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Romanov Riches: Russian Writers and Artists Under the Tsars Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 22, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

So intrigued is Volkov with the nexus between art and politics in his native Russia, he follows his acclaimed The Magical Chorus: A History of Russian Culture from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn (2008) with a prequel. �For the Romanovs, culture was the political instrument par excellence,� writes Volkov. But, of course, it wasn�t that simple given the clashing egos and worldviews of the czars and the artists they expected to glorify them. In this delectably personified history, Volkov sensitively portrays the second Romanov czar, Alexei, who began the wretched tradition of exiling and imprisoning writers in 1667, and visionary Peter the Great. Volkov has high praise for cultured and bold Catherine II, who chose poet Gavrila Derzhavin as her minister of justice. We meet Mikhail Lomonosov, Russia�s Leonardo de Vinci, and Vasily Zhukovsky, whose �melancholy and mystical ballads� meant so much to sensitive Alexander I. Volkov revitalizes our understanding of rebellious poet Pushkin and offers fresh insights into Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, and Turgenev. A thrillingly anecdotal and incisive look at the paradigmatic and paradoxical Romanov world of politics, patronage, and the quest for artistic freedom. --Donna Seaman

About the Author

Solomon Volkov is the award-winning author of Shostakovich and Stalin, among other books about Russian culture. He is a cultural commentator for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He lives in New York City with his wife, Marianna.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (February 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307270637
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307270634
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,943,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. A Newman VINE VOICE on April 10, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was recently reviewed in the New York Times recently where its thesis was attacked. The reviewer tended to dismiss this work as an apology for autocracy and appeared only to have read one chapter, that on Pushkin's relationship with Nicholas I and tended to decry the role that he played in censoring Pushkin. The poor man clearly had no idea just how worse Pushkin's fate might have been had he been left to suffer under the bureaucrats that enforced the cultural life of Russian Empire. Middle level bureaucrats would have had Pushkin on the road to Siberia in order to protect their own future promotion prospects, a concern that would not have governed the Tsar. Pushkin though he chaffed under the Tsar's censorship, he was better off in his hands than a uneducated member of the government intent on making a name for himself.

This book shows how the Romanov dynasty played a significant role in the cultural life of Russia. In a way this book is refreshing since during the Soviet period, the role of the imperial family was probably more likely to be downgraded, if not by Communists in the USSR then by academics who were more likely as not to dismiss the imperial family as troglodytic bores as they gleefully examined the comings and goings of every radical movement in Russia and urging Chernyshevsky on the unwary.

The Romanovs were in fact huge patrons in their way particularly by the 18th century when Peter the Great tended to view every activity as a form of state service. Up through Catherine the Great, all cultural activities relied on some form of imperial sponsorship to achieve success.
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Format: Hardcover
(Yes, captions for two pairs of illustrations on the same page are reversed. How infuriating it is for an author to discover the errors publishers sometimes make! Denigrating the book on that basis is unreasonable since illustrations of those several famous authors are just a google away! It's certainly no reason to miss a book that brings pure pleasure.)

By evaluating the Romanovs as connoisseurs of the arts that delineated, defined, opposed and influenced their societies, Solomon Volkov offers a new understanding of Russia's rulers and artists. Skillfully deployed diaries, letters, unpublished manuscripts and scores are integrated into a picture of the social and political milieu of prominent Russian artists.

Volkov defends Catherine the Great against the "constant unfavorable comparisons" with Peter the Great. "The empress was a tireless worker, rising no later than six in the morning, and sitting and writing, writing, writing, using two new pens a day." And, "she spent more generously on culture than Peter did."

Though the book sweeps from 1613 to 1917, the greatest emphasis is on the nineteenth century. There are fascinating details of the intrigues and spats among the luminaries of the arts and letters. The very wealthy, illegitimate dissident Alexander Herzen fled to a very luxurious life in Paris, offending his old friends back in Russia, despite printing at his own expense, anti-government leaflets, brochures and books. But his new Parisian circle was impressed by his lifestyle.

The last chapter contrasts Lenin's lack of artistic enjoyment (hated ballet, opera and all music except Beethoven's "Appassionata" sonata for piano) and the last Tsar, Nicholas II, who loved Russian composers, opera, ballet and many Russian writers...
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Format: Hardcover
Volkhov is a tireless expositor of Russian culture. Much as his previous work (St Petersburg: A Cultural History) looks at the full span of the country's artistic and literary history through the prism of Russia's most artistic city, in this new book his prism is the House of Romanov. As such, it is very much a prequel to his other previous work, Magical Chorus: A History of Russian Culture from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn (Vintage), which chronicled Russian culture through the 20th century.

As reviewed in Russian Life
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