Nicholas and Alexandra is a cozy, almost domestic account of the life of the last Tsar and his wife Alexandra. The Autocrat of all Russia features as a mild-mannered bourgeois sipping tea in his wife’s mauve boudoir or hanging ineffectually about the army camp. Alexandra’s personality takes on a sharper focus; she is devout, dutiful, and- in spite of the author’s protestations to the contrary- unhinged in her hysteria and stubborn blindness.
Special attention is paid to the effects of their son Alexei’s hemophilia, both on the couple personally and on the affairs of Greater Russia. The author, himself the father of a hemophiliac, details with grueling exactness the emotional strain placed on the parents, until the reader is almost inclined to sympathize with the perpetually haranguing Alexandra- at least until she launches herself into her next bull-headed political misadventure.
The chief author of these political misadventures is the Mad Monk Rasputin, here portrayed as a bluff, carousing holy man and occasional date rapist, with the inexplicable ability to control Alexei’s bleeding. The author’s descriptions here are wonderfully evocative, in stark contrast to his long-winded masturbatory accounts of the Romanovs’ domestic bliss.
The domestic bliss takes up about a third of the book, leaving precious little time for other details; in spite of all the oblique references made to student radicals, terrorists, and assassinations in the background the author really does not do a terribly good job of building the political scene. Were this a novel, the revolution would seem an inexplicable last-minute plot twist, badly foreshadowed and incredibly unwarranted.
The different factions of revolutionaries, their competing goals, the personalities of their leaders are all allowed to fall by the wayside, while we are treated to yet more descriptions of the beauty of the Crimean countryside.
To address the reasons for the revolution would probably have entailed a closer examination of the faults of “Nicky” and “Sunny”. The author treats them with kid gloves, neatly sidestepping both the dubious morality of a feudal autocracy and their personal failings as rulers. He will concede that Alexandra probably should not have put the entirety of the state apparatus in Rasputin’s hands- but the Mad Monk’s unmannerly whoremongering could not itself have been the sole cause of the fall of a three-hundred-year-old dynasty.
This is the real flaw at the heart of the book- the author is much too fond of his subjects and disinclined to give a truly impartial analysis of their reign and fall. However much “Nicky” and “Sunny” loved each other, however sweet their letters and everlasting their bond, it does not change the fact that they were singularly incapable of making a single competent decision in all twenty-some years of their reign.
In spite of the author’s obvious biases, the book’s compact easy and style make it an enjoyable read. It will probably not do much to better the mind, but it a pleasant breezy book to read in snippets between midterms.