to have heard the approaching North London Railway passenger train, and he was run over by it and died of injuries. The following day the Times newspaper reported

The accident took place between 10 and 11 o’clock in the morning at a point about three-quarters of a mile north of the Hammersmith and Chiswick terminus of [the N&SWJR]. M. Stepniak left his house in Woodstock-road, Bedford-park in order to resume a conference … with a number of his associates in Russian propaganda work at the house of his chief colleague, M. Felix Volkhovsky. M. Volkhovsky lives in Shepherd’s-bush, a walk of only a few minutes from Bedford-park. Woodstock-road runs northward to the railway, and crosses it at a level crossing. M. Stepniak … was caught by the engine of a train which was travelling in the direction of Acton, knocked on to the line, and dragged some yards along it. When the train was stopped the body was found to be very much mutilated.

It is stated that the driver noticed a man on the rails, and blew his whistle, but M. Stepniak, whether he heard it or not, took no notice of the warning.

Garnett claims a plausible 28 mph for the train speed.

The inquest found accidental death; the evidence added some minor details: the train left Chiswick for Acton at 10.20. The driver was a North London Railway man. In evidence, the Traffic Superintendent of the NLR said that the line was leased from the original N&SWJR by a joint committee of the Midland, LNW and North London Railways, and was worked by the NLR…

Nick Catford: “The junction at Acton faced away from London and this presented a problem for North London Railway trains running between their City terminus at Fenchurch Street and Kew. To overcome this, the NLR attached a brake coach to the rear of their Kew bound trains, this was detached at the junction allowing the N & SWJR’s locomotive to back onto the line and take the coach on to Hammersmith. This procedure wasn’t ideal and there were several derailments as the coach was sometimes released without the train coming to a stop; this was an illegal practice. On its return from Hammersmith, the coach would then be recoupled to the returning Fenchurch Street train. The journey time from Hammersmith into central London took an hour and did not prove popular with commuters.”

…Many books of recollections misreport several details: several state that the accident took place at the Bath Road level crossing; Reid, claiming that Stepniak was visiting Lucien Pissarro, son of the painter, even includes a photograph of the crossing, but it was gated and staffed at the time, and there was a footbridge.

These errors are repeated anecdotally by Hermynia zur Mühlen and several other derivative works.”

In The Spectator of 9 December 2017, Valentine Cunningham reviewed The Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett, by Helen Smith:

“Edward Garnett, radical, pacifist, freethinker, Russophile man of letters, was from the 1890s onwards for many years the pre-eminent fixer of English literature. D.H. Lawrence’s widow Frieda hailed him as ‘the midwife’ of Lawrence’s ‘genius’. And so he was; while he also nurtured Joseph Conrad, T.E. Lawrence, Edward Thomas, Liam O’Flaherty, H.E. Bates and Henry Green. He presided as ‘reader’ over the shoals of expectant manuscripts piling up daily at the publishers — starting out at Fisher Unwin, doing the business for Heinemann and Duckworth, putting in long stints at Dent and ending up at Cape…

…Not every cub enjoyed being ‘barbered up’, in D.H. Lawrence’s phrase: given the critical short-back-and-sides. But Garnett prided himself on the rightness of his hard-mouthings, and kept on dishing them out. (‘I write what I feel on impulse, without bothering ahead about the effect.’) He seems never to have doubted his much rehearsed lines about what made the literary goods: realism, detail, truth to ‘life’ and to the writer’s actual experience, and above all closeness to the great Russians (which his estranged wife Constance Garnett notably translated). Russophilia was the key. In Constance’s case, that extended to loving the notorious exiled anarchist assassin Sergei Stepniak. Garnett never went that far. But again and again he thrusts his adoptees into the arms of Dostoevsky, Chekhov and above all Turgenev. They must be imitated…”

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