Saturday, June 17, 2017

"I'm 'A', Obviously": Happy Birthday to the Real Anastasia

June 18th is the birthday of one of the most adored young women of recent world history. You may know her as the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaievna, fourth daughter of Tsar Nicholas II. 


Her family, however, knew her as the resident schvibzik, which is Russian for "Imp," because of what a prankster she was.

Grand Duchess Anastasia

No, I'm not lying. 

People have impersonated her, novels and movies have been written about her, myths have been blown out of proportion, but the real Anastasia and her family continue to delight and fascinate everyone--including yours truly.

This is Anastasia when she was fifteen--the current age of my baby sister.

Grand Duchess Anastasia 1916:

Being a 90s kid, of course, the 1997 fantasy Anastasia blew my mind (and it's still one of my favorite movies ever, and it's now spawned a really awesome Broadway musical). But that, of course, was just a small taste of what Anastasia's real story had to offer. 

When I was older, I came across the Royal Diaries series, and Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess by Carolyn Meyer immediately caught my attention. I read it multiple times and there are lines that I can still (almost) quote by heart (including the one I used for the title of this post):

“Tatiana says that if I eat too much blini I will turn into a blin. That could prove interesting!”
"Someday I will dye my hair red and wear a veil. Won't Mama be appalled!
"My derriere hurts" Say 'figure', Anastasia!' snaps Tatiana. "Okay, then the part of my body that was in contact with a saddle for the last three hours hurts!"
"Grandmama forbade all talk of the war and asked me instead about my French studies--that, of course, proved to be a total disaster."
"Why wasn’t I born knowing all these languages?
"I wanted to KICK Derevenko"
"I was hoping we would be free of lessons until we were truly free. No such luck"

Remarking about riding their bikes down the halls of the Alexander Palace with Marie: "so far we have had several spectacular crashes"

Image result for the royal diaries anastasia

More than any other title in the Royal Diaries Series, The Last Grand Duchess made the subject likeable and real to the reader. But more than any other royal family in history, the family of Tsar Nicholas II--Empress Alexandra, Olga, Tatiana, Marie, Anastasia, and Alexei--are a lot more real and accessible to people today because of how well-documented their lives were. Nicholas took tons of photos--and some of them were really, really candid.

Tsar Nicholas II and Grand Duchess Tatiana Nikolaevna Romanova of Russia.:
Nicholas with Tatiana, Pinterest

There's this family photo that is too reminiscent of the painfully awkward family photos of today, Anastasia is on the far right:
Sometimes historical figures are actually way too #relatable.

"Hey, Olga, can you get out of bed?" "NO"
Also, note that the bedding is not super-fancy

Just being a normal family here. Move along.

Tatiana, Olga, Maria and Anastasia:
Pinterest :) 

Sometimes it blows my mind that something referenced in a fictional diary actually happened. I remember Anastasia talking about Olga's public presentation when she turned sixteen: here is a photo from that very event.
Olga Romanov looking beautiful on her 16th birthday, beside her members of her regiment:

One thing that Meyer describes in the fictional diary is the Romanov family tradition of building a huge snow fort/mountain every winter. This is the one they built in Tobolsk, Siberia, before the guards decided to tear it down.

Snow fort built by the Tsar, his daughters and soldiers during captivity in Tobolsk Siberia before it was ordered destroyed because the prisoners could look out over the wooden fence to the outside world.

They're royalty, but at the same time they're the family down the street. Reading their story just makes you feel, not to be tacky or anything, right at home. I mean, they look almost like anybody's kids. We love them because we relate to them. And we have access to everything they made because it all happened a hundred years ago or more--no privacy rules, no social media, everything is fair game to their fans.

“Children of the last Russian Tsar playing aboard the imperial yacht Polar Star, 1905”:
Pinterest--Anastasia on the right

And of course, we still have many of their real letters and diaries and first-hand accounts from the people who knew them. You get the sense that the Romanovs loved each other very much. True, they pulled back from the public spotlight quite a bit because they didn't want anyone to know that the baby brother, Alexei, had hemophilia. So they kind of had to be close. But they got to be a real family.

Tsarina Alexandra with her son Tsarevich Alexei Romanov. as Alexis was diagnosed as a haemophiliac and was not expected to live long. Both parents devoted much time to the boy and left the government of Russia to others. Alexandra was a very protective mother, but she was also determined to see that her son became tsar. Alexandra believed that she was more suited to do this than her husband::
Empress Alexandra with Alexei. Alexei did not want his illness to keep him
from having fun like any other boy, as we can see in this photo (Pinterest)

The four sisters, Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia, were known collectively as OTMA. They were that tight.

The four Romanov sisters in 1914.A♥W:
OTMA in 1914, the year part of The Last Grand Duchess is set. Anastasia on the left. (pinterest)

The real Anastasia was feisty, sassy and spirited.

"Grand Duchess Anastasia grew into an energetic child. She was the shortest of the daughters and the least ethereal, with dark blonde hair and blue eyes. What everyone remarked on was her quickness and sense of humor. She loved mischief and playing tricks, not all of them nice... Anastasia was known to trip people; her cousins complained she played too rough. Anastasia didn’t seem to care. She climbed trees and adored animals. She ate chocolates with her gloves on. She was a brilliant mimic and shone in family theatricals. Anastasia disliked her lessons and showed little aptitude for grammar or spelling, but she was considered by some the most intelligent of the four daughters." 

Maria Nikolaevna & Anastasia Nikolaevna on Horn Island (Vyayke-Pakri), 1912:
Anastasia with Marie. Same of the pictures she's in show her with a bit of attitude. (Pinterest)

A more detailed account from Your Dictionary:

Nicknamed shvibzik, meaning "imp, " Anastasia was mischievous, and loved making others laugh. She delighted in mimicking pompous guests, as well as instigating pranks on nurses and tutors. In his memoirs, her French tutor, Pierre Guillard, wrote, "She was the imp of the whole house and the glummest faces would always brighten in her presence, for it was impossible to resist her jokes and nonsense."
Anastasia did not enjoy most of her schoolwork. According to Hugh Brewster, author of Anastasia's Album, her English teacher remembered her trying to bribe him with flowers so he would raise her poor marks. When he refused, she gave them to her Russian teacher. She adored creative subjects, however, and wrote, "I excelled at composition. I must say that all my poems were satires, lampoons, from which no one was safe." Her drawings, paintings, and photographs are well documented in family albums. She often spent hours illustrating letters with drawings, and hand-coloring photographs to highlight a special aspect.
Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. 

Like the Grand Duchess Anastasia, I too had really long hair and bangs until I was in my late teens. I feel your pain, gurl.  
Anastasia with her father - What if?:
Anastasia with her father. Pinterest

She would really have loved the 21st century--she mastered the art of selfies before selfies were a thing.
"I took this picture of myself looking at the mirror. It was very hard as my hands were trembling."-exerpt from a letter written by Anastasia to her father on October 28, 1914:
"I took this picture of myself looking at the mirror. It was very hard as my hands were trembling."
-excerpt from a letter written by Anastasia to her father on October 28, 1914 via Pinterest

Also making really weird faces. Can you believe that a real historical figure would do this? It's the absurdity of it that makes her appealing.

That's a face that could appall Mama!

Honestly, if they get that feisty attitude across in the movies, more power to her.

It makes sense that the movie would have changed some of the details of the story. However, in other aspects they actually did their homework. 
My edit
On the left is a photo of the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna in her gown for the 1903 costume ball. On the right, of course, is the Dowager Empress in the movie Anastasia (1997), dressed for the costume ball in the opening scene. The outfits are not identical. BUT they do have similar design elements. The design of the crown in both, for instance, is similar, both having prongs above the fur brim and a veil in back. Both gowns have a narrow waist and similar horizontal and vertical bands. It's enough of a resemblance that when I saw the photo of the real gown I could tell that it was familiar. 

My edit
Far left, a screenshot of the princess gown and tiara from the movie. The middle panel is a portrait of Anastasia's oldest sister Olga wearing a court dress. The far right is Alexandra's coronation portrait. Notice the similarities of all three: the curved kokoshnik tiara, the sash around the front, lower shoulder line, and the long, open sleeves. To have confirmation that one of her gowns from the movie is based on the actual fashions of the Russian Imperial Court is astounding.  

And last but not least, prepare to have your mind blown:
(Screenshot from Pinterest)
Remember this line from the movie: "Olga made me so mad she said it looked like a pig riding a donkey!...She was right."

It's just so...affirming that the people who created the animated film went to those lengths to include some things from the world that the real Anastasia actually lived in. And then to have a random fictional diary include so much of the real details is thrilling. I think Anastasia is part of the reason I'm a history geek.

This year marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution. After Nicholas abdicated, he and his family were kept under house arrest in Tsarskoe Selo (palace compound outside of Saint Petersburg) for several months and then moved to Tobolsk, Siberia. When the Bolshevik/Communist Party took control of Russia, the Romanovs were moved to Ekaterinberg, where, in July of 1918, they were all brutally executed.  Anastasia was only seventeen. The remains of all the family members have since been found and identified. So, no fairy-tale ending here. But the important thing to remember is that she lived. She lived with her hair down and chocolate stains on her gloves. Dreaming about her escaping can be a fun pasttime. But celebrating Anastasia's life is the best way to go about remembering her--and we do that by living our own lives to the fullest.

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