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A gadfly is a person known to upset the status quo by posing upsetting questions or attempting to stimulate innovation by proving an irritant. Ethel Lilian Voynich was born in Ireland in the middle of the 19th century. Her life as a writer, musician and supporter of revolutionary causes spanned almost an entire century. The Gadfly was published in 1897. The Gadfly, set in Italy, tells the story of Arthur Burton, a young international revolutionary member of the Youth Movement. This novel was very popular in the Soviet Union and was compulsory reading there. The Gadfly was seen as ideologically useful; for similar reasons and became popular in the People's Republic of China as well. It is a story of faith, disillusionment, revolution, romance, and heroism.

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