Rasputin's Daughter is the novel of quite the political intrigue, suitable to current United States weather. The question of what one's worldview must be like when one is the favorite daughter of the "mad monk," during the dawn of the 1917 Russian Revolution, is answered by Robert Alexander who gives life to Maria Rasputin as well as the voice of her lover, Sasha, who was under cover as her lover and friend to infiltrate the Rasputin household and their trust, by which to more easily kill the patriarch, who was deemed of considerable threat to the order of the anti-Tsarist regime.
The novel begins when Maria is being interviewed by a man of the name Aleksander Aleksandrovich Blok, who also when he is not serving the Thirteenth Section as an interrogator, happens to be a poet. So when Matryona Grigorevna Rasputina is, "dragged through the ransacked halls of the Winter Palace," to be brought before Blok for questioning as to the reality of the events leading up to and including her father's death, she is able to recite his own poetry to him, "To sin shamelessly, endlessly/To lose count of the nights and days/And with a head unruly from drunkeness/To pass sideways into the Temple of God.
My would be interrogator was suddenly blushing. 'I wrote that.' " Of course Maria knows he wrote it and that he did causes her to hate the handsome Blok all the more, as they sit on separate sides of a very bloody and jagged line. She credits Blok's words with granting sophistication to a girl who would have been otherwise left behind at the level of schooling required for the sons and daughters of nobility as well as anyone within the court system. And now that was past and Blok wants to know what happened.
The novel takes place in one weeks time as Maria uncovers the good, the bad and the ugly of her own father, and in doing so reveals the bareness of her own self. Her father was not mad, nor was he formally educated. He was the last of a dying breed known in Siberia as shaman; men heralded for special powers of healing through chant, prayer, touch and other non-Westernized forms of medicine. Some of Rasputin's powers are made up for glory, some of it is very real.
Maria, who often serves as her father's messenger, more than once walks in on him while he is in the middle of a sexual encounter. He is not above taking advantage of women who need his notes to have a relative protected or sent to a certain hospital. His beard is long, his table manners are stomach turning to read about, as he wipes his greasy fingers on his beard and bits of food stick to it. But it is for these reasons, disgusting or no, he is a powerful and unique influence at the palace. He strikes the Emperor and Empress as genuine. His roughly hewn and insubordinate manner goes to his favor and he does have a talent in aiding the chronically ill, especially Heir Tsarevich Aleksei Nikolaevich, who suffers deplorably from hemophilia.
Rasputin is at the call of and is supported by members of the Royal Palace, and it is up to Maria to find him when he is needed. When the Tsarista phones to say her son is dying as he tripped over a toy and is bleeding uncontrolled inside his knee, and Rasputin's help is required at once; Maria sets off to find her father somewhere within the seemingly debauched landscape of his lifestyle at St. Petersburg.
Maria eventually locates him, interrupting his session with a prostitute, and they both head to the Aleksander Palace. Aleksei Nikolaevich, has a leg filled with blood to the extent it is bent and contorted, " 'Mama...Mama...' he gasped, 'will it hurt so much when I go to Heaven?' " After all others have left the room Rasputin and his daughter, under his instruction begin to heal the suffering boy through prayers, chants and stories. " 'Close your eyes and hold my hand, dear boy,' came Papa's deep, sweet voice. 'Now imagine we are strolling through the forest near my home in Siberia. Can you picture it? Can you see the endless pine wood and smell the sweet scent? The trees - they are so big!'
His eyes closed, Aleksei breathed in, exhaled, and replied softly. 'I see it all, Father Grigori...so many pine trees...and mushrooms too! Lots and lots of mushrooms!'
'Yes, that's right! Let's pick some, shall we?'
By the next day the boy's leg is not fully healed but is resting flat on the bed, his temperature is normal and he was able to calm down and be free from pain enough to sleep. The places Rasputin took the child with his stories, freed the boy from agony so he could be a person again. Maria is exhausted by the ordeal of caring for the boy and falls asleep while her father stays by Nicholas's side with prayers and chants for hours.
Once they return home, Maria eats a large dinner of every type of fish available in the house. Fish is considered a type of holy meal as the Apostles ate fish. Jellied fish heads are a favorite in the Rasputin household. The mother is not part of their apartment life as she never liked St. Petersburg and she and her husband are permanently separated.
Sasha, Maria's boyfriend, stops by to see her but she kicks him out as she is afraid of what her father would think, only to find her father with the housekeeper. Maria tries to warn her father to be aware of an internalized plot to assassinate him, as the Romanov monarchy implodes on itself as at the same time, the common people, wanting warmth and bread revolt; and all this during World War I.
She tries to keep him from going out before she can tell him everything, by keeping his favorite boots by her bedside so she will wake up before he can leave. But this does not work, and she sleeps through his passing. Rasputin is taken by uncles of the Tsar to be poisoned with sweets and wine. When he refuses the delectables, he is simply shot in front of Maria who still is trying to warn him. Rasputin dies in the arms of his daughter and Maria is stunned to find her boyfriend, who she loved and trusted and whose child she is carrying is one of her father's assassins. The politics of the novel are accurate of the time as they are murky, thick, and ever changing. Sasha is Prince O'ksandr, " 'Prince Felix sent me to infiltrate the Khlysty and his family - to find his religion, charm his daughter, enter his home - all in the hopes not of simply getting information but of unearthing scandal.' "
Sasha is soon to pass away from typhus, as he lives under deplorable conditions at the hands of The Thirteenth Section. And Maria after telling her story to Blok, passes on, unknowing the father of her child is alive, but soon to die. "Blok gazed across the huge throne room and watched as Maria Rasputin reached the tall gilded doors, slipped through one and pulled it shut behind her, disappearing into history."
By Sarah Bahl
Empress Catherine II of Russia, utilized fashion and style as she did everything else, for politics. Her memoirs have been decided by some historians as flagrant use of primal justification for the death of her husband, Peter III, who she is rumored to have assassinated. Though, she really isn’t justifying anything. She is telling.
Catherine the Great, monarch and ruler of Russia for a golden age, was born a German princess: Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst in Stettin on April 21, 1729. Princess Sophie was culled at the age of 15, to be the Grand Duke Peter's bride by Empress Elizabeth of Russia. The Grand Duke, was Princess Sophie's second cousin. Princess Sophie, renamed as Duchess Ekaterina Alekseevna upon entering Russian court life, was everything her husband was not; athletic, intelligent, patient, and a creature of calm and consistent political voracity. She was a fair and strong woman, though not distractingly beautiful, with a fine mind, conversational nature, a physical endurance, and ability to withstand pain.
Catherine describes the pulling of a tooth; “I have never felt anything but pain of that moment. It was so violent tears streamed down my nose as though water had been poured from a teapot…I then learnt by experience that pain one suffers often gives rise to a grudge against whoever caused it. Boerhave, who obviously realized this, began to laugh and begged me to allow him to examine the spot. He then discovered that one of the roots had remained, while together with the tooth, a piece the size of a shilling had been wrenched from the jawbone. I was put to bed and suffered for about 4 weeks…I did not leave the seclusion of my room until January 1750, because at the bottom of my cheek I had Gyon’s five fingers imprinted in blue and yellow bruises.” The daily physical pains of life at the time are not comparable to many peoples’ today.
Russian court life could also be emotionally brutal and Catherine’s marriage to her husband is a depressing one, as she refers to him in her memoirs, as “The Grand Duke.” Neither party remained remotely faithful to the other and Catherine wept over The Grand Duke's affairs (at least initially) while keeping discreet about her own. The Grand Duke is depicted within the memoirs as an emotional maladjusted man-child of limited intelligence and questionable sanity.
Catherine, overcomes the environment by utilizing an awareness of her own powers and makes clear her self regard in her memoirs. Catherine considered herself better than her mother in maintaining a proper hold over the intricacies of court life and international domination, (her mother lacked the sophistication to keep multiple powers astride in relation to each other, with oneself as an individual ahead. And beside, since Empress Elizabeth was in want of sole control over Catherine, there was no room within the Russian courts for Catherine’s mother anyway) as well as better than her husband as a person entirely.
Catherine was recruited at an early age, as an unknown princess, by Empress Elizabeth, a calculating political machine. Whereas Catherine was a political woman, the Empress was pure machinery. The memoirs imply Elizabeth knew her nephew as useless, early on, and trained Catherine, from the start, to rule in her husband’s stead. The Empress repeatedly took from Catherine those she loved, her servants, Catherine’s own children, and raised Catherine to be one thing: Empress.
Court life and gearing toward empire control also came with great financial costs. Catherine was often in considerable debt to keep up with court life. It was not a capitalist economy, and as rulers they were not kicked out if they had to pay back debts at such and such a time and could not. Catherine wrote, “…and the next day I requested my accounts. They showed that I owed seventeen thousand rubles; before leaving Moscow for Kiev, the Empress had sent me fifteen thousand rubles and a larger coffer of simpler cloths, but I had to be richly dressed. In sum, then, I owed two thousand rubles; this did not seem to me an excessive amount. A variety of causes had forced these expenditures upon me. Primo, I had arrived in Russia very poorly outfitted, I was at the end of the world, and at a court where one changed outfits three times a day…” Catherine spends politically, for gifts and for clothing.
Catherine, though she spent well on fashion and gifts made sure of one thing - never to outdo The Empress. Catherine writes in her memoirs, "At that time, I loved to dance. At public balls I usually changed costume three times. My jewelry was always very fine, and if the costume I wore attracted everyone's praise, I was sure never to wear it again, because I had a rule that if it had made a big impression once, it could only make a smaller one the next time. On the other hand, at court balls that the public did not attend, I dressed as simply as I could, and so I paid my respects to The Empress, who did not much like anyone to appear overdressed," as well as to remain true to her own calling, "I did not make beauty or finery the source of my merit, for when one was gone, the other became ridiculous, and only character endured."
Notes: All quotes are taken from The Memoirs of Catherine the Great, 2005 Modern Library Edition. The Memoirs are written to depict life before Catherine became empress. Images are found online.
By Sarah Bahl