From Splendor to Revolution: The Romanov Women 1847-1928
Independent historian Gelardi follows the privileged, tumultuous lives of Tsarina Marie Feodorovna (1847-1928) and three of her sisters-in-law in this detailed history. Five genealogical tables help keep track of the multitudes of Maries and Sashas, as do 35 black-and-white photos. The book is replete with descriptions of the women’s looks, husbands, pieties, loyalties, squabbles, parties, children, dresses, jewels and the sumptuous palaces they called home. Here’s King George of Greece joining his children “bicycling on wet afternoons through the enormous ball-rooms that ran the whole length of the palace!” Or, in England, the “unaffectedly simple” Marie Alexandrovna showing her jewels to guests, who found “the bed, the tables, the chairs were covered with cases containing tiaras, dog-collars, ropes of pearls, necklaces, bracelets, brooches of rarest luster and beauty and of inestimable value. One would have thought that the world had been ransacked…” The mistresses and wayward grand duchesses in these pages cry out for fictionalization – with Adrienne Sharp already having nabbed one of the best, ballerina and serial Romanov mistress Mathilde Kschessinska, for The True Memoirs of Little K.
Two caveats: Gelardi’s earlier books inspired complaints about its editing. This volume is no different. I was also distracted by her portrayal of imperial Russia as a happy place for all, somewhat like the “happy” antebellum South. On the other hand, she doesn’t gloss over the Romanovs’ snobbish egoism and incompetence. All in all, From Splendor to Revolution should provide a good read for royalty fans and a good resource for historical novelists.