ELIZABETH, GRAND DUCHESS OF RUSSIA by Hugo Mager

ELIZABETH, GRAND DUCHESS OF RUSSIA

A Biography
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A biography that captures Elizabeth’s endearing personality but dwells on her too speculatively. Fans of royal biographies will welcome Mager’s dramatic tale of the tragic life of Elizabeth (a.k.a. Ella), granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Hessian princess, elder sister of Empress Alexandra of Russia, and in her own right a Russian grand duchess. He considers the wide-reaching web of royal connections throughout Europe at the turn of the century. Mager begins his tale with the story of Elizabeth’s mother, Alice, whose religious spirit, strength of character, and commitment to others, he argues, Elizabeth inherited. We see how, surrounded by death, war, and personal loss since childhood (her mother and several siblings perished), Elizabeth grew into the woman who remained devoted to her husband despite a hollow marriage and, after his assassination, dedicated her life to Russian Orthodoxy; she became a nun. Finally arrested by the Bolsheviks, Elizabeth was thrown into a mineshaft to a gruesome death and later canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. To add to the drama, Mager pays close attention to relations between Elizabeth and the Russian empress, dramatically presenting the former’s role as a go-between in Alexandra and Nicholas II’s courtship; less successfully, Elizabeth tried to distance her sister from the devious faith-healer and political meddler Rasputin. Mager gets into trouble, though, when the biography veers too far into the “what if” school. Annoyingly, he argues that had Elizabeth married her cousin Willy, the future kaiser of Germany, WWI might have been averted, and that if she had not urged on the marriage of Alexandra and Nicholas (Mager claims she wanted a relative with her in Russia), the Russian Revolution might not have occurred. Interesting story, but the amateur historian’s interpretations too often don’t match the evidence. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-7867-0509-4
Page count: 400pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1998