Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: "Education of a Princess" by Grand Duchess Marie of Russia

From Goodreads:  To clarify the confusing Romanov family: this Marie was the granddaughter of Czar Alexander II, the daughter of Grand Duke Paul, and the cousin of Tsar Nicholas. Her brother, Prince Dmitri, was one of the plotters against Rasputin. He was exiled for that, to the Persian frontier, which saved his life when the roundup of the Imperial family began. These are the memoirs of her childhood, a glittering version of solitary confinement, and young adult life. Her father was banished for marrying without the Czar's permission, which left Marie and her brother to be brought up by her uncle, the military governor of Moscow. After her uncle's assassination in 1905, her aunt arranged a marriage with a Swedish prince whom Marie saw a few times before the wedding. The marriage was disastrous, and a divorce was arranged, quickly and quietly. Marie's young son stayed in Sweden. Charity was an acceptable occupation for the women of the aristocracy, but Marie became a qualified nurse and spent much of the early part of WWI in field hospitals. The last part of the book contains her account of the final tense days of the Romanovs, her second marriage, and her escape through the Ukraine.
My Thoughts:  This book has been on my shelf FOREVER.  I bought it for a quarter at a library sale when I still lived in California (5+ years ago) and finally got around to reading it.  As far as memoirs go, this was a pretty sad one.  Marie didn't have an easy life; her mother died when she was young and her father was banished from Russia and she was raised by relatives in a strict, regimented environment.  The one person she was really close to was her brother and it was devastating to her to be separated from him when she moved to Sweden and then when he was exiled to Persia for killing Rasputin.  It is interesting to see how she is very conscious of the fact that while she had tutors and schooling, she wasn't educated in such a way that she was prepared to enter the real world.  I also thought it was fascinating to see the Romanov dynasty and the Russian empire crumble from as told from the  point of view of a member of the Romanov family.  There were a few things that bothered me about this book though.  While Marie was married to the a Swedish prince, she had a son but she hardly mentions and after she divorces the prince, she doesn't mention him at all.  I don't know if this is because it was painful for her or because she didn't care but I kept wondering what was going on with her son and why she acted in such an ambivalent manner when it came to him.  I also was bothered by the fact that her memoirs ended so abruptly.  I would have liked to have to read more about what happened after she escaped and her relationships with her brother and Romanov relatives after the revolution.  Overall, a pretty interesting look at the Russian imperial as their world slowly imploded.  3 stars.

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