First version of cover
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
|Pages||373 pp (first edition hardcover)|
The Gadfly is a novel by Irish writer Ethel Voynich, published in 1897 (United States, June; Great Britain, September of the same year), set in 1840s Italy under the dominance of Austria, a time of tumultuous revolt and uprisings. The story centres on the life of the protagonist, Arthur Burton, as a member of the Youth movement, and his antagonist, Padre Montanelli. A thread of a tragic relationship between Arthur and his love Gemma simultaneously runs through the story. It is a story of faith, disillusionment, revolution, romance, and heroism.
The book, set during the Italian Risorgimento, is primarily concerned with the culture of revolution and revolutionaries. Arthur, the eponymous Gadfly, embodies the tragic Romantic hero, who comes of age and returns from abandonment to discover his true state in the world and fight against the injustices of the current one. The landscape of Italy, in particular the Alps, is a pervading focus of the book, with its often lush descriptions of scenery conveying the thoughts and moods of characters.
Arthur Burton, an English Catholic, travels to Italy to study to be a priest. He discovers radical ideas, renounces Catholicism and leaves Italy. While away he suffers great hardship, but returns with renewed revolutionary fervour. He becomes a journalist, expounding radical ideas in brilliant satirical tracts published under the pseudonym "the gadfly". The local authorities are soon dedicated to capturing him. Gemma, his lover, and Padre Montanelli, his Priest, show various forms of love via their tragic relations with the focal character of Arthur: religious, romantic, and family. The story compares these emotions to those Arthur experiences as a revolutionary, particularly drawing on the relationship between religious and revolutionary feelings. This is especially explicit at the climax of the book, where sacred descriptions intertwine with reflections on the Gadfly's fate. It is debatable to what extent an allegorical comparison can be drawn between the Gadfly and Jesus.
According to historian Robin Bruce Lockhart, Sidney Reilly – a Russian-born adventurer and secret agent employed by the British Secret Intelligence Service – met Ethel Voynich in London in 1895. Ethel Voynich was a significant figure not only on the late Victorian literary scene but also in Russian émigré circles. Lockhart claims that Reilly and Voynich had a sexual liaison and voyaged to Italy together. During this scenic tarriance, Reilly apparently "bared his soul to his mistress," and revealed to her the story of his strange youth in Russia. After their brief affair had concluded, Voynich published in 1897 her critically acclaimed novel, The Gadfly, the central character of which, Arthur Burton, was allegedly based on Sidney Reilly's own early life. However, Andrew Cook, a noted biographer of Reilly, calls Lockhart's romanticised version of such events doubtful, and counters instead that Reilly was perhaps informing on Voynich's radical, pro-émigré activities to William Melville of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch.
With the central theme of the book being the nature of a true revolutionary, the reflections on religion and rebellion proved to be ideologically suitable and successful. The Gadfly was exceptionally popular in the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China and Iran exerting a large cultural influence. In the Soviet Union The Gadfly was compulsory reading and the top best seller, indeed by the time of Voynich's death The Gadfly is estimated to have sold 2,500,000 copies in the Soviet Union alone. Irish writer Peadar O'Donnell recalls the novel's popularity among Republican prisoners in Mountjoy Prison during the Irish Civil War. 
The Russian composer Mikhail Zhukov turned the book into an opera The Gadfly (Овод, 1928). In 1955, the Soviet director Aleksandr Faintsimmer adapted the novel into a film of the same title (Russian: Ovod) for which Dmitri Shostakovich wrote the score. The Gadfly Suite is an arrangement of selections from Shostakovich's score by the composer Levon Atovmian. A second opera The Gadfly was composed by Soviet composer Antonio Spadavecchia.
On the other hand, in Italy, where the plot takes place during the Italian Unification, the novel is totally neglected: it was translated into Italian as late as in 1956 and was never reprinted: Il Figlio del Cardinale (literally, The Son of the Cardinal). A new edition, carrying the same title, came out in 2013.
- 1898. The Gadfly or the Son of the Cardinal by George Bernard Shaw. This version was created at Voynich's request to forestall other dramatisations.
- 1899. The Gadfly by Edward E. Rose, commissioned by Stuart Robson. Voynich described this version as an "illiterate melodrama", and tried to get an injunction to stop it being performed.
- 1906. Zhertva svobody by L. Avrian (in Russian).
- 1916. Ovod by V. Zolotarëv (in Russian).
- 1940. Ovod by A. Zhelyabuzhsky (in Russian).
Opera, ballet, musical adaptations
- 1923. Prazdnik krovi, melodrama in 6 acts with a prologue by S. I. Prokofiev (opera) (in Russian).
- 1928. Ovod by Mikhail Zhukov (opera) (in Russian).
- 1930. Ovod, opera in 4 acts by A. Ziks (opera) (in Russian).
- 1958. Ovod, opera in 4 acts and 7 scenes by Antonio Spadavecchia (in Russian).
- 1967. Ovod by A. Chernov (ballet).
- 1982. Rivares by Sulkhan Tsintsadze (ballet). Film version: Rivares, Soviet Georgian, by B. Chkheidze.
- 1983. Ovod by A. Kolker (rock musical) (in Russian).
- 1928. Krazana, Soviet Georgian, by Kote Mardjanishvili.
- 1955. Ovod, Soviet, by Aleksandr Faintsimmer. Shostakovich composed its film score. The Gadfly Suite, which includes the movement Romance, later becoming popular on its own right, is an arrangement of selections from Shostakovich's score by composer Levon Atovmian.
- 1978. Chameleon (ATV Drama Series), starring Pat Poon Chi Man, Lau Chi Weng
- 1980. Film of the same name by Nikolai Mashchenko, starring Sergei Bondarchuk and Anastasiya Vertinskaya.
- 1987. Rivares. Soviet Georgian film of B. Chkheidze.
- 2003. Niumeng, Chinese, directed by W. Tianming
- See Voynich, Ethel Lillian (1897). The Gadfly (1 ed.). New York: Henry Holt & Company. Retrieved 13 July 2014. via Archive.org
- Robin Bruce Lockhart, Reilly: Ace of Spies; 1986, Hippocrene Books, ISBN 0-88029-072-2.
- Page 39, Andrew Cook, Ace of Spies: The True Story of Sidney Reilly, 2004, Tempus Publishing, ISBN 0-7524-2959-0.
- Cork City Libraries provides a downloadable PDF of Evgeniya Taratuta's 1957 biographical pamphlet Our Friend Ethel Lilian Boole/Voynich, translated from the Russian by Séamus Ó Coigligh. The pamphlet gives some idea of the Soviet attitude toward Voynich.
- O’Donnell, Peadar The Gates Flew Open (1932) Ch. 14
- S. Piastra, Luoghi reali e luoghi letterari: Brisighella in The Gadfly di Ethel Lilian Voynich, “Studi Romagnoli” LVII, (2006), pp. 717–735 (in Italian); S. Piastra, Il romanzo inglese di Brisighella: nuovi dati su The Gadfly di Ethel Lilian Voynich, “Studi Romagnoli” LIX, (2008), pp. 571–583 (in Italian); A. Farsetti, S. Piastra, The Gadfly di Ethel Lilian Voynich: nuovi dati e interpretazioni, “Romagna Arte e Storia” 91, (2011), pp. 41–62 (in Italian).
- Therese Bonney & R. F. Rattray, Bernard Shaw, a Chronicle, Leagrave Press, Luton, England, 1951, p.135.
- Los Angeles Herald, Volume 604, Number 8, 8 October 1899, p.13