'How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare that after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.' No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement. — from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
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April 1, 2012

Love letters





Before I send this book on to the next person on the waiting list, I wanted to say a little more about Catherine the Great. Even though it's so informative about Russian history, politics and culture, there's no question that Robert Massie intended his biography to be the 'portrait of a woman' -- an incredibly interesting, intelligent, passionate one -- and I think it's the combination of the personal and the larger, historical setting that made this book so wonderful to read.

Catherine was brought to Russia by Empress Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, to be the wife of Peter, Elizabeth's nephew and intended heir.  During and after her unhappy, unconsummated marriage {she became Empress after forcing her husband to abdicate), Catherine had twelve lovers, three of them the fathers of her three children. These relationships were short-lived or long, often stormy, and sometimes very romantic, and they were only considered socially unacceptable when her lovers were much younger than she was {you go, girl, Your Imperial Highness!}

In the book. Massie quotes from some of her letters to Gregory Potemkin, the Russian statesman and military commander, one of the deepest and longest-lived, and possibly her secret husband.  As he tell us, these '[begin] spelling out her emotional journey from passion to disappointment, disillusion, frustration, exasperation and pain,' but I loved reading them and just wanted to keep them noted here.

      You were in a mood to quarrel. Please inform me once this mood is over.

      Precious darling, I took a cord with a stone and tied it around the neck of all our quarrels, and then I tossed it into a hole in the ice ... And should this please you, please do the same.

      I wrote you a letter this morning devoid of all common sense. You returned this letter to me. I tore it in pieces in front of you, and burned it. What more satisfaction could you desire? Even the church aspires to no more once a heretic has been burned. My note has been burned. You should not want to burn me too ... Peace, my friend. I stretch out my hand to you. Do you wish to take it?

      Do me this one favor for my sake:  be calm. I am a bit merrier after my tears, and only your agitation grieves me. My dear friend, my darling, stop tormenting yourself, we both need peace so our thoughts can settle down and become bearable, or else we'll end up like balls in a game of tennis.

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