Tag Archives: Catherine the Great

Celebrating Women Series: Eva Stachniak on Catherine the Great as a Grandmother

Welcome to the seventh article in the “Celebrating Women” for Women’s History Month! It’s the first time I’ve coordinated an author guest article series to celebrate women in history or women making history! Thank you to Eva Stachniak for offering the seventh article in this series. If you’d like to continue on with the tour, which runs March 19-31, 2014, follow along each day on the main blog or head to this blog page, Women in History, which will be updated daily with the scheduled link.

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Catherine the Great:  Doting Grandmother in Her Later Years
by Eva Stachniak, Internationally Best Selling Historical Author

Old-Catherine-the-Great-PortraitCatherine the Great was not a happy mother. Her children were taken away from her as soon as they were born and she was not allowed to spend much time with them or to make any decisions about their upbringing. Her first-born, Paul, eight when Catherine became empress, and by then spoilt by his aunt, Elizabeth Petrovna, was always estranged from his mother. Catherine’s daughter, Anna, died in infancy, and her love child with Orlov, Alexei Bobrinsky, whom Catherine brought to the palace after the 19762 coup, did not live up to his mother’s expectations.

It was with her grandchildren that Catherine discovered the joys of parenthood. Her first grandson, Alexander, was always her most beloved, although she spent as much effort in bringing up his brother, Constantine. Accounts from the Russian court paint touching pictures: the Empress of Russia getting herself down on the floor to play with her grandsons, the empress designing her grandson’s play clothes, and—the most important—supervising their education.

How did she want her grandchildren educated? Children—Catherine believed—should be brought up according to the principles of reason. They should be able to ask questions freely and not to be ridiculed or punished when they made mistakes. Their natural curiosity should be fostered daily, their playtime should be both useful and fun. The education of princes could not neglect Russia’s political plans, either. Alexander had to be taught politics and economics. He had to be trained how to be a leader and an orator, a man able to talk with peoples from all walks of life.  Constantine, meant to rule the future Russian Eastern Empire from Constantinople, had to speak Greek, and thus had a Greek nanny.

Did it work? Not quite. Constantine did learn Greek but his own volatile nature made him unsuitable for leading Russia when an opportunity presented itself. With Alexandre, so carefully groomed to take over the throne of Russia, this liberal and progressive education also had an unforeseen effect. To Catherine’s bemusement, in 1795, the year when she was hoping Alexander would agree to be named her successor instead of his father, her beloved grandson replied that he wished to denounce his rights to the Russian throne altogether. He wished to withdraw to the country and cultivate his garden. Catherine, to her credit, listened to these youthful dreams with patience. She was convinced that her arguments and the reality of Alexander’s obligations will win over youthful idealism.

She was right, though not in the way she had planned it.

Author Eva Stachniak, Biography (in her words)~

EStachniakLQI was born and raised in Wrocław, Poland. English is my second language although, thanks to my wonderful and far-sighted mother, I began learning it in early childhood.

In Poland I was an academic, teaching in the English Department of the University of Wrocław. In the summer of 1981, on the eve of Solidarity crisis I received a scholarship to McGill University where I began working on my PhD dissertation, Positive Philosophy of Exile in Stefan Themerson’s Fiction (defended in 1988.)

In 1984-86 I worked for Radio Canada International, the Polish Section, in Montreal, writing and producing radio programs about Canada. In 1988 I joined the faculty of Sheridan College(Oakville, Ontario) where I taught English and humanities courses until 2007.

It is in Canada that I became a writer. My first short story, “Marble Heroes,” was published by the Antigonish Review in 1994, and my debut novel, Necessary Lies , won the Amazon.com/Books in CanadaFirst Novel Award in 2000.

The Winter Palace, based on the early life of Catherine the Great, has been a bestseller in Canada, Poland and Germany and was included in The Washington Post’s 2011 list of most notable fiction and Oprah Magazine’s “10 Titles to Pick Up Now” in 2102.

I live in Toronto. My second historical novel about Catherine the Great, Empress of the Night, will be published in March 25, 2014 in the United States.

To learn more about Eva,  her books, contact her for your book club meeting (she does Skype!!), then go to:  www.EvaStachniak.com.

Empress of the Night, Synopsis~

HR-Empress-CA-coverThe Winter Palace brilliantly reimagined the rise of Catherine the Great through the watchful eyes of her clever servant, Varvara. Now, in Eva Stachniak’s enthralling new novel, Empress of the Night, Catherine takes center stage as she relives her astonishing ascension to the throne, her rule over an empire, and the sacrifices that made her the most feared and commanding woman of her time.

“We quarrel about power, not about love,” Catherine would write to the great love of her life, Grigory Potemkin, but her days were balanced on the razor’s edge of choosing her head over her heart. Power, she will learn, is about resolve, strategy, and direction; love must sometimes be secondary as she marshals all her strengths to steer her volatile country into a new century and beyond—to grow the Romanov Empire, to amass a vast fortune, and to control a scheming court in order to become one of history’s greatest rulers.

Gorgeously written with vivid detail and lyrical prose, Empress of the Night is an intensely intimate novel of a woman in charge of her fortunes, who must navigate the sorrows, triumphs, and hopes of both her soul and a nation.

Praise for Empress of the Night~

…ambitious…structurally complex and psychologically intense Empress of the Night aims for Hilary Mantel. Stachniak’s writing is distinct, however, especially in vivid description of sensory details: perfume, sweat and the click of heels on polished floorboards.

Quill & Quire (Canada)

Empress of the Night … casts light on Catherine’s life with unflinching honesty and intimacy. This fun novel of lovers, intrigue and malicious and manipulative nobility keeps readers enthralled with every page…

Virtuoso Life Magazine (US)

Stachniak’s absorbing novel opens readers’ hearts to an extraordinary and misunderstood woman …wonderfully written, Stachniak’s story vibrates with passion, drama, and intrigue. This is a feast for fans.

Romantic Times Magazine (US)

…historical fiction fans will appreciate this personal account of a formidable and, indeed, infamous ruler.

Library Journal (US)

Empress of the Night will be published by Doubleday in Canada and Bantam in the U.S. on March 25th 2015. In the UK, Australia, and New Zealand Empress of the Night will be available as an e-book, published by Traverse Press.

And if you are interested in the first book……

The Winter Palace, Synopsis~

US_winterpalaceBehind every great ruler lies a betrayal. Eva Stachniak’s novel sweeps readers into the passionate, intimate, and treacherous world of Catherine the Great, revealing Russia’s greatest monarch from her earliest days in court, where the most valuable currency was the secrets of nobility and the most dangerous weapon to wield was ambition.

Two young women, caught in the landscape of shifting allegiances, navigate the treacherous waters of palace intrigue. Barbara, the narrator, is a servant who will become one of Russia’s most cunning royal spies. Sophie is a naive German duchess who will become Catherine the Great. For readers of superb historical fiction, Eva Stachniak captures in glorious detail the opulence of royalty and the perilous loyalties of the Russian court.

The Winter Palace came out Fall of 2012 (Bantam US) and is available everywhere.

To read previous articles in this series and to follow-along, click here:

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The Life of Russian Women of Nobility in the 18th Century: Guest Post by Eva Stachniak

Continuing with my Women in History or Women Making History theme in celebration of Women’s History Month, I have a guest post by the award-winning, internationally best-selling historical fiction author, Eva Stachniak. She talks about why she chooses to write about certain women and time periods, then gives interesting thoughts on the role of Russian women in 18th Century culture. Very interesting….enjoy!

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Through the Women’s Eyes: Strong Women of the 18th Century
Guest Post by Eva Stachniak

I’m a writer of fiction, but history is my passion and my material. I’ve published three novels: Necessary Lies—a story of a Polish immigrant to Canada who has to confront her old country’s most recent past; Garden of Venus—an 18th century tale based on the life of  Sophie de Witt-Potocka, a Greek peasant who married into Polish aristocracy; and The Winter Palace—based on the early life of a German princess who became Catherine the Great.

All three novels have one thing in common. They are all about powerful women who have left their country of origin and by doing that have changed their lives.

The 18th century women, in particular, have captured my imagination, maybe because they are much closer to our century’s sensibilities than the generation of their daughters and grand-daughters. The 18th century women are not coy about their sexuality. They would find it odd or even preposterous to think of themselves as “angels of the house,” separated from the desires of the flesh. And they claim for themselves a much more active role in the mostly misogynous male world, and quite a successful one as well.

The women of Russian nobility I find particularly interesting. It was Peter the Great (1682-1725) who forcibly removed them from their secluded position inside the home (terem), forced them into salons, dressed them in Western clothes, and fostered their participation in the social life. The women were not asked to agree to these changes; the absolute ruler ordered it and they had to comply. Suddenly they found themselves obliged to entertain guests, conduct conversations with men who were not their husbands or relatives,  and appear in public at various court functions. These were not popular measures. The majority of the Russian society took to them with fear and reluctance. There was talk of shamelessness, of the decline of morals, of the dangers to the soul, but by the time Catherine the Great ascended to the throne in 1762, Russian ‘elite’ women were well used to their new freedoms. 

Having left their domestic seclusion the Russian women began to take active role in the Russian life. It helped that in the 18th century Russia enjoyed a sequence of female rulers: Peter the Great’s wife succeeded him as Empress Catherine I. Later, his youngest daughter ruled Russia from 1742-61 as Empress Elizabeth Petrovna.  And then, came the thirty-four year-long rule of Catherine the Great.

catherinethegreat

In Catherinian Russia women were a fixture of the court and public life. They actively participated in all court events, they threw themselves into charitable work, founded and cared for educational institutions, ran their estates. They enjoyed more property rights than the Western women, and their growing confidence brought spectacular results.  Princess Ekaterina Dashkova who thought herself Catherine the Great’s best friend perhaps with too much self-confidence has become Director of the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg – becoming the first woman in the world to lead a national science academy – and founded the Imperial Academy of the Russian Language.

What did foreign visitors to Russia make of this new confidence of the Russian noblewomen? Through my research for The Winter Palace I found out that many Western men found the Russian women too confident, too free, too independent. Charles Masson, in his Secret Memoirs of the Court of Petersburg chastises them as being unnatural and masculine, and of “assuming superiority over men.” And the Western women? They were far more impressed by what they saw.

As Princess Dashkova’s Irish house guest, Martha Wilmot, put it: Russian women enjoy more rights and more independence than the women of the West.

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Eva Stachniak, Biography~

EStachniakLQI was born and raised in Wrocław, Poland. English is my second language although, thanks to my wonderful and far-sighted mother, I began learning it in early childhood.

In Poland I was an academic, teaching in the English Department of the University of Wrocław. In the summer of 1981, on the eve of Solidarity crisis I received a scholarship to McGill University where I began working on my PhD dissertation, Positive Philosophy of Exile in Stefan Themerson’s Fiction (defended in 1988.)

In 1984-86 I worked for Radio Canada International, the Polish Section, in Montreal, writing and producing radio programs about Canada. In 1988 I joined the faculty of Sheridan College(Oakville, Ontario) where I taught English and humanities courses until 2007.

It is in Canada that I became a writer. My first short story, “Marble Heroes,” was published by the Antigonish Review in 1994, and my debut novel, Necessary Lies , won the Amazon.com/Books in CanadaFirst Novel Award in 2000.

Her latest novel, The Winter Palace, based on the early life of Catherine the Great, has been a bestseller in Canada, Poland and Germany. Eva Stachniak lives in Toronto, where she is working on her second historical novel about Catherine the Great, Empress of the Night.

You can learn more about Eva and her work at:  http://www.evastachniak.com

The Winter Palace Synopsis (and Review from Archive)~

US_winterpalaceI wrote a review for The Winter Palace this past summer, READ HERE!!

Behind every great ruler lies a betrayal. Eva Stachniak’s novel sweeps readers into the passionate, intimate, and treacherous world of Catherine the Great, revealing Russia’s greatest monarch from her earliest days in court, where the most valuable currency was the secrets of nobility and the most dangerous weapon to wield was ambition.

Two young women, caught in the landscape of shifting allegiances, navigate the treacherous waters of palace intrigue. Barbara, the narrator, is a servant who will become one of Russia’s most cunning royal spies. Sophie is a naive German duchess who will become Catherine the Great. For readers of superb historical fiction, Eva Stachniak captures in glorious detail the opulence of royalty and the perilous loyalties of the Russian court.

 The Winter Palace has been included in:

Booklist Top 10 Historical Fiction 2012

The Washington Post 50 notable works of fiction

The Globe and Mail top books of 2012

16 Books to watch for in 2012: Oprah magazine

*Photo of Catherine the Great taken from http://famousdiamonds.tripod.com/orlovdiamond.html

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Historical Novel of Catherine the Great a Stellar Deeply Woven Tale: The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

The Winter Palace, by Eva Stachniak, was released this January and I am so happy to have finally been able to complete this outstanding fiction work regarding the rise of a woman history knows as Catherine the Great. Surprisingly, after an over 30 year reign (which was the longest by any female ruler in Russia (1762-1796)), Catherine II did not have a novel on the shelves about her until this one!  Stachniak certainly takes the shelves by storm with this historical fiction of grand design and includes all the elaborate scenery, trickery, politics, and debauchery of the time period that keeps readers engrossed in the story late into the night.

Though this novel doesn’t take place during Catherine the Great’s lengthy rule (only covers her covert ascension at the very end), it’s such an interesting story because it’s told through the eyes of a court servant and spy, Barbara-or Varvara in Russian.  The child of a deceased book binder, and Polish immigrant, Varvara becomes an orphan taken in by Empress Elizabeth Petrova on a favor, who then observes and assists in Catherine’s growth into womanhood throughout a book that outlines all the intrigue and machinations of the elaborate Russian court during a time when many outside of the Royal Family were extremely poor and hungry and dissent abounded.

Before she becomes Catherine the Great, she is Sophie, a German teenage princess from Zerbst who comes at the age of 14 to a court ruled by Empress Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of Peter the Great.  The Empress is just 35 years of age and exorbitant in her vices of decadence, lovers, and drink.  This makes her impulsive and sometimes curt even through her bouts of kindness. Princess Sophie is brought to the Palace to become the wife of the Crown Prince Peter, who is Empress Elizabeth’s nephew. He’s not enthralled with his new wife and the many issues that plague him make him distant, unloving, and not a player in politics, or in the bedroom, and Empress Elizabeth is expecting (and demanding) an heir. To Varvara, she is her closest friend.

I have always had a love affair with Russian history during the time period of the 16th to 19th centuries.  I loved the depth of the character of Varvara and how her life is held constantly in the balance by her usefulness (what she sees and hears) at court.  The ending was amazing. I don’t want to give it away, but the redemptive stance it took was so properly portrayed as to how I thought it should be.

I highly recommend this book if you love any type of historical drama regarding life surrounding those in court politics. For me, I especially enjoyed that it surrounded Russian court in the 1600s, as I love Russian history, intrigue, and mystery. Again, I am astounded by strong women of history, both those of royalty as well as those who serve them.

About the book from the publisher~

Catherine the Great is one of history’s most fascinating rulers—a monarch whose 34-year reign brought Russia into the modern industrial world, whose affairs were the scandal of her court, and who truly embodied the ideals of the Enlightenment. Yet there are no other novels in print on Catherine the Great. Now, drawing on letters, diaries, and on-the-ground research in St. Petersburg, Peterhof, and Tsarskoye Selo, award-winning author Eva Stachniak delivers a passionate novel that illuminates the early life of one of history’s most enigmatic and powerful women. THE WINTER PALACE: A Novel of Catherine the Great (Bantam Hardcover; January 10, 2012) tells the epic story of Catherine’s improbable rise to power, as seen through the ever-watchful eyes of an all-but-invisible servant close to the throne.

That servant is, like Stachniak herself, Polish—a woman who straddles the crossroads of Eastern European immigrant culture, and for whom the world of the Winter Palace is simultaneously alien and familiar. Her name is Barbara—in Russian, Varvara. Orphaned early in life, nimble-witted and attentive, she makes her way into the employ of the Empress Elizabeth amid the glitter and cruelty of the world’s most eminent court. Under the tutelage of Chancellor and spymaster Count Bestuzhev, Varvara is educated in skills from lock-picking to lovemaking, learning above all else to listen—and to wait for opportunity. That opportunity arrives in the form of a slender young princess from Zerbst named Sophie, a playful teenager who will become the indomitable Catherine the Great. Sophie’s destiny at court is to marry the Empress’s nephew, but she has loftier, more dangerous ambitions, and she proves to be more adept at court politics than she first appears.

What Sophie needs is an insider at court, a loyal pair of eyes and ears who knows the traps, the conspiracies, and the treacheries that swirl around her. Varvara becomes Sophie’s confidante, and together the two young women rise to the pinnacle of absolute power—surviving ill-suited marriages, illicit seductions, and, at last, the shocking coup to assume the throne of all of Russia—but at a tremendous cost, emotionally, physically and psychologically.

See the trailer on YouTube:  http://youtu.be/4RNlgKLbSfk

The Winter Palace

An Interview with Eva Stachniak, Author
(NOTE:  this is an interview sent by the publisher, not an exclusive as I generally do on my site, but good nonetheless)

There are no novels in print about Catherine the Great. Why do you think that’s the case, and what drew you to write about her life in THE WINTER PALACE?

It’s fascinating to me that there are no novels about Catherine, especially since there are many biographies of her. She and her reign have always been objects of attention.  

I have been drawn to Catherine for some time. She was a powerful woman who survived and triumphed in a misogynist world, and she was shaped by the 18th century, the Age of Reason—a time I find irresistible.  Like me, this German princess who came to Russia when she was fourteen was an immigrant. Like me, she had to re-invent herself in a new country, learn to understand it and change in the process.

Your narrator is a young Polish woman who serves as a spy in the Winter Palace. How does she offer unique insight into the court life and politics that transformed Princess Sophie into Catherine the Great, and to what extent does she reflect your own background and cultural history? 

Varvara or Barbara (her Polish name) is an outsider who has to survive in difficult and dangerous circumstances. She is an orphan, and she has no allies but her own intelligence and perseverance. Cast adrift in the Winter Palace, she has to watch and listen in order to find her way into safety. Unlike Princess Sophie, she is not an aristocrat, and if she perished no one would notice.

The evolving friendship between Varvara and the future Catherine the Great forms the novel’s backbone. Both women have to define themselves in a world of shifting loyalties, both have to weigh the price such transformations exact.

What does Princess Sophie find upon arriving at the Winter Palace? What was life like in the Russian court at that time?

Sophie arrives in Russia to the court of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, the youngest daughter of Peter the Great. Empress Elizabeth was an absolute monarch, she lived in unsurpassed splendour, and she freely indulged in her passions. When Sophie arrives, Elizabeth is thirty-five years old, charming and very beautiful.  She is fond of men, dancing, music, and cherry brandy, all easily available at court. She can be loving and warm, but she can also capricious, impatient and inconsistent. Her court is dominated by her favourites.

In the 18th century, Russia emerged as a significant power on the European scene, but it still had to contend with its persistent image as an “uncouth Russian bear.” Hence Empress Elizabeth’s insistence on recognizing Russia’s playing a growing role in European politics, and also her grand building projects, the renovations of all the imperial palaces in the grand rococo style that plagued the daily life of the court with constant moves in all sorts of weather.

Princess Sophie travels to Russia to marry the Crown Prince Peter, Empress Elizabeth’s nephew.  The marriage is not yet certain, and even after it does takes place Sophie/Catherine’s position at court is extremely precarious for many years. She spends these years in an apprenticeship of her own design, looking for allies everywhere, learning the mechanisms and perils of power.

Both Princess Sophie and her confidante Varvara have to adapt quickly in order to survive in their new surroundings. What do they learn? And what are some of the ways in which they change as they come into power?

Both women quickly learn the deadly dangers of not having power. An unwanted and unloved wife could be sent to a nunnery. A childless wife—and Catherine did not conceive for several years after her wedding—could be pushed aside for a rival. A spy could find herself without a tongue, with her back mangled by the knout, exiled and forgotten.

Thus, for a long while, for both young women, power means safety, a chance to survive, and perhaps an opportunity to change some of the injustice they see and experience. But the moment Catherine reaches for the throne, power begins to exact its price. Catherine and Varvara learn that power means betrayals, but in the end each woman makes very different choices.

What was the role of women in the Russian court? Empress Elizabeth proves to be quite volatile in her treatment of Princess Sophie and Varvara as young women, and later as wives and mothers. To what extent (if at all) does Princess Sophie improve the lives of the women around her when she becomes Catherine the Great?

It was Peter the Great, determined to modernize Russia and break the country’s isolation, who changed the position of Russian women most drastically. One of his many decrees forbade upper-class Russian women to live in domestic seclusion. Under Peter’s rule, they had to participate in social and court life, alongside their husbands, brothers, or fathers.

By the time Peter’s youngest daughter Elizabeth became Empress of Russia, the country had had a succession of female rulers, starting with her own mother, Catherine I. At court, aristocratic women had as much power as their family wealth and connections would allow them. At home, however, they still deferred to their fathers, husbands and brothers.

Young women, especially if—like Catherine and Varvara—they were deprived of family support, had little to protect them. Still, they were much better off than serf women. It is worth remembering that Russia was a country in which serfs could be bought and sold, married to anyone their owner chose for them, punished or even killed with impunity.

Catherine as Empress did little to change the lot of serfs—claiming that Russian society was not yet ready for such drastic reforms—but she did improve some aspects of women’s lives. She founded foundling homes where unwanted babies could be left without questions or inquiries. She founded hospitals where venereal diseases could be safely and discreetly treated. She also established the Smolny Institute, the first educational institution for Russian women, providing excellent and progressive education to daughters of nobility. It is also worth noting that Catherine appointed her friend, Princess Dashkova, Director of the Russian Academy of Arts and Sciences and President of the Russian Academy—making her the first woman to hold such important positions.

In diaries of the time, I found traces of complaints some Russian men allowed themselves to utter. They were bothered by Catherine’s sexual freedom, not so much on her account—she was a Tsarina and could do what she wanted—but on account of their wives and daughters. “If matushka is acting thus, why cannot I do it as well?” Russian wives and daughters must have been asking their fathers and husbands when the empress took yet another young man into her bed. Catherine’s example spurred Russian women to demand more freedom.

Princess Sophie doesn’t find love with her husband, the Grand Duke Peter. But she does have intimate relationships with other men, including the future King of Poland, whom she places on the throne after becoming Empress. Do you think she found love, or did she embark on these relationships for political expediency? And what of her relationship with Varvara—is there true affection between them?

“I cannot live one hour without love,” Catherine told Prince Potemkin, and her statement rings true. In her life, she fell in love passionately, many times. Her relationship with Stanislaw Poniatowski, the last King of Poland, lasted three years and ended only when he was expelled from Russia. Catherine clearly loved him, but once he was gone, she found his successor immediately.

Grigory Orlov was the lover whose support allowed her to reach for the throne, but she did love him and lived with him quite happily for twelve years. I think that her true soul mate, however, was Prince Potemkin, her partner and most probably husband. Her relationships with her young favourites are also not just sexual or expedient. When twenty-five year old Sasha Lanskoy died after a brief illness, Catherine suffered from a serious depression for months. On the other hand, any lover hoping that love might make Catherine forget she was Empress, and thus responsible for the well-being and supremacy of Russia, would be greatly mistaken. She took her job very seriously, and personal sentiments were never allowed to interfere.

In THE WINTER PALACE, the fictional Catherine treats Varvara the way real Catherine treated her lovers and friends. She gave a lot, but she demanded ultimate loyalty and usefulness in return.  

What special research did you do for this book? Were there any surprises waiting for you in St. Petersburg, Peterhof, and/or Tsarskoye Selo?

First of all I read all the biographies of Catherine that I could find. I also read diaries of her contemporaries, and any 18th-century correspondence that had anything to do with Russia. There is a wealth of information in these old volumes. Once you know what to look for, the picture they paint is filled with intriguing details, many of which have found their way into my novel.

I always need to visit the places I write about. In preparation for writing the novel, I visited the palace in Stettin (now Polish Szczecin) where Catherine was born. I also travelled to St. Petersburg to get a physical sense of the city. I visited the palaces where Catherine lived: the Winter Palace, Tsarkoye Selo, Peterhof and the small Montplaisir Pavilion where, in June 1762, she spent her last night as the emperor’s wife before claiming the throne for herself. I went to St. Petersburg in June to experience the famous white nights of which I read so much.

The biggest surprise, I have to confess, was a visit to Kunstkamera, Peter the Great’s famous museum on the Vasilievsky Island. The sight of deformed fetuses in glass jars, the strange art pieces Peter the Great brought from Amsterdam composed from human body parts, made a great impression on me. Once again I was reminded of the vast cultural gulf that separates us from the 18th century; the experience cautioned me to be keenly aware of the differences in our perceptions of the past, the sense of what is appropriate or not, what can be accepted and what is considered shocking.

Your next novel will continue the story of Catherine the Great. How will it differ from this one?

The Empire of the Night begins three months before Catherine’s death. She has been Empress for thirty-four years.  She has conquered her enemies and ruthlessly enlarged Russia’s territory. The King of Poland, her former lover, is now her prisoner. And then, on November 5th, 1796, she has a massive stroke. Paralyzed, speechless and totally helpless, for two days she is forced to witness her heritage denied and her cherished plans abandoned.

If THE WINTER PALACE tells the story of acquiring power, The Empire of the Night is the portrait of powerful woman who loses control over her world.

Interesting facts about Catherine the Great

Catherine (born Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst) was German, born in Stettin, Pomerania, (now Polish Szczecin) and came to Russia at fourteen to marry the Crown Prince. Intriguing facts about her include:

  • She was a prolific author of plays, journalistic pieces, letters, books for children, and translations (in addition to government decrees and her authorship of Great Instruction, a guide for Russian Legislative Commission)
  • In the Sevres dinner service for 60 ordered for Prince Grigory Potemkin, her “beloved nail-biter,” she was depicted as goddess Minerva.
  • She had no legal claim to the Russian throne.
  • She never left Russia—a coup was always a possible threat
  • She made Stanislaw Poniatowski (her Polish lover) the king of Poland, only to force him to abdicate thirty-one years later and annex one-third of his kingdom to Russia

 Pastimes/Preferences:

  • She loved playing billiards and cards (boston and macao)
  • She loved Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy (Fielding was a close friend of Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, British ambassador to Russia and Catherine’s close friend)
  • She loved dogs, had a white squirrel whom she tamed herself as well as doves, parrots and many other birds.
  • She disliked music; she was probably quite tone deaf, and musicians were appointed to give her a sign when to applaud.
  • She collected art with a passion; her vast collection is the basis for Hermitage Museum
  • She was a consummate gardener
  • She was largely indifferent to food: boiled beef with pickled cucumbers was her favourite, and  cucumbers with honey.

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Eva Stachniak, Author Bio

Eva Stachniak was born in Wroclaw, Poland. She moved to Canada in 1981 and has worked for Radio Canada International and Sheridan College, where she taught English and humanities. Her first short story, “Marble Heroes,” was published by The Antigonish Review in 1994, and her debut novel, Necessary Lies, won the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2000. She is also the author of Garden of Venus, which has been translated into seven languages. Stachniak lives in Toronto, where she is at work on her next novel about Catherine the Great to be published by Bantam Books, The Empire of the Night.

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