A Romanov Fantasy: Life at the Court of Anna Anderson

A Romanov Fantasy: Life at the Court of Anna Anderson

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by Frances Welch
     
 

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An extraordinary story of tenacity and intrigue, and the deep human urge to salvage hope from tragedy.
Did the seventeen-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia survive the massacre of the Russian imperial family in 1918? Over the years, the possibility that the youngest of the tsar’s four daughters might have escaped the killings has provided rich spawning

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Overview

An extraordinary story of tenacity and intrigue, and the deep human urge to salvage hope from tragedy.
Did the seventeen-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia survive the massacre of the Russian imperial family in 1918? Over the years, the possibility that the youngest of the tsar’s four daughters might have escaped the killings has provided rich spawning ground for claimants. By far the best known of these was Anna Anderson, a mysterious young woman who appeared in Berlin in 1920. Anna attracted a bizarre coterie of supporters—some of whom had known the grand duchess as a child—who risked life and limb, and often all their savings, in a desperate attempt to prove that Anastasia had, after all, survived. But who was Anna Anderson—and just how did she manage to convince so many people that she was the real Anastasia? Frances Welch’s A Romanov Fantasy is a tragic comedy in the best Russian tradition—a compelling, eerie, and frequently hilarious study of discipleship, snobbery, and life after death.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The rumors that one of Nicholas II's daughters survived the Russian imperial family's savage murder led to a slew of claimants to the Russian throne. The most famous was Anna Anderson (1896-1984), whose legal battle for recognition as the youngest daughter, Anastasia, spawned the longest-running German court case of the 20th century, as well as books, a Broadway play and a memorable film with Ingrid Bergman playing Anna. A decade after her death, DNA tests proved that Anderson was not Anastasia but a Polish peasant; an aspiring actress, she had been in and out of German mental sanitariums until, after a 1920 suicide attempt, her claim to be Anastasia brought her to the world's attention. Anderson's bizarre clutch of supporters, comically but sympathetically portrayed by Welch, included social-climbing White Russians and an eccentric American millionaire who married Anderson when she was 72 (he was 23 years her junior). Chief among her true believers were Gleb Botkin, whose father, the Romanov physician, had been murdered alongside the czar. Anderson's denouncers included the czar's sister Xenia and Prince Felix Yussoupov, Rasputin's murderer. Welch (The Romanovs and Mr. Gibbes) has researched a complex and compelling history, a testament to the power of self-delusion and the desperate human need to believe in something bigger than ourselves. 54 illus. (Sept.)

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Library Journal

Welch (The Romanovs and Mr. Gibbes) writes compellingly about Anna Anderson, the woman who claimed to be the surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia, youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas, who was murdered with his family in 1918. That someone may have survived this massacre has provoked many claimants throughout the years, giving credence to the decision to call this book "a Romanov fantasy." The author takes readers through the appearance of Anna Anderson in Berlin in 1920 and the gathering of a swarm of supporters-including some of Anastasia's childhood friends, who risked everything to prove that Anderson was truly the Grand Duchess Anastasia. The book is filled with photographs, anecdotes, stories, and innumerable sources (including contact with supporters of Anderson) that reflect the belief that she was the youngest daughter of the czar. Whether or not readers believe this, Welch offers engrossing insights, leaving the DNA-derived answer to the final chapter. (Many readers may remember the culminating news story in any case.) Recommended for public libraries interested in Russian history or good nonfiction historical mysteries.
—Mary C. Allen

Kirkus Reviews
A scrupulously mined account of the woman who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia. Extensive research and interviews conducted by Welch (The Romanovs and Mr. Gibbes: The Story of the Englishman Who Taught the Children of Last Tsar, 2005, etc.) give historical heft to this fascinating story of a delusional factory worker who spent 60 years posing as royalty. On the evening of July 17, 1918, Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their five children, including 17-year-old Anastasia, were led into the basement of the Bolsheviks' "House of Special Purpose" and shot. The soldiers were drunk, jewels sewn into the victims' bodices caused bullets to ricochet, the scene was chaotic; nonetheless, according to eyewitness testimony, there were no imperial survivors. In the 1920s, a woman who went by the names Anna Anderson and Anna Tschaikovsky stepped forward, alleging to be Anastasia Nikolaievna. She offered no evidence and a spotty tale of escape, refusing to describe the night of her supposed assassination because it was too traumatic to discuss. Anderson was, in fact, unable even to speak Russian. Nonetheless, strangers and childhood friends received her with mixed reactions ranging from denial to conviction that she was the long-lost duchess. The most fascinating aspect of the book centers around her followers, the self-described "Anastasians," and the lengths to which they extended themselves on her behalf. Of particular note is Gleb Botkin, son of the tsar's physician, who was acquainted with Anastasia when they were children and subsequently devoted much of his life to advocating Anderson's claim by writing fictionalized tomes inspired by her story. Ten years after Anderson's deathin 1984, DNA testing conclusively proved that she was not Anastasia, but Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish peasant. Clues throughout the book ensure that Anderson's unveiling doesn't come as a surprise. The real question here is not her true identity, but what motivated her lies in the first place, a mystery about which Welch can only speculate. Engaging examination of a false identity.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393065770
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
09/10/2007
Pages:
340
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Frances Welch, coauthor of Memories of Revolution and author of The Romanovs and Mr. Gibbes, has written about the Romanovs for the Sunday Telegraph and Granta. She lives in Wiltshire, England.

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