In 1910, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, aged 40, was living with his wife Nadya in exile in Paris, as the head of the Bolshevik group of Russian revolutionaries. The comrades would meet in a cafe in the Avenue d'Orléans , where they drank beer or grenadine and soda, and had the use of an upstairs room for lectures and discussions.
It was here that, in the autumn, they were joined by fellow revolutionary Inessa Armand. She was 36, auburn-haired and green-eyed, a member of Moscow's French community and on the run from the Russian police.
Lenin, the stormy petrel of the Social Democratic party, was facing more serious opposition than ever. His funds had been appropriated and his journal, Proletarii, closed down. Inessa Armand was fluent in four languages and had a talent for organisation. Lenin soon realised her value.
Working closely together for a common aim led in time to a love affair that was profound yet volatile. Sharing with him seven years of exile, she became his troubleshooting lieutenant. She was to help him recover his position and hone his Bolsheviks into a force that would acquire more power than the tsar, and would herself by 1919 become the most powerful woman in Moscow. Yet few people outside the small world of academic historians have heard of her, partly due to party control of Lenin's image.
The illegitimate daughter of a Parisian opera singer, Inessa had married Alexander Armand, the eldest son of a wealthy French-Russian textile family, at the age of 19. For nine years Inessa was a rich young wife, bearing Alexander four children. Then, at 28, she left him to live openly with Vladimir "Volodya" Armand, Alexander's 17-year-old brother, a university student and revolutionary.
Alexander, however, continued to maintain her and supervised the children when she was in jail or exile. When she bore Vladimir's son, Andre, in 1903, Alexander legitimised the boy. By the time Inessa Armand met Lenin, she had been imprisoned four times and had escaped from exile in Mezen, a small town on the edge of the Arctic circle. Within weeks of her escape, Volodya, who had TB, died in her arms in 1909.
The following year she joined Lenin's group. She set up a revolutionary school in Longjumeau, near Paris, where the love affair is thought to have started. She helped him rig a Social Democratic party conference in Prague, gaining by trickery a Bolshevik majority.
Nadya, his wife, offered to leave Lenin, but he asked her to stay. She agreed, but moved out of his bedroom. Nadya and Inessa were in fact friends who shared a deep faith in the revolutionary cause and in feminism. Nadya was devoted to Armand's children and even informally adopted the younger ones after Armand's death.
Inessa went back to Russia on Lenin's behalf to reorganise the St Petersburg party network, broken up by police raids. Despite her disguise as a Polish peasant, she was identified and jailed for six months.
Alexander obtained her release with a huge bail of 6,500 roubles, which, with his approval, she jumped before her trial in 1913, rejoining Lenin, who was then living near Cracow. It was there that her love affair with Lenin came to crisis.
It was Lenin who made the decision to end the affair, temporarily at least, in late 1913. This is clear from Armand's only surviving letter. "I could cope without your kisses if only I could see you...To talk with you sometimes would be such a joy and this could not cause pain to anyone. Why deprive me of that?"