I have been continuing my research into the Romanov family and the Russian Revolution and this post summarises some of the key aspects of my research as well as some of the ideas I have in relation to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I have recently finished reading Four Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses (2014) by Helen Rappaport and have written a lot of notes on the book but I think there are too many notes to write a whole post about them. Fortunately, the author Helen Rappaport was involved in the BBC2 documentary Russia’s Lost Princesses which aired last summer and which I managed to re-watch this week and make written and visual notes of.
The book and the documentary both primarily focus on the Romanov Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia and their lives before and during the revolution and therefore cover a lot of the same ground. As the documentary was only in two parts it is a lot more condensed, as are my notes, and so I will use them as a basis for this post and a lot of the information from the documentary was featured in Rappaport’s book as well. As well as this I have previously read the following books, Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs (2009) by Helen Rappaport, Nicholas and Alexandra (2000) by Robert K. Massie and The Romanovs: The Final Chapter (1996) also by Robert K. Massie, and so some of the information was familiar to me whole a of it was new.
I wanted to note only work with written notes but visual as well as I think that these rough image could eventually really help with my illustrations later on. All of the images are quite rough as I was drawing them very quickly while watching the documentary and I occasionally paused it in order to draw the image a bit more clearly. The sketches therefore have al been inspired by the imagery that was included in the documentary, from photos and videos of the Romanov’s themselves to images of Russia, the peasantry of the time and the war.
Some of the key discussions from the documentary included the idea of Russia essentially being a very medieval country due to the massive population of peasantry compared to nobility despite the time period being in the late 1800s to early 1900s. The world of the monarchy however disappeared forever during the revolution. Nicholas II was very unprepared for his role as Tsar of all Russia and the imperial regime could not keep up with the industrialisation of Europe already creating conflict as well as ruling the vastness of Russia being a very intimidating prospect. The Romanov line lasted just over 300 years and Russia had not changed that much at all during the lengthy time period. The Russian court was also considered to be the grandest in all of Europe, with everything being greatly exaggerated and having strict rules, making the environment very uncomfortable to the inexperienced Alexandra when she came to Russian to become Nicholas’s wife. Alexandra was often mocked at the Russian court and could not do anything right in their eyes and so she retreated to the family palace at Tsarkoe Selo, which was considered modest without any of the grandeur of the court, and does not fulfil her role as empress and becomes unpopular due to this.
The four sisters however were often perceived as fairy tale like princesses or sorts associated with innocence and naivety. They had very modest, simple upbringings and weren’t spoilt, often sharing hand me downs from each other and Alexandra was determined raise her children herself, something which was not practiced by the other nobility let alone Empresses. The girls were also often seen as a group or in pairs, referred to as the big pair and the little pair and so not much individuality was clear from them, despite this all four of them had quite different personalities. The often referred to themselves as OTMA, an acronym of their first names, and Olga the eldest was considered to be the most sensitive of the four as we as independent, shy, strong minded but also temperamental. Tatiana was often considered the most beautiful, mysterious, reserved and dutiful as well as the best at organisation and was often considered bossy by her sisters or the eider of the four. Maria is often perceived as the most friendly and talkative with a generous spirit and considered perfect by her family. The youngest Anastasia on the other hand was mischievous, a prankster and regarded as a tom boy of sorts.
Despite their individual personalities, the sisters often came second to their younger brother Alexei due to him being the heir to the throne as well as the protection of his haemophilia, which became a secret within the family. With their parents, the girls did their best to protect and care for their brother and he was considered spoilt in comparison to them. With the secret of Alexei’s condition becoming a big part of family life, the girl’s lives become even more private and secluded as a result. During this time massive movements leading to the revolution were happening, an example being the bloody Sunday where many people were killed and others began to lose faith in the oblivious and secluded Tsar. With a rise in revolutionary activity, the security of the family was increased making the lives of the children more secluded and confined than ever as they lived within their enclosed world.
The mystic Grigory Rasputin became a big part of the children’s lives due to his ability to relieve Alexei’s suffering though prayer when he was experiencing pain from a haemophiliac attack. Alexandra came to greatly depend on Rasputin and his seemingly miracle like ways to help relieve the suffering of her child but he already had a reputation in St Petersburg and so his visits to the family became another secret. There was concern from other family members regarding Rasputin’s relationship with these four innocent young girls however the documentary stated that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing on Rasputin’s part and Alexandra herself fought to maintain the innocence of her daughters. Despite their protected and enclosed life, the children did get to some of the outside world, most notably during their visit to England to visit their royal relatives and the part in the Tercentenary celebrations of 1913 which mark 300 years of Romanov rule while Nicholas and Alexandra continued to be oblivious to the drift towards revolution.
The second part of the documentary discussed the elders girls eligibility for marriage and how this conflicted with their interests in officers from the imperial guard and sailors from their family yacht the Shtandart, with whom they spent a lot of time. Despite this their mother often infantilised them and they were essentially kept locked away in their palace, rarely going out leaving them inexperienced to the world and younger than their years. The were also inexperienced with the ways of the imperial court and had no interest with men of their own station, preferring the men of the guard and Shtandart. Ironically, it was the war that ultimately gave the girls the bit of freedom that they craved when all four of the became involved with volunteering at hospitals for the wounded, the even opened up their own with Olga and Tatiana become red cross nurses with their mothers and taking part in lots of medical activity such as amputations. They became very close to a lot of the wounded soldiers and constantly badgered them with questions about their lifes and the world that they did not know.
Rasputin’s influence over Alexandra began to draw concern from members of the Romanov family, particularly when Nicholas away for war leaving Alexandra in charge and following Rasputin’s advise. Rasputin was eventually murdered by Prince Felix Yusapov and Dmitri Pavlovich when his influence had become to dangerous, leaving the family distraught. Olga however did see the intent behind the removal of Rasputin and in some ways saw it as a good thing. The Romanovs wanted to be rid of Alexandra but it was the death of Rasputin that ironically made the family withdraw even more, regarding some of their family as traitors and murderers. Eventually Nicholas abdicated leaving a provisional government to take over and the family were placed under house arrest, the girls becoming prisoners for real this time. The were moved to a governor’s mansion in Tobolsk before being taken to the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg where the were murdered by the Bolsheviks. won’t include too much detail at this point as I feel I have written enough in this post, however I my research has given a lot to think about and I have been making connections between this and Alice and will discuss this in more detail at a later time.