Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

Front Cover
The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.

Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into Empress of Russia by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant mind and an insatiable curiosity as a young woman, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers and, when she reached the throne, attempted to use their principles to guide her rule of the vast and backward Russian empire. She knew or corresponded with the preeminent historical figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and, surprisingly, the American naval hero, John Paul Jones.

Reaching the throne fired by Enlightenment philosophy and determined to become the embodiment of the “benevolent despot” idealized by Montesquieu, she found herself always contending with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered, and for thirty-four years the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution that swept across Europe. Her reputation depended entirely on the perspective of the speaker. She was praised by Voltaire as the equal of the greatest of classical philosophers; she was condemned by her enemies, mostly foreign, as “the Messalina of the north.”

Catherine's family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies—all are here, vividly described. These included her ambitious, perpetually scheming mother; her weak, bullying husband, Peter (who left her lying untouched beside him for nine years after their marriage); her unhappy son and heir, Paul; her beloved grandchildren; and her “favorites”—the parade of young men from whom she sought companionship and the recapture of youth as well as sex. Here, too, is the giant figure of Gregory Potemkin, her most significant lover and possible husband, with whom she shared a passionate correspondence of love and separation, followed by seventeen years of unparalleled mutual achievement.

The story is superbly told. All the special qualities that Robert K. Massie brought to Nicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great are present here: historical accuracy, depth of understanding, felicity of style, mastery of detail, ability to shatter myth, and a rare genius for finding and expressing the human drama in extraordinary lives.

History offers few stories richer in drama than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, this eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.
 

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User Review  - scottjpearson - LibraryThing

Catherine the Great is indisputably one of the greatest women Europe has ever produced. She ruled Russia as an enlightened monarch and spread the philosophy of its prior pro-European monarch Peter the ... Read full review

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User Review  - rayski - LibraryThing

I knew near to nothing about Empress Catherine and decided to pick this up to learn something. Overall a good book, very informative especially if you are as naive as I am on the subject. I only ... Read full review

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Contents

Sophias Childhood
3
Summoned to Russia
13
Frederick II and the Journey to Russia
19
Empress Elizabeth
28
The Making of a Grand Duke
40
Meeting Elizabeth and Peter
49
Pneumonia
52
Intercepted Letters
57
4o º A Ménage a Quatre
219
º ZZ Zºe Z ze
225
+ Panin Orlov and Elizabeths Death
227
The Brief Reign of Peter III
240
We Ourselves Know Not What We Did
266
º oca z Cºuz
279
The Government and the Church
290
Serfdom
302

Conversion and Betrothal
62
Io e A Pilgrimage to Kiev and Transvestite Balls
66
e Smallpox
72
Marriage
80
Johanna Goes Home
89
º ØØzzaze
93
The Zhukova Affair 9s 15 tº Peepholes
95
A Watchdog
106
He Was Not a King
111
In the Bedroom
114
A House Collapses
118
+ Summer Pleasures
121
Dismissals at Court
125
Moscow and the Country
129
Choglokov Makes an Enemy and Peter Survives a Plot
133
A Bath Before Easter and a Coachmans Whip
136
tº Oysters and an Actor
140
Reading Dancing and a Betrayal
144
7 ano ºnazon
149
Saltykov
151
The Birth of the Heir
162
Retaliation
171
3o º The English Ambassador
174
A Diplomatic Earthquake
179
º Poniatowski
182
A Dead Rat an Absent Lover and a Risky Proposal
186
Catherine Challenges Brockdorff She Gives a Party
192
Apraksins Retreat
198
Catherines Daughter
202
The Fall of Bestuzhev 2 05
205
A Gamble
209
ºMadame Orlov Could Never Be Empress of Russia
313
The Death of Ivan VI 32
321
Soº Catherine and the Enlightenment
330
SI The Nakaz
343
All Free Estates of the Realm
351
The King We Have Made
363
The First Partition of Poland and the First Turkish War 37
371
Doctors Smallpox and Plague
383
The Return of Peter the Third
392
The Last Days of the Marquis de Pugachev
403
Vasilchikov
413
Catherine and Potemkin Passion
417
6o º Potemkin Ascending
430
º Catherine and Potemkin Separation
435
e New Relationships
442
º Favorites
448
º 4 ſame 4 ºr 4 ecozz
461
º Catherine Paul and Natalia
463
tº Paul Maria and the Succession
472
e Potemkin Builder and Diplomat
483
Crimean Journey and Potemkin Villages
489
The Second Turkish War and the Death of Potemkin
503
Art Architecture and the Bronze Horseman
519
7o º They Are Capable of Hanging Their King from a Lamppost
533
Dissent in Russia Final Partition of Poland
548
e Twilight
560
e The Death of Catherine the Great
569
Selected Bibliography
577
Notes
581
Index
601
Copyright

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About the author (2011)

Robert K. Massie was born in Lexington, Kentucky, and studied American history at Yale and European history at Oxford, which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar. He was president of the Authors Guild from 1987 to 1991. His previous books include Nicholas and Alexandra, Peter the Great: His Life and World (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize for biography), The Romanovs: The Final Chapter, Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War, and Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea.

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