The prominent Russian writer Mikhail Shishkin devoted one of his stories in Calligraphy Lesson (Dutch edition De Kalligrafieles) to the Russian-Swiss couple Lydia Kochetkova and Fritz Brupbacher. It is based on their exhaustive correspondence in the Brupbacher archive at the IISH which is now available in full online (inventory numbers 298-359).
Brupbacher was an anarchist, Kochetkova worked on behalf of the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Party (PSR) in the Russian countryside, where she also worked as a doctor.
The couple married in 1901. Their odd relationship lasted until 1916.
Kochetkova preferred to live at some distance from her husband and spent most of her time in Russia – a situation that led to this very interesting correspondence.
Kochetkova disliked physical intimacy and did not want children, but she wrote ardent love letters. She despised the mentality of the capitalist Western world, especially that of the Swiss, and raved about her compatriots, the “Rüssli”.
Psychologists would find much of interest to analyse in her letters, and probably conclude that she had a bipolar disorder.*
For historians, Kochetkova’s letters are especially fascinating as they give a vivid picture of Russian rural life on the eve of the Russian Revolution, exactly one hundred years ago.
The Socialist Revolutionary Party - its archive, too is at the IISH - addressed the peasants in the first place, not workers as the Bolsheviks did.
Although Kochetkova was fond of her “Rüssli”, she soon began to tire of the peasants once she took up a position as a doctor in the village of Krapivnja near Smolensk in 1901.
“Disgusting, drunkards, stupid, superstitious, greedy ….”
Sometimes, she would find a horse or a calf being dragged into her consulting room and being presented as a new patient.
It was among these deplorables that Kochetkova was supposed to propagate the ideas of the Socialist Revolutionary Party when she became a member in 1905.
She failed to notice that the secret police (Okhrana) were following her every step. Naively, she passed on sensitive information in letters to her husband in Switzerland , thus endangering her fellow party members. In 1909 she was arrested at the border and exiled to a place near the White Sea for three years. Due to her amateurish work, the PSR leadership considered her a potential danger, possibly even a traitor to the party. In 1913 she was pressed to leave the party.
*e.g. Karin Huser, Eine Revolutionäre Ehe in Briefen. Die Sozialrevolutionärin Lidija Petrowna Kotschetkowa und der Anarchist Fritz Brupbacher. Chronos Verlag, 2003
Kurt Guggenheim, Alles im Allen. Reprint Orell Füssli Verlag 2009
Laura Starink, blog on Shishkin, 2015 (in Dutch)
In exile. Right: Kochetkova.