Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Henri Troyat "Catherine the Great"


I am not a fan of biographies, nor am I a historian. Cap it all, I read not so many sources about Catherine the Great’s era. Therefore I will speak about this book from an ordinary person's point of view. And my opinion of the book is that it is a tremendous story! Drop everything, go and read Henri Troyat's "Catherine the Great". Her personality is so magnetic that having started to be interested in her, it is impossible to stop.
Her life story (the Prussian child Sophie Augusta Fredericka becomes Catherine, Empress of Russia) generally, is known to everyone. But do you know the details? What was her way to the crown? What kind of person was she?
For example, she was the first in Russia to inoculate herself against smallpox. Certainly, experience with inoculations already existed both in Turkey and in England. But imagine savage Russia of that time… After she did it,  the imperial court prepared in panic for an epidemy and her funeral …. Voltaire on such a courageous step wrote something like this:
"Oh, Madam, what a lesson Your Majesty gave to our French aristocrats, to our sages from Sorbonne, to our Aesculapuses from medical schools! You let yourself be inoculated with less preparations, than a nun for a lavage of her stomach”. Thus, Catherine relieved Russia of smallpox epidemics as Russian people immediately followed her example.

Having learnt that Diderot wanted to sell his library due to constrained circumstances, she made a magnificent gesture by buying from Diderot his entire library and by asking him to store the books at his house. She also granted him one thousand pounds a year for fifty years. This gesture lifted Catherine's prestige in Europe. Henri Troyat writes: «Only three years after her coronation, and she already governs not only millions of Russians, but all thinkers abroad».

It is impossible to list even a small part of what she did as well as to describe features of her character. It is only a few drops, to feel the power and magnificence of an ocean you have to plunge in it or at least see it.

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