A lifelong Passion by Sergei Mironenko & Andrei Maylunas
The book, based on more than 150,000 documents released by the Russian State Archive, is, on the one hand, a rich chronological account of the family workings of the Romanov dynasty. England’s Queen Victoria, grandmother of Alexandra, corresponded regularly with her “dear little Alixy” and with “Nicky” from their childhoods until the queen’s death. Cousin “Willy,” otherwise known as Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, was also a family confidante and occasional adviser to Nicky and Alix.
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Heads of state, Russia’s top politics and such shadowy historical figures as Siberian peasant Grigory Rasputin share their thoughts with the Russian emperor and empress over 37 years of tumultuous Russian history. It’s an intriguing view, but it also means wading through what has to be some of the most inane, often sappy drivel ever written by heads of state.There’s no delicate method to put it. Nicholas and Alexandra, good parents and deeply religious and loving people, would probably have made nice neighbors, they in their castle and yacht and you in your tract home and dinghy. But, as monarchs ruling a good sixth of the world, they come off as leaders who ran their empire with as much polish and panache as Marge Schott running the Cincinnati Reds.
A century after the bloody French Revolution, the Romanovs, especially Nicholas and Alexandra, seemed to have learned very little. Kaiser Wilhelm, Queen Victoria and Nicky’s older sister Xenia occasionally allude to rumblings and other “unpleasantries” among students and peasants as the kinds of things that once led to beheadings.
But young Nicky seems too thick or convinced of his “divine right” as a monarch to be concerned about such stirrings. In hundreds of diary entries, it slowly becomes evident this is a man slavishly concerned with his own peace of mind and daily comforts to the exclusion of anything so mundane as the concerns of peasants or welfare of his country. His daily diary includes dozens and dozens of entries no more penetrating than: “Had tea . . . Ate dinner . . . Weather marvelous.”
Far more irritating for many readers may be the letters exchanged between Nicky and Alix. No doubt they were deeply in love from the day they met as children to the day they were brutally murdered with their children by the Bolsheviks. But, even more than in letters to heads of state, their letters to each other are sentimental inconsequential claptrap always punctuated with several versions of pet names for each other. Alix calls Nicky “lovy sweet,” “sweet precious Nicky mine” and “my own precious beloved darling.” He calls her “wifey dear,” “deary mine” and “my wifey.”
The editors could have shortened the book substantially by dropping most of those letters. But, as historians and Romanov specialists, they use the letters to portray vividly the vapid, shallow state to which the Russian monarchy had sunk just before the revolution. For Romanov apologists, it’s clear that Nicky was not ready for emperor status when he succeeded to the throne. After a terrorist bomb blast killed Emperor Alexander II, Nicky, at 26, was suddenly and reluctantly a world leader.
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