Friday, January 21, 2011

The Correspondence of the Empress Alexandra of Russia with Ernst Ludwig and Eleonore Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Hesse

Oh what a joy it was to read this book.  I own a lot of books, and 99.9% of the books are on royalty.  This should not come as a surprise, of course, and I love adding to my collection, although as I get older, I have started weeding the collection, as I don't need every book.  Well, this one is a keeper.  I know you will agree with me.
The Correspondence of the Empress Alexandra of Russia with Ernst Ludwig and Eleonore Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Hesse is a true surprise, a rare treat -- and most of the letters are in English.  
The time period for these letters is 1878 -1916 - from just before the death of their mother, Alice, from diphtheria until December 1916,  two months before the fall of the Russian empire. 
Alix was only six when she wrote her first letters to her older brother, Ernst Ludwig, the heir to the Grand Duchy of Hesse and by Rhine.   The two were raised together, grew up together, and remained close, even after Alix married Nicholas II and moved to Russia.  After the first world war broke out,  the correspondence between the siblings became difficult, and a mutual first cousin, Crown Princess Margaret of Sweden was used as the go-between.  Sweden was neutral during the first world war.
Only a portion of their original correspondence has been preserved.  Ernst Ludwig destroyed Alix's letters during a very difficult time: the final years of his marriage and his divorce from Princess Victoria Melita.
Thus, historians and biographers can only theorize how Alix felt and what she may have written to her brother concerning his marital troubles.
Neither Alix nor Ernst August were intellectuals.  There were no heated political discussions, but lots of family news, going to parties, dances, meeting cousins, travels, who came to dinner, but very few political discussion.

The war brought great sadness to Alix, already in bad health, and she sought comfort in the writing of letters to her brother, who was now the enemy. 
Alix wrote to Ernie on April 17, 1915: "Yes, our Love will never change & we feel that  our prayers  for each other continues .... One's heart bleeds -- the whole world sorrows ... I thank God your dear men are on the other side -- they would never be cruel as the Pr.(ussians) are. - Beloved Boy, heart & soul think of you & yr precious family -- am sure sweet Onor is perfection  &; the real mother to your people -- understand  all you go through. -- Only in prayer & work  one can get to."

Alix was devoted to her family, her husband, her children, and her own relatives.  She was godmother to Ernst Ludwig's younger son, Ludwig.   She mourned with her brother when his daughter, Elisabeth, died from typhoid in 1903.

Perhaps my favorite letter in the book is the letter co-written by Alix and Victoria Melita to Ernie in June 1891.The two cousins were staying with their Grandmamma at Windsor Castle.   Alix noted that the letter was written by "two dirty fingered creatures."  

I did notice that Alix and Ernie never discussed the seriousness of her son's illness.  Ernie certainly would have known that Alexis suffered from hemophilia.  Rasputin is also barely mentioned in these letters.

Most of the letters between Alix and her sister-in-law, Eleonore, Ernie's second wife, were written in German.  These letters are included in the main section as the correspondence is broken down by year, but the English translations are included in the back of the book.

The letters are a treasure trove of intimate conversation. Shortly after her marriage to Nicholas II, Alix writes: "It does not seem funny for me to drive alone with Nicky, I must say, as formerly, I drove with Papa -- & then with you, so I am accustomed to be with a gentleman. But I do not realize it yet that I am married & it it will remain so."

The letters were expertly and judicously edited by Petra H. Kleinpenning.  She fleshes out the correspondence with meticulous footnotes and references to other sources, including Joseph Fuhrmann's The Complete Wartime Correspondence of Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra, April 1914-March 1917, the German-language Alix an Gretchen Brief der Zarin Alexandra Feodorowna an Freiin Magarethe von Fabrice aus Jahren 1891-1914, and Briefe der Zarin Alexandra von Russland: an ihre Jugendfreundin Toni Becker-Bracht.  The  latter two compilation of letters are between Alexandra and her friends, Gretchen and Toni, both of whom are oft-mentioned in the correspondence between Alix and Ernie.

This volume includes a selection of illustrations, some from the editor's collection, and include photographs of Alexandra and her family, and also photos of the original postcards and letters.    I hope this volume is a success, and we will see Ms. Kleinpenning edit more correspondence, perhaps between Alix and her sisters.

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