Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Four sisters, Helen Rappaport

When Nicolas II became tsar of Russia in 1894, he and his wife Alexandra had one goal: to preserve the throne and the dynasty.

In 1895 their first child was born, a girl, Olga. Nicolas and Alexandra were happy with their healthy baby, but after four daughters they were not so happy anymore. After all, they needed a son to inherit the throne, since women could not reign according to the Russian laws.

Although they loved their daughters, they also became a bit desperate, when would they have a son? In 1904 their wish was finally granted, Alexei was born. Threehundred gunshots announced his birth to his people. Everybody rejoiced. Only soon the happiness of the family turned to grief, it became clear the tsarevich was ill. He inherited hemophilia, the incurable disease that prevented his blood to clot. In the fourteen years to come all attention would be on Alexei and on his health.

In 1914 World War One broke out and this did not go very well for Russia. In 1917 the tsar abdicated. In July 1918 the whole family would be shot in the cellar of the house in Jekatarinaburg. Olga was twenty-two at the time, Alexei thirteen.

Many books have been written about the Romanov family, but Four sisters tries to focus on Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. This is refreshing, since they take second place in most books, as they did in their lives.

From the moment Alexei was born, the girls became less important. All the attention of the family was focused on him, as the heir to the throne and because of his health. The girls were seen as a group of four, often dressed the same way. The different personalities of the girls were often overlooked.

Alexandra never liked the Russian court and wanted nothing more than to spend time with her Household and her family, like a German Hausfrau. She did not introduce the girls to the court or prepare them for meeting the higher circles. The girls were almost never allowed to go to balls or parties.
Most people who met them noticed how sweet they were, but also realized they had almost no clue how to behave in court circles.  

There were not many possibilities for the girls to have their own life. An independent position at court was of course out of the question, although Nicolas once considered naming Olga his heir when Alexei was particularly ill.

During WWI Olga and Tatiana followed their mother and became fully trained nurses in the army hospital. Despite the horrible things they saw there, this was also a time for them where they experienced freedom and a sense of the world, outside the narrow-minded environment their mother guarded.

Tsar Nicolas II and Alexandra, with their children.
Getting married would be the best possibility to live their own lives, but who could they marry? The only young men they met and felt comfortable with were the young officers of the Imperial yacht the Standard, but they would never be considered suitable as husbands for the daughters of the tsar. Marrying a foreign prince, like prince Carol of Rumania or prince Louis Mountbatten would be an option, only then they would have to leave Russia, a horrible thought.
The marriage talk never became serious and the war put an end to all of it. 

Helen Rappaport wrote an excellent book about the murder of the Romanovs. In Four sisters she focuses on the four girls. Letters and diaries have been used to find their voices, but because they led such sheltered lives, it is difficult to hear. They still remain at a distance, still remain a group of four.

Although the book did not have a lot of new information for me, I do think it is a very good addition to any Romanov-library.

Original title: Four sisters. The lost lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses.
Published in 2014
Pages: 386

5 comments:

  1. I've always been fascinated by the Romanovs, but haven't read much about them. I like that this book focuses on the daughters. I'm going to have to put this one at the top of my list! :-) Thanks for the review.

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome. If you are interested in the Romanovs, I can also recommend Nicolas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie, it is sort of a standard work.

      Kind regards,

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    2. Great. Thanks. I'll check it out. :)

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    3. If you are interested in the Romanovs, the chance is there you will like this book. If you already know a lot it will not bring you much news, but it is still a good read.

      Kind regards,

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  2. This sounds interesting, Bettina!

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