CATHERINE THE GREAT: PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN
by ROBERT K. MASSIE
PUBLISHER: RANDOM HOUSE
RELEASE DATE: 11/8/2011
RECEIVED FROM LIBRARYTHING EARLY REVIEWERS
Another Masterpiece by Massie!
Massie's much anticipated biography of the only female Russian ruler accorded the title "the Great" is as compelling as his previous biographies.
This biography of Sophia Augusta, later known as Catherine, is a deeply researched and masterfully told story.
The book begins with an explaination of Sophia's early childhood. She was not a much loved child, being born a female and not the son her mother wanted. "Johanna could not find or express any maternal feeling. She did not nurse or caress her little daughter. She spent no time watching over her cradle or holding her; instead, abruptly, she handed the child over to servants and wet nurses."*** Her somewhat selfish, ego-centric mother, Johanna, often referred to her daughter as 'ugly', and unworthy. Johanna was more interested in her own social standing, rather than that of her children. She came to realize that only through her daughter could she advance her own status. The young Sophia was introduced to young Peter II, heir to the throne of Russia, by his aunt, the current Empress Elizabeth (daughter of Peter the Great). Peter was the son of Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein. Peter's mother was the Empresses older sister Anne. Anne died shortly after Peter's birth. He was raised by an abusive tutor and this affected his adult life. He had little interest in anything Russian, preferring to be recognized as a Prussian.
Sophia was baptised into the Russian Orthodox church as Ekaterina (Catherine). Shortly after her baptism she becomes betrothed to Peter.
Massie very cleverly intersperses quotes from the memoirs of Catherine herself. She explains that her marriage was not consummated for 9 years. She unapolagetically acknowledges her lovers. The paternity of her male heir, Paul, is in question. At the time of his birth, Catherine's current lover was Sergie Saltykov. Massie himself questions the paternity of the child but does write "Paul looked more like Peter than Sergie". Interesting to think that Peter may have been the end of the Romanov bloodline.
Catherine becomes Empress after Peter's death. I received the impression that Catherine had no other choice but to dispense with Peter. She considered herself to be wholeheartedly Russian at this point in her life. Peter was an incompetent fool. In order to save Russia from his hands, his death was necessary. Catherine had to assume control to preserve the state.
The remainder of the book deals with Catherine's role as Empress. Her relationship with Gregory Potemkin is given a great deal of weight. He became her very special friend, confidant and lover. He may or may not have secretly become her husband.
It is here that we see more of Catherine as a woman, not just a leader. She is truly a strong, courageous asset to Russia. Without her intervention, her skill and her intelligence, one can only imagine what would have happened had Russia been ruled by Peter and another woman as Empress.
The Hermitage Museum is given more than a brief mention. Catherine became one of Europe's greatest art collectors. The Hermitage is today one of the most important museums in the world.
As I mentioned, the memoirs of Catherine throughout the book are a welcome addition.
Massie has expertly created another masterpiece.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Russian history or has previously read and enjoyed another work by Robert Massie.
I received this ARC edition from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers. I hope the finished edition contains pictures.
***all quotes are from an uncorrected proof. They will be checked for accuracy against the finished book.***
THIS IS THE SECOND BOOK GIVEN OUR PRESTIGIOUS "BEYOND 5 STAR REVIEW"