CLIO mr brice - page 54

The confli
It only takes a few steps into an unfamiliar street in
central London to stumble upon a piece of history. My
moment of excitement last summer came in the form
of a blue plaque on Marchmont street, a stone's throw
away from the British Library “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin,
18701924. Founder of the USSR. Lived here in 1908.”
I knew Lenin lived in central London during several
periods of exile, but I had yet to encounter the building
where he resided. All kinds of thoughts filled my head.
Was this the place in which he holed up with his only
true love, Apollinariya Yakubova, a Russian historian and
revolutionary who refused to marry him? Was this where
he formulated his ideas of a new kind of state, free
to read the likes of Marx and Engels away from the
Russian censors? I felt a bizarre sense of giddiness as
if I had come face to face with a celebrity. The same
feeling had occurred in New York, close to NYU, where
I had encountered a statue of Garibaldi, the acclaimed
‘Che Guevara of Italian Unification’, where he spent
several years after the failed 1848 revolutions in Italy,
making a living from candle making so that he could
plan his next uprising.
Some days later, I felt a touch of self loathing
for my overenthusiasm and almost idolising
of historical ‘legend’. Are these figures really
worthy of such praise and accolade in these
locations? In remembering them, who has been
There are several organisations who put up blue
plaques all over London. Lenin’s was unveiled by
the Marchmont Association as recently as 2012.
In 2009 the Association set out to put up plaques
“with a view to raising awareness of the area’s
rich and varied social history.” Lenin finds
himself in eclectic company. Other plaques
include Roger Fry, the Bloomsbury Group
member, artist and art critic, and Ernest Boulton
and Frederick Park, the celebrated Victorian
crossdressers. Lenin’s plaque received quite a
bit of criticism at the time of its unveiling, with
one local resident writing a letter exclaiming,
“Appalling! He [Lenin] was responsible for a
movement that caused far more deaths than
Hitler, from which the Russians are only
just recovering.” Whilst this comment seems
to have confused Lenin and Stalin, Lenin was
What’s in a name?:
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