by Yoon Joung Lee
The Russian empress, Catherine the Great, was born in 1729 in the German city of Szczecin. Her father was Prince Christian August of Anhalt-Zerbst, and her mother was Princess Johanna Elizabeth of Holstein-Gottorp. Although she recieved royal childhood treatment due to her family background, she didn’t receive a great deal of affection from her parents since her parents were hoping for a son.
Even though Catherine was not close to her parents, she had a great governess, Babette, who Catherine had a close relationship during her childhood. Babette taught her several subjects including religion, history, French, German and music.
When she became 15, she went to Russia by the invitation of Empress Elizabeth who knows Catherine’s family well. There, she met the heir to the throne, the Grand Duke Peter. She was married to the Grand Duke Peter when she was 16 in 1745 at Saint Petersburg, and converted her religion to Eastern Orthodoxy. Even though her father strongly opposed her conversion, she was accepted as a member at the Russian Orthodox Church.
After marriage, the couple settled in the palace of Oranienbaum, and Catherine made various friends there. The friends shared private information about monarch’s intimate affairs, and one of them was about her husband, Peter. There was no affection or love between Catherine and Peter. They eventually became unfaithful to each other.
Despite her loveless marriage, she was intelligent and ambitious in politics. She looked forward to the time she would rule Russia. She had shown her dedication to Russia and the Russian Orthodox faith. Her loyalty and ambition about politics earned her a powerful place on the throne as well as support of the Russian people.
In 1762, Peter was proclaimed Emperor Peter III and Catherine became empress. However, during his six month of reign, he had made many enemies everywhere including the government, the military, and the church. Many plots overthrew him from the throne and his 7 year-old son Paul was placed on the throne instead. However, Catherine, as a temporary ruler, earned the actual ruling power until their young son became old enough to rule on his own. As a temporary ruler, her ambition aimed for a more powerful role for herself. She had also arrested Peter and made him to step down from power.
In 1762, a few days after the arrest, he got killed by Alexei Orlove at Ropsha, a younger brother of Gregory Orlov who was Catherine's paramour. During her reign, she expanded the borders of the Russian Empire to the Black Sea, a key waterway in Europe and into central Europe. She extended total about 200,000 miles to Russian territory.
She was ambitious about both domestic and foreign affairs. She selected great leaders to support her policy. Her foreign minister, Nikita Panin, was well selected to carry out such her policy.
She promoted westernization and modernization to rule over Russia, and also promoted education and the Enlightment. Under her ruling, the country’s education system was expanded and the capital of Russia, St. Petersburg became one of the world’s most dazzling capitals.
By the time when she needed to consider the her heir, her son Paul showed mentally instablility and she wasn’t sure about his ability to rule the country. She ruled Paul’s oldest son, Alexander, to be next emperor. Although she died before she corrected her arrangement, Alexander, whom Catherine greatly favored, eventurally became the emperor Alexander I in 1801. Catherine the Great died in 1796 by stroke. Her legacy is controversial, but there is no doubt that Catherine was one of the most influential female political figures in the world’s history.
By Yoon Joung Lee
A Danish author, Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke, was born in 1885 in Denmark, into a well- to-do patrician family. She was the daughter of writer and army officer, Wilhelm Domesem, and Ingeborg Westenholz. Her father’s adventurous life style and writing talents greatly influenced Blixen’s future. Also, Blixen spent her early years in the affluent environment on the family estate in Rungsted, Denmark, since her mother came from a wealthy family.
From her young age, she showed her artistic talents. She studied at the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen, and also attended schools in England, Switzerland, Italy and France. In 1905. she started to publish several fictions and made her debut as a writer.
In 1914, she married her second cousin, Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke. Although Blixen suffered from syphilis for their first year of marriage, it was eventually cured. The couple went to Kenya to establish a coffee plantation with her family’s money. However, their marriage did not last long because the two came from quite different educations and backgrounds, and most importantly, Bror Blixen were unfaithful to his wife. They eventually separated in 1921 and divorced in 1925. After the end of marriage and when the price of coffee was falling due to the Great Depression, Blixen sold the land to the local developer and came back to Denmark in 1931.
After her return, she wrote her first book, Seven Gothic Tales, which was first published in the U.S. in 1934, under the pseudonym, Isak Dinesen. The book was later published in the UK and Denmark as well. This short story collection was judged as a masterpiece by critics in the United States and England, while the critics in Denmark considered her stories too exotic and not fitting in the period’s literary movement. However, whatever critics say about her story, her first book received great public recognition and made her a famous author across the world.
Her second book, Out of Africa, was published in 1937 and brought great reputation as an writer. The book thought back to Kenya where she peacefully lived as a settler on a coffee plantation, as it presented a lyrical depiction of life such as deaths, friendships, drought, and disappointments. With this book, she was awarded the Tagea Brandt Rejselegat, a Danish’s prize for woman in the arts or academic life, in 1939. The book was also adapted into a Oscar-winning film, directed by Sydney Pollak, in 1985.
In 1944 during World War II, she wrote a book, The Angelic Avengers, interpreted as an allegory of Nazism. She also published the most famous work of the 1940s and 1950s, Babette’s Feast, the story of a chief who spent her lottery prize to make a final and spectacular gourmet meal. She also wrote a book, called The Immoral Story, which was adapted to the movie screen in 1968 by American film director, Orson Welles.
With many of her great tales, she was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize, but she failed to win the Prize. All her works were first published in English and later translated into Danish and many different languages. Critics point out that her English has unusual beauty and great skills. Blixen died in 1962 at her family’s estate, Rungstedlund, at the age of 77 by malnutrition. Her homes are now named the; Karen Blixen Museum near Nairobi and the Karen Blixen Museet in Denmark.