Countess Natalya Sergeyevna Brasova

This was originally written on 18 June and 2 July 2015, and scheduled for 16 April 2016. I opted not to use it for that year’s Blogging from A to Z because it seemed too much a repeat of my post about Grand Duke Mikhail and focused too much on Natalya’s relationships instead of her life as a whole. Regardless, I put too much work into it to keep it gathering cobwebs in my drafts folder!


Brasova

Countess Natalya Sergeyevna Brasova (née Sheremetyevskaya, formerly Mamontova and Vulfert), 27 June 1880–26 January 1952

Countess Natalya Sergeyevna Brasova was Grand Duke Mikhail’s wife. It was her third marriage, and his first and only marriage. This was a woman like Yoko Ono or Natacha Rambova, someone most people either strongly love or hate. There aren’t too many people taking a more balanced opinion. I personally lean more towards sympathy.

Natalya was the third of three daughters born to Sergey Aleksandrovich and Yuliya Vladislavovna, a bourgeois Muscovite couple. Her older sisters were Olga and Vera. Theirs was an intellectual home, full of serious conversations about world events, literature, art, music, social movements, all the things which were judged too heavy for Imperial society to discuss. All three sisters received a very good education, including a live-in French governess.

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Natalya with Grand Duke Mikhail

Natalya married pianist Sergey Mamontov in 1902, and had a daughter, also named Natalya, the next June. Her daughter was called Tata, instead of the more usual Natasha. Their life was anything but domestic bliss, though, as Natalya quickly bored of his retiring nature. She loved going to parties and the homes of people just as intelligent and educated as she was, while Sergey preferred to come right home from work and not be very social. They amicably divorced in 1905, with Sergey pretending infidelity, the only reason divorce was permitted in the Russian Empire.

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Natalya and Grand Duke Mikhail with their son Georgiy

Natalya divorced Mamontov to marry Vladimir Vladimirovich Vulfert, a Blue Cuirrassier officer of Baltic–German descent. Their life in Gatchina was happy at first, but then they met Grand Duke Mikhail at a Blue Cuirassier event, and their marriage began heading for the rocks. Mikhail was instantly smitten by Natalya, and for a long time cultivated a friendship with them as a couple so as not to give away his true intentions. However, the attraction became mutual, and Vulfert eventually discovered his wife’s emotional infidelity. Things got extremely ugly, complete with domestic abuse, spousal rape, and threats to shoot Natalya or himself.

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Natalya (centre) and Grand Duke Mikhail (far left) with friends

Natalya separated from Vulfert in 1909, and she and Mikhail finally became lovers in August of that year, when Mikhail was on holiday in Denmark with his mother, the Dowager Empress. They continued seeing one another when they returned to Russia, and set up a living arrangement in Moskva. This was no small feat, since a woman couldn’t live apart from her husband without his permission. If the husband refused, the police could apprehend the wife and compel her to come home. Such a couple could live apart only after a lengthy investigation into their relationship, to determine who was at supposed fault. A wife could get a temporary permit to live alone in the interim, but she still wasn’t free to leave permanently without official permission.

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Natalya and Grand Duke Mikhail in 1912

Natalya gave birth to a boy named Georgiy in July 1910, when she was still legally married to Vulfert. She was terrified her estranged husband would take her child from her, and quite a lot of money and legal trouble was expended to not only get a divorce, but also to get a second birth certificate. The second birth certificate listed Georgiy as the “bastard” son of an unmarried woman, but at least that was better than a birth certificate claiming him as the child of a man who wasn’t his father. Mikhail had to fight his brother long and hard to get Georgiy made “legitimate,” and in 1915, he was created Count Brasov. Natalya was also created Countess Brasova.

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Following their marriage in October 1912, Mikhail was banished from Russia, and also received many other draconian punishments from his brother. Almost everyone in the Imperial Family was furious Mikhail had married a twice-divorced commoner, and some very ugly things were said about Natalya. The little family spent the next few years living in France, Switzerland, and England. Only after the outbreak of war did they get permission to come home. Mikhail was sent to the front lines as punishment for having married morganatically, but he served very bravely and got to come home a few times.

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May 1909, the first known surviving photograph of Natalya and Grand Duke Mikhail. The believed photographer is her then-husband Vulfert

Natalya escaped the new Soviet Union with her children in 1918, after Mikhail’s murder. They started a new life in England, though money was tight. The family later moved to France. Sadly, Georgiy was killed in a car accident in 1931, and Natalya died alone, in poverty, of cancer.

How not to write Russian hist-fic, Part II

Egads, there are so many historical inaccuracies in this book, I had to write a second post to cover everything! I felt like I were reading a book by a 13-year-old given carte blanche to spew out whatever flowed into her mind, with no editor or historical fact-checker. It’s like a kid who reads too much and understands too little, can’t research properly, and half-understands and misunderstands what she actually does read.

What else was wrong with this book?

28. No one likes infodumpy dialogue! It’s even worse when it contains the actual words “As you know.”

29. I kind of doubt a 15-year-old in 1917, let alone one from the highest reaches of society and extremely sheltered even by the standards of that era, would’ve known or used the word “penis.”

30. Speaking of, there appears to be zero truth to the oft-repeated urban legend about Rasputin’s member being cut off and preserved.

31. Even if thugs did draw an obscene cartoon of Rasputin sodomising Aleksandra on the garden wall, would any of the children have known what it represented? Given how completely sheltered they were, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn even the oldest had no idea what sex is.

32. I get the impression Ms. Lawhon just paraphrased certain passages from the websites and books she used, like writing a history paper.

33. This is the first I’ve ever heard of Anna Anderson meeting Ingrid Bergman or Hitler!

34. I might be mistaken, but 1958 seems kind of early for someone to use the word “mantra” in a non-religious sense.

35. Did Dr. Botkin really explain an orgy to his son Gleb? Since Ms. Lawhon aged him down five years, he’s only eleven in 1917. I can’t imagine any high-society parent of that era broaching such a subject with a child of that age, or using the modern term “having sex”!

36. Not nearly enough commas. Are writers allergic to them these days?

37. Overuse of “that.” That’s (no pun intended) one of the first things writers are taught about reducing wordcount!

38. Anna Anderson’s passionate advocate at Le Figaro was named Dominique Auclères, NOT Aucléres. Ms. Lawhon couldn’t even get the accent mark correct!

39. At one point, she leaves off the first accent in Champs-Élysées.

40. Was she taking her direction in Kerenskiy’s portrayal from the blatantly biased historical revisionism in Eisenstein’s October? He comes off like a cold-hearted, mean-spirited, evil criminal mastermind with nothing but contempt for the Romanovs!

41. Aleksey was not a toddler during the 1913 Tercentenary. He was eight years old. Oh, and he wasn’t walking at that celebration either, owing to still not being fully recovered from his serious injury at Spała, Poland the year before. Photos and film footage show him being carried.

42. Imperial and royal titles are capitalised when referring to an actual person and thus standing in for a proper name. E.g., the Dowager Empress, the Tsar, the Empress. For that matter, Imperial Family is also capitalised, and Russia’s ruling family was not a royal family.

43. Aleksey’s title was Tsesarevich. Tsarevich merely referred to any son of a Tsar, not the heir. And the spelling Tsarevitch? Did she take her transliteration hints from Constance Garnett? That’s how outdated that style is! I only did that when I didn’t know any better.

44. By age twelve, Aleksey was no longer an out of control spoilt brat with a huge sense of entitlement. When he found out his father had abdicated and there wouldn’t be a Tsar anymore, he showed no concern for the loss of his position as heir. He cared more about how that would affect the empire as a whole, and his family’s personal future. Oh, and the news was broken by tutor Pierre Gilliard, NOT Nicholas.

45. Tsarevna hasn’t been used as a title since the 18th century! The last women to bear it were the five daughters of Tsar Ivan V. From 1708 on, the daughters of a Tsar were called Velikaya Knyazhna (Grand Princess, mistranslated as Grand Duchess).

46. Aleksandra’s birth name was Viktoria Alix Helena Luise Beatrice, not Alix Victoria Helena Louise Beatrice.

I get the impression Ms. Lawhon just skimmed the books she references, pulling out the flashiest and most riveting bits and leaving everything else ignored or unread. Not a one of these errors would’ve been made by anyone who’s done serious, meaningful, deep research on these subjects. Her ignorance of Russian history is painfully obvious, though she claims her research inspired her to study it at university.

If you can’t get the seemingly smallest details right, why should anyone have faith you got the deeper ones correct? When a book rife with historical inaccuracies gets popular, people with no prior familiarity with the subject innocently believe this misinformation and in turn pass it along. It then becomes much harder to rebut said inaccuracies.

How not to write Russian hist-fic, Part I

Like clockwork, I’ve yet again been disappointed by a recently-published popular historical novel. This time, it’s weak writing, gimmicky structure, reams of inaccuracies, and the author’s matter-of-fact acknowledgement of her dislike of her characters.

No one forced her to write this book. If she truly wished, a thousand times over, she’d been writing about the history of barbed wire instead, she had no business writing this! Write something you’re truly passionate about, and don’t use your Author’s Note to insult people who are truly enamoured of your subject matter.

What was wrong with this one?

1. The world does not need yet another book about Anastasiya. If not for Franziska Schanzkowska’s decades-long pretending act, she probably would’ve remained the least-known of Nicholas II’s children.

2. Backwards narration is very difficult to pull off well. I get why she moved FS backwards while moving Anastasiya forwards, but this wasn’t executed well.

3. Since everyone but delusional Anastasians knows Anna Anderson was indeed FS and not Anastasiya, there’s no real mystery. We know who she’ll be revealed as, and that Anastasiya didn’t survive.

4. Lots of confused homophones! “Heals” vs. “heels,” “peeked” vs. “peaked,” “wretched” vs. “retched,” “peeling” vs. “pealing.” And “publically” and “chuggs” are straight-up misspellings. Do big publishing houses no longer employ editors, or do their editors just give books a surface once-over?

5. On the FIRST PAGE of the 1917 story, she misidentifies Aleksey’s famous spaniel Joy as a female! Every single book on the Romanovs is quite clear Joy was MALE! Yes, Joy is typically a female name, but the dog was male!

6. Tatyana’s dog was named Ortipo, NOT Ortimo!

7. Anastasiya’s dog Jemmy (here called Jimmy) was a lapdog, NOT a giant Husky! The author decided to completely change his breed so he could escape, and because she has a huge black dog herself. Guess what, Aleksey’s dog Joy really did survive! Why not incorporate that detail into your story!

8. None of the Imperial Family’s dogs were thrown out of train windows.

9. Gleb Botkin is aged down by five years.

10. Tutors Pierre Gilliard and Sydney Gibbes are combined into one person. I hate composite characters!

11. Lady-in-waiting Anna Demidova is given the nickname Dova “because another Anna would have been too confusing.” Her real nickname was Nyuta. Guess what, lots of people in this era had the same small pool of traditional names, and somehow they were able to distinguish between all the Marys, Johns, Annes, Elizabeths, Williams, and Roberts!

12. The characterisations completely contradict the established personalities shining through in their letters, journals, and other documents.

13. Grand Duchesses Kseniya (Xenia) and Olga were the Tsar’s younger sisters, not older.

14. By 1917, Aleksey was hardly weak and frail. His physical health had improved marvellously, and he was almost as tall as his 5’7 dad.

15. Aleksey never walked again after he fell getting into bed the first night in Yekaterinburg.

16. She combines three Yakovs into the vile Yakov Yurovskiy “because I had no way of differentiating between so many Yakovs, and only room for one besides.” They have different surnames, you fool!

17. She gives Yevgeniy Koblinskiy the nickname Leshy because she’s convinced his surname is too similar to Aleksandr Kerenskiy’s. “I find these Russian names sound all the same. It’s damnably confusing to me[,] so I thought to spare the reader as best I could.” WTF! Just because YOU find Russian names confusing doesn’t mean everyone shares your Anglocentric views!

18. Tomas is not a Russian name. The Russian form of Thomas is Foma.

19. Perpetuating the almost certainly untrue story about the Grand Duchesses being raped on their way to Yekaterinburg. Ms. Lawhon changes it up by having it happen on the train, not the Rus steamer. She also falsely puts Aleksey and Anastasiya in the same cabin, and has Aleksey going back to sleep after the screams start.

20. Mariya sleeps with a Yekaterinburg guard. WHAT!

21. Russian and Polish surnames differ by sex. A woman is Romanova, not Romanov. A man is Schanzkowski, not Schanzkowska.

22. Nicholas and Aleksandra’s children called them Papa and Mama, not Father and Mother!

23. The term “gulag” did not exist in 1917. It’s an acronym for Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitelno-Trudovykh Lagerey (Chief/State Administration of Corrective Labour Camps). This system was officially founded in 1930, though Soviet labour camps in Siberia began in 1919.

24. Where are all the other servants who accompanied the Romanovs into exile?

25. Russian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Eve on 6 January, not 24 December.

26. Ms. Lawhon’s negative attitudes towards royals shows through loud and clear. She’s perfectly entitled to those attitudes, but if she feels that strongly, there’s no point in writing about them!

27. The Tsar’s wife was called Empress and Tsaritsa. Tsarina is an inaccurate English word that doesn’t exist in Russian.

To be continued.

Yevgeniy Bauer

Yevgeniy Frantsevich Bauer (22 January 1865–9/22 June 1917) was born in Moskva. His dad, Czech immigrant Franz Bauer, was a musician, and his mother was an opera singer. Though most sources give 1865 as his birth year, his biographer believes he was truly born in St. Petersburg on 7 January 1867.

He was interested in the entertainment industry from childhood, and his sisters were professional actors. In 1887, he graduated from the Moskva School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture.

Bauer flitted from job to job—cartoonist, satirical journalist, artistic and portrait photographer, theatre director and impresario, scenographer, set designer, pilot—before turning to cinema in 1913.

He started out as a scenic director for the Drankov Trade House’s film on the Romanovs’ triumphant Tercentenary celebration (no one dreaming there weren’t even five more years left for the ruling dynastic house).

After this success, he directed four films for the company, followed by four films for a Muscovite branch of Pathé. He then moved to Khanzhonkov Trade House, Russia’s undisputed leading film company.

After Death, 1915

Bauer specialised in psychological and social dramas, with very dark themes and unhappy endings, though he also made comedies and a series of patriotic war propaganda films. He worked with many of pre-Revolutionary Russia’s leading actors, like Vera Kholodnaya, Ivan Mozzhukhin, Vera Karalli, Vitold Polonskiy, and Ivan Perestiani.

During WWI, he adopted the pseudonym Yegeniy Ancharov to avoid problems regarding his German-origin name. He took it from his wife, dancer and actor Lina Ancharova, whom he married in the 1890s. Lina starred in several of his comedies.

In 1917, Khanzhokov moved to Yalta, and Bauer began working on what would become his last completed film, For Happiness. During shooting, he broke his leg. This injury compelled him to direct his final film, King of Paris (which he wrote the script for), from a wheelchair.

The Dying Swan, 1917

Bauer caught pneumonia during the making of King of Paris, and was taken to hospital, leaving the film to be completed by Olga Rakhmanova. Not long afterwards, Bauer passed away at age 52.

Like many pre-Revolutionary people and things, Bauer’s films too were swept under the rug for decades. The new Soviet authorities dismissed his work as “bourgeois escapism,” though his films so clearly are a damning criticism of the bourgeoisie and wealthy.

After the February Revolution, he was more at liberty to openly express such themes. One of his films from this era was the first Russian film to expose the tyranny of the Okhrana (Tsarist version of the KGB) and the cruelty of Siberian prison.

Twilight of a Woman’s Soul, 1913

Had he not died prematurely, he probably wouldn’t have been automatically damned by association with the old world and may well have gone on to become one of the leading lights of Soviet cinema.

French film critic Georges Sadoul called Bauer “the first true cinematographic artist not only in Russia, but perhaps all over the world,” describing his films as “painting in motion.” Many other film historians and critics consider him one of history’s greatest directors, whose name deserves to stand next to luminaries like D.W. Griffith and Fritz Lang.

The Dying Swan

To date, 26 of his 80+ films are known to survive. In 2003, Milestone released Mad Love, containing The Dying Swan, Twilight of a Woman’s Soul, After Death, and a 37-minute visual essay. Milestone’s Early Russian Cinema series also features his films on volumes six, seven, nine, and ten.

Famous surnames (intentional) in my Russian historicals, conclusion

These days, I mostly find surnames from lists, and have moved past randomly choosing them from outdated encyclopedia and picking names in the news. It’s so much easier to do research now. However, I don’t regret giving some of my characters famous names, either intentionally or unintentionally.

It’s like an Easter egg; e.g., names like Chernomyrdina, Yeltsina, Zyuganov(a), and Yavlinskiy make it pretty obvious how immersed in Russian politics I was in the late Nineties.

I particularly don’t regret giving Lyuba’s stepfather’s family the name Lebedev(a), after Gen. Aleksandr Lebed (1950–2002), the candidate I supported in the 1996 presidential election. He had a very strong third-place finish, and was exactly the kind of leader Russia needs. The name means “swan,” which fits the title and symbolism of the first book.

Anna Akhmatova with her husband and son

Gumilyov, the false name Boris claims for himself, Lyuba, Ivan, and Ginny when deserting Bolshevik soldiers visit them in autumn 1917. Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov (1886–1921) was a prominent poet of Russia’s Silver Age, and the husband of poet Anna Akhmatova. He was arrested and murdered by the Cheka. His son, Lev (1912–92), was a historian, anthropologist, ethnologist, and Persian translator.

Rhodes, Katrin’s awesome butler. He’s so fun to write. I created him in 2001, and named him around 2012, after Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran.

Scholl, a radical Greenwich Village doctor with an underground clinic, and a lot of courage and compassion. He was named for Sophie and Hans Scholl of the anti-Nazi White Rose group.

Tolstaya, a gymnasium teacher. Obviously after the famous Tolstoy family, titled counts who’ve produced scores of notables over the centuries.

Baryshnikova, wily orphanage girl Klarisa, whom Lena Yeltsina names her first daughter after in gratitude. As an adult, she continues using her skill at forging and double-crossing to help people with defecting. Mikhail Nikolayevich Baryshnikov (born 1948) is one of the greatest danseurs in history.

Nureyev, an interrogator in Lubyanka, named after venerable danseur Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev (1938–93).

Grinkova, the midwife who serves the fictional Russian–American farming town of Firebird Fields, Minnesota, very near Duluth. Mrs. Grinkova delivers Lyuba’s sixth, seventh, and eighth children, as well as all of Tatyana’s children. She and Ivan frequently trade sharp barbs because of their very different views on Lyuba continuing to have children with her history of high-risk pregnancies and deliveries.

In the fourth book, Mrs. Grinkova removes the husband stitches given to Nikolas and Kat’s daughter Raisa against her will. She and Raisa’s future second husband Filaret will come to her rescue near the end of the book, after husband Gustav’s most monstrous act.

Sergey Mikhaylovich Grinkov (1967–95) was the 1988 and 1994 OGM in pairs skating with his wife, Yekaterina Gordeyeva, with whom he also had four World golds, three European golds, one European silver, one World silver, one World Junior gold, and several other assorted golds and silvers. I’ll write a review of the book My Sergei sometime this year.

Aleksandr V. Popov during the 2008 Olympics, Copyright KenChong 一洲

Popov, one of creepy Basil Beriya’s fellow inmates at The Marx Center for the Crazies. He’s convinced he’s Karl Marx. Aleksandr Vladimirovich Popov (born 1971) is widely considered the greatest sprinter in swimming history. He has four OGMs, and two World Championship golds.

Nemova, another fellow inmate, who screams out the Nicene Creed nonstop. Basil is chained to the wall between these people. Aleksey Yuriyevich Nemov (born 1976) is one of the greatest gymnasts of history, with twelve Olympic medals (four of them gold), thirteen World Championship medals (five of them gold), four European Championship medals (three of them gold), and two European Team Championship golds.

House of Zubov coat of arms

Zubov, a former count, WWII Red Army hero, and young widower who moves into the Minneapolis apartment of the unhappily married Raisa and her twin Lyudmila in 1950. Raisa is instantly smitten with the handsome, polite, kind-natured Filaret, and begins dreaming of having an affair.

Filaret treats her twins Diana and Pamela much better than their father Gustav, and his respectful treatment of Raisa is night and day next to the increasingly cruel way Gustav treats her. He and Mrs. Grinkova will come to their rescue towards the end of the fourth book.

Though Zubov is a real noble surname, I also chose this name because of Dr. Nikolay Ivanovich Zubov, the subject of Chapter One of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn’s Invisible Allies. Dr. Zubov and his wife repeatedly risked their lives to hide his writings, and suffered a lot for their association, but remained loyal allies who refused to betray their friend.