25 Chapters of My Life: The Memoirs of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna by Olga Alexandrovna, Paul Kulikovsky, Sue Woolmans and Karen Roth-Nicholls
|25 Chapters of My Life: The Memoirs of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna by Olga Alexandrovna, Paul Kulikovsky, Sue Woolmans and Karen Roth-Nicholls|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: The memoirs of the youngest sister of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, expanded from a series of interviews she gave at the time of her silver wedding anniversary in 1941.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 216||Date: March 2010|
|Publisher: Librario Publishing Ltd|
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna was born in 1882, youngest child of Tsar Alexander III of Russia and thus sister of the ill-fated Tsar Nicholas II. Her first marriage to Prince Peter Oldenburg, who was probably gay, ended in an amicable divorce, and in 1916 she married Colonel Nicholas Kulikovsky. They escaped from Russia after the revolution, and settled in Denmark for nearly thirty years until, feeling threatened by Stalin’s regime, they moved to Canada. She outlived him by two years, dying in 1960.
This memoir is based on several interviews they gave at the time of their silver wedding anniversary, supplemented by further handwritten recollections in Danish and English. They first appeared in book form in 2005, and are now published in English for the first time, with some additional material.
Without wishing to put a derogatory slant on things, the majority of royal and imperial memoirs of this nature are, with one or two exceptions, generally very gently written and rarely dip their toe in any kind of controversy. This volume is no exception.
The Grand Duchess would have been nearly sixty when she put pen to paper. She begins at 1881, the year before she was born, when her father was proclaimed Tsar Alexander III after the assassination of his father, Alexander II. There are reminiscences from her childhood, life at the Russian court and their rather more carefree holidays in Denmark, her mother having been born a Danish princess. The worst thing that happened to her when she was small was her journey on a train which crashed, resulting in 36 members of the imperial household being killed and many more seriously injured. An investigation revealed that mechanical failure, or more accurately the coupling of two engines of different speeds to the train, was to blame, although at first it was suspected that the same organization which had killed the previous Tsar was trying to eliminate his son and family as well.
This incident apart, Olga’s account of her childhood suggests a reasonably happy first twelve years of her life. She writes of being particularly close to her brothers Georgie, who was tubercular and died in his twenties, and Michael, who would have succeeded his brother as Tsar (and very nearly did). I particularly enjoyed her account of their (her and her siblings’) pets. There were several bear cubs, which they could only keep for a year or so before they grew too big and had to go to the zoo at St Petersburg, a tame wolf, which she kept for eight years, a squirrel and a lynx.
By the time her sister Xenia married in 1894, although nobody else knew at the time, the Tsar was beginning to show symptoms of the illness which rapidly worsened and claimed his life at the early age of 49 only a few months later. His ill-prepared, woefully inexperienced eldest son then Nicholas ascended the throne.
It is generally considered that one of the major faults of the last Russian imperial family was that they knew too little of the land which they ruled. Olga recognized this, admitting what a pity it was that she knew so little of her admittedly vast native country. She never liked travel, and felt ‘distressed’ whenever she had to travel abroad. The only exception, and the one foreign land where she felt welcome, was Denmark. London, which she only visited once, she disliked, and she had even less time for Paris.
When war broke out in 1914 she joined her sister and mother in taking up nursing as their part towards the war effort. Not long after marrying her second husband, the revolution broke out and the survivors had to flee. She writes of being guarded in their own home as virtual prisoners by Sebastopol Soviet, not allowed to leave for a while, and their departure from Russia for the Black Sea, a difficult journey which they had to make in a 93-wagon-long train with only four brakes, downhill through a bleak January night through tunnels in pitch darkness. Her story ends with the arrival of her, her husband and their two small sons in Denmark. A nine-page chapter gives a brief overview of her complete life, the illustrations including two of her watercolours.
Thoroughly readable, this makes an excellent addition to the ever-growing library of Romanov-associated memoirs available.
Our thanks to the authors for sending a copy to Bookbag.
If you like this, why not also try The World on Fire: 1919 and the Battle with Bolshevism by Anthony Read.
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