Thursday, October 6, 2011

An Intimate Portrait of a Great Woman


Catherine The Great, Portrait of a Woman, is an apt title for Massie's biography of Catherine the Great. The biography moves from Catherine's difficult childhood through her disastrous marriage to Grand Duke Peter when she becomes Grand Duchess and into her era as Catherine II.

I knew about Catherine's achievements as an Empress, but what I found most interesting in Massie's biography was his portrait of her as a woman. The hardships she endured under the Empress Elizabeth are almost impossible to imagine. We think of a Grand Duchess as someone who has power, wealth and status, but Catherine was a virtual prisoner. The Grand Duke Peter was uninterested in her, possibly because of physical problems. The Empress Elizabeth feared that she was a spy largely because of her German heritage. This left the fifteen-year-old Catherine virtually alone.

I particularly liked the way Massie wove Catherine's memoirs into the book. Recounting the political and personal situation in her own eyes was very moving. Throughout the entire book, I felt that we were viewing history through Catherine's eyes. It was very effective.

I strongly recommend this book. Even if you know the history of Catherine's reign, this will give you a comprehensive view of her personality and the background that made her great.