Saturday, January 5, 2013

Forgotten Stories

Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison is the story of two people who I never knew even existed.  They are Matryona Rasputina and Alexei Romanov.  Matryona, or "Masha", as Harrison calls her, was the favorite daughter of Grigori Rasputin.  Alexei, or Alyosha, as he is called, was the only son of the last Tsar of Russia.

Before reading Enchantments, I would have told you that Rasputin was an evil person who became close to and may have seduced the wife of the Russian Tsar.   The Russian Tsar and his daughters were executed as part of the Russian Revolution, but there is a persistent rumor that one of his daughters, Anastasia, escaped.

In Enchantments, I learned that Rasputin was murdered while the Tsar was still in power.  According to Harrison, he was not only buried on the grounds of the Tsar's home, but he also named the Tsar and Tsarina as the guardians of his daughters, even though their mother was still living.  Apparently, the people of Russia loved Rasputin, and thought of him as a combination of a doctor and a priest.

The Tsar and his wife, the Tsarina, were both first cousins of King George of England.  Tsar Nikolay's mother was the sister of King George's mother.  The Tsarina, Alexandra, was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and she was also a first cousin to Emperor Wilhelm of Germany.  Many of Queen Victoria's male descendants died as the result of "falls", including her son, Leopold, who was rumored to have dated Alice Liddell, the inspriation for Alice in Wonderland, and Alice I Have Been.  Harrison makes the case, supported by history, that they really had hemophilia, but that the monarchy didn't want people to know that the heirs to the throne had this genetic defect.

Alyosha also had hemophilia.  As the only male descendant of the Tsar, his condition was top secret.  The Tsarina believed that Rasputin could stop the flow of blood to Alyosha's many wounds.  In order to keep the secret of his affliction, the Tsarina preferred letting people gossip about the nature of her relationship with Rasputin, rather than revealing that Alyosha needed to be cured. 

After Rasputin's murder, Masha and her sister moved to live with the Romanovs in the Alexander Palace.  The Tsarina had high hopes that Masha had inherited some of her father's skills, and asked her to spend time with Alyosha, and try to help him.  Masha had no idea of how to help Alyosha, but told him stories to get his mind off of his injuries.  Through these stories, the reader learns the history of the Romanovs and the Rasputins.

Enchantments is unique for historical fiction from the period, in that it mentions Anastasia only in passing, and instead focuses on people who were more significant than Anastasia during her life, but who have been forgotten by time.  Masha lived an interesting life, from palace to circus, and from fame to anonymity, and her life is ripe for fiction.  There are a couple parts of the story that relate to the famous Faberge Eggs.  The Detroit Institute of Arts has an exhibit featuring some of the eggs going on right now, and after reading Enchantments, I am hoping that I will be able to get there before it ends. 

Enchantments was a NYT Notable Book for 2012.

Next up on CD:  A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole

Still Reading:  The Odyessey by Homer

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...