Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

Pulitzer Prize winner Massie offers the tale of a princess who went to Russia at 14 and became one of the most powerful women in history.

Born into minor German nobility, she transformed herself into an empress by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant, curious mind, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers, and reaching the throne, tried using their principles to rule the vast, backward empire. She knew or corresponded with notable figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette & John Paul Jones.

Wanting to be the “benevolent despot” Montesquieu idealized, she contended with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered, and for 34 years the government, foreign policy, cultural development and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, wars & the tides of political change and violence inspired by the French Revolution. Her reputation depended on the perspective of the speaker. She was praised by Voltaire as like the classical philosophers. She was condemned by enemies, mostly foreign, as “the Messalina of the north.”

Her family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers and enemies are vividly described. These included her ambitious, scheming mother; her weak, bullying husband, Peter (who left her sexually untouched for nine years after their marriage); her unhappy son & heir, Paul; her beloved grandchildren; and her favorites — the young men from whom she sought companionship and the recapture of youth as well as sex. Here, too, is Gregory Potemkin, her most significant lover & possible husband, with whom she shared a correspondence of love & separation, followed by 17 years of unparalleled mutual achievement.

All the qualities that Massie brought to Nicholas & Alexandra andPeter the Great are present: historical accuracy, deep understanding, felicity of style, mastery of detail, ability to shatter myth & a genius for finding and expressing a human drama.

PART I: A German Princess

Chapter 1: Sophia’s Childhood

Chapter 2: Summoned to Russia

Chapter 3: Frederick II and the Journey to Russia

Chapter 4: Empress Elizabeth

Chapter 5: The Making of a Grand Duke

Chapter 6: Meeting Elizabeth and Peter

Chapter 7: Pneumonia

Chapter 8: Intercepted Letters

Chapter 9: Conversion and Betrothal

Chapter 10: A Pilgrimage to Kiev and Transvestite Balls

Chapter 11: Smallpox

Chapter 12: Marriage

Chapter 13: Johanna Goes Home

PART II: A Painful Marriage

Chapter 14: The Zhukova Affair

Chapter 15: Peepholes

Chapter 16: A Watchdog

Chapter 17: “He Was Not a King”

Chapter 18: In the Bedroom

Chapter 19: A House Collapses

Chapter 20: Summer Pleasures

Chapter 21: Dismissals at Court

Chapter 22: Moscow and the Country

Chapter 23: Choglokov Makes an Enemy and Peter Survives a Plot

Chapter 24: A Bath Before Easter and a Coachman’s Whip

Chapter 25: Oysters and an Actor

Chapter 26: Reading, Dancing, and a Betrayal

PART III: Seduction Motherhood, and Confrontation

Chapter 27: Saltykov

Chapter 28: The Birth of the Heir

Chapter 29: Retaliation

Chapter 30: The English Ambassador

Chapter 31: A Diplomatic Earthquake

Chapter 32: Poniatowski

Chapter 33: A Dead Rat, an Absent Lover, and a Risky Proposal

Chapter 34: Catherine Challenges Brockdorff; She Gives a Party

Chapter 35: Apraksin’s Retreat

Chapter 36: Catherine’s Daughter

Chapter 37: The Fall of Bestuzhev

Chapter 38: A Gamble

Chapter 39: Confrontation

Chapter 40: A Ménage à Quatre

PART IV: “The Time Has Come!”

Chapter 41: Panin, Orlov, and Elizabeth’s Death

Chapter 42: The Brief Reign of Peter III

Chapter 43: “Dura!”

Chapter 44: “We Ourselves Know Not What We Did”

PART V: Empress of Russia

Chapter 45: Coronation

Chapter 46: The Government and the Church

Chapter 47: Serfdom

Chapter 48: “Madame Orlov Could Never Be Empress of Russia”

Chapter 49: The Death of Ivan VI

Chapter 50: Catherine and the Enlightenment

Chapter 51: The Nakaz

Chapter 52: “All Free Estates of the Realm”

Chapter 53: “The King We Have Made”

Chapter 54: The First Partition of Poland and the First Turkish War

Chapter 55: Doctors, Smallpox, and Plague

Chapter 56: The Return of “Peter the Third”

Chapter 57: The Last Days of the “Marquis de Pugachev”

PART VI: Potemkin and Favoritism

Chapter 58: Vasilchikov

Chapter 59: Catherine and Potemkin: Passion

Chapter 60: Potemkin Ascending

Chapter 61: Catherine and Potemkin: Separation

Chapter 62: New Relationships

Chapter 63: Favorites

PART VII: “My Name Is Catherine the Second”

Chapter 64: Catherine, Paul, and Natalia

Chapter 65: Paul, Maria, and the Succession

Chapter 66: Potemkin: Builder and Diplomat

Chapter 67: Crimean Journey and “Potemkin Villages”

Chapter 68: The Second Turkish War and the Death of Potemkin

Chapter 69: Art, Architecture, and the Bronze Horseman

Chapter 70: “They Are Capable of Hanging Their King from a Lamppost!”

Chapter 71: Dissent in Russia, Final Partition of Poland

Chapter 72: Twilight

Chapter 73: The Death of Catherine the Great




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