Everything is always more complex
This is a re-issue of a book originally published in 1967, later made into a film in 1971. Like any book, (indeed like any event) it is of its time, and of the subjectivity of its writer in its time.
Written therefore while the Cold War was still extant, it may show the fact that what we know/knew of Russia at that time will have certain aspects hidden, and also that how America itself perceived Russia will be of a certain aspect. We are all affected by the view from where we are.
Given the title of the book, the focus lies particularly upon the last Romanovs, vilified, at the time from within, just as the revolutionaries were at that time vilified from without. We all have our views to defend.
History and historical analysis must also be partial, as the historian also has a partiality.
What emerges from Massie’s interesting, rather sympathetic account of the Romanovs is a view of history which inevitably focuses on personalities in time.
Massie puts the whole vastness of Russia, its mysticism, its reactionary, god-fearing backwardness in many ways, as well as the cauldron for revolution-in-reaction, under a microscope, but the Romanovs are viewed more closely. His conclusions place the haemophilia of Alexis (knowledge hidden, at the time, from the Russian population at large, who therefore had certain views about Alexandra’s coldness which perhaps may have been interpreted differently) as central to what transpired, since it placed her under the influence of Rasputin, and meant, when Nicolas was focusing on Russia at War, that Ministers were being promoted and sacked with dizzying frequency based purely on the relationship between the Minister and the Starets. He concludes history would have been vastly different without the Heir’s haemophilia. Massie’s own son was also haemophiliac, so the centrality of this may also have been filtered through the writer’s viewpoint. We all filter from where we stand.
There is a view of history which says that if these particular people had not existed at these particular times then the times itself would have thrown up others who fulfilled their exact function or place. Whilst its true that there is a culture which begets us which we, as masses, absorb, so that history can be seen as mass, rather than individual movements, it is also, surely, true that individuals do leave their mark upon history, and shape it, for good or ill.
What I found fascinating was the picking apart of the inevitable drive to the Great War, the shifting alliances which occurred between the European countries which were in part down to the alliances of blood and marriage between European rulers – and how autocracy itself is problematic, (whether the autocrat inherits his autocracy or wrests it by force of will, drive and ideology)
In Massie’s account the Romanovs were not the monsters painted by the Bolsheviks, who of course had good reason to foster a painting of monstrosity, rather, autocracy itself, whoever is at its head, is problematic. The brutality of the murder of the Romanovs shows a mind-set of ends-justifies-means which continued in the autocracy which came after.
History, (not to mention literature) is littered with examples of:
I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er
This was a rather difficult book to read on Kindle, where (quite common with non-fiction) it becomes less easy to search an index than in a paper book. At least this is the case with my Keyboard Kindle.
Keeping up with the rapid changes of Ministerial power, and the similar struggles by members of the Duma and the holders of power amongst the various revolutionary factions became a little dizzying (as no doubt it was to live through!) Having taken in many ways a personal psychology and personality driven view of history as far as the Romanovs were concerned, I would have liked more of this individuality on ‘the other side’ which might have kept me a little clearer. But I am sure much more information exists about the great and good or not so good than about the apparatchiks of history