Saturday, October 20, 2012

Douglas Smith's "Former People"

Douglas Smith is an award-winning historian and translator and the author of Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy as well as three previous books on Russia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Former People and reported the following:
Page 99 of Former People describes the situation of the Counts Sheremetev family, one of the two aristocratic clans that are at the center of the book, in the summer of 1917. Most of the nobility greeted the collapse of the Romanov dynasty in early 1917 as the chance for a new beginning, but by the summer many had begun to realize that the fall of the Old Regime placed them in grave danger. The majority ended up fleeing the country, usually against their wills and only as a lost resort, and a few, like Count Alexander and Maria Sheremetev, never had any intention of abandoning the empire, only to find it had abandoned them.

This page says something about the chaos and strange twists of fate that befell the nobility following the revolution, and a few of the ways they reacted to it.
Among the aristocrats in Kislovodsk were several of Dmitry’s Sheremetev cousins: Georgy, Yelizaveta, Alexandra, and Dmitry.34 Their parents (Alexander and Maria Sheremetev) had chosen to stay in Petrograd, although as life in the capital became increasingly unsettled, they left for their estate in Russian Finland. Alexander invited his half brother Sergei to join them, but he refused to leave Russia. They were there when Finland declared its independence from Russia on December 6 (N.S.), 1917, and thus quite suddenly found themselves exiles. They lived well for a time, but then the money ran out. Alexander and Maria sold their Finnish lands and moved to Belgium and then to France; they lived in poverty in Paris before being taken in by a charity set up to help Russian émigrés in Ste.-Geneviève-des-Bois. Both Alexander and Maria died there and were buried in the Russian cemetery in the 1930s. Neither ever returned to Russia. All their property was nationalized, including their magnificent Petrograd home; its contents were dispersed among various museums, and its archive was pulped. In the 1930s, their home became the House of Writers, and decades later, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a luxury hotel.35

Alexander and Maria’s four children had all left Russia by the end of the civil war, settling in Western Europe. Georgy fought with the Whites and then fled southern Russia for Europe with his wife and their young children. He later worked as a secretary for Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, the last tsar’s uncle, and oversaw a farm in Normandy. A fellow Russian émigré by the name of Alexandrov met Georgy in the 1920s at Choigny, the home of the grand duke outside Paris. Alexandrov was amazed at Georgy’s attitude toward the revolution, which he saw as rare among the Russian aristocracy. He noted that Georgy bore no ill will for his fate and interpreted the revolution and his family’s terrible loss as “God’s proper punishment for all the sins, injustices, and lawlessness that his privileged class had committed against their ‘lesser brethren’ and that Christianity obliged him to devote the rest of his life atoning for these sins.”36 This obligation led Georgy to become a Russian Orthodox priest in London, where he lived out his last years.
Watch the trailer, and learn more about the book and author at Douglas Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue