Saturday, March 27, 2021

Correspondence of the Russian Grand Duchesses

Romanov enthusiast George Hawkins is the editor-cum-publisher of  Correspondence of the Russian Grand Duchesses Letters of the Daughters of the Last Tsar, which is available solely through Amazon.  Mr. Hawkins is also responsible for the translations of the letters, most of which were written originally in Russia,  A small selection of the letters were written in English.

The letters, which were written or received by Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia, were sent between 1901 and April 1918, two months before the Imperial family and their retainers were murdered by the Bolsheviks in July 1918.  The four young women corresponded with family members as well as total strangers, including several Americans who wrote "fan" letters.

But what is missing from this book of letters is historical context.  Why did Olgas's first cousin, Prince Waldemar of Prussia, call her Kunigunde in several letters?  In December 1914, students from  girls' school in Tomsk wrote to Tatiana about the war and how the troops are "glorifying Russia and the Tsar and freeing the oppressed."  

It would have helped to understand the time period if the editor had fleshed out what was happening in Russia and the first world war when this letter was written.

Perhaps my first question should be: who are the readers of this book?   How is the book being marketed?  Will this book be of interest to more than the armchair enthusiasts of the grand duchesses or will historians add this book to their libraries?

These questions can be easily answered.   It was a joy to read these letters as there are more insights into the personalities of the four young grand duchesses, but  ... and this is a big but ... this compilation has little value to historians, researchers, biographers, and scholars because the author has not included citations, footnotes, and most egregious, an index.  I wanted to refer back to a letter but decided against it because I could not find it.  But I wanted to cite the letter, which was between Olga Alexandrovna and one of her nieces because several people were mentioned in the letter.  No footnotes identifying the people.

The historical value of the letters is diminished by the lack of perspective and citations.  Historians want to know more about the situations that brought about these letters and about the reasons why the letters were written.  Why did S.N. Zvolyanskaya refer to Tatiana as Tsarevna, for example?

One letter had me in giggles,  Grand Duchess Xenia writes to Tatiana: "my poor granddaughter is not very well she has some kind of stomach infection and is weak.  Her obnoxious are still in  P. and I don't know when they will return.).  The letter was written in July 1917.   

Xenia's comment left me wondering more about the obnoxious parents, Prince Felix and Princess Irina Yusupov, especially in the context of Xenia's letter.  What had they done to deserve the tongue lashing?

So many questions?  Not a lot of answers as all we have are the letters and little else. 

I hope that Mr. Hawkins can revisit his work to flesh out the stories behind the letters and turn this into a more scholarly tome.  Adding perspective to the correspondence will strengthen the correspondence's historical value and offer more access to the book.

For now, however,  just enjoying reading and savoring this compilation, 

No comments:

Post a Comment