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History Group Reads > Catherine the Great - Part 1

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message 1: by Mandy (new)

Mandy Moody | 544 comments This months group read is the new Robert K Massie work, Catherine the Great, Portrait of a Woman

Random House was generous enough to send 10 of our members Advance Reader Copies of the book, so I'm hoping that we'll have a good number of people participating in the discussion!

Please discuss part I A German Princess here.


message 2: by Sara W (new)

Sara W (sarawesq) | 2153 comments I really enjoyed reading this section of the book. I loved reading about Sophia's mother Johanna. She seemed to be quite a legend in her own mind! I did feel bad for Sophia at times (well, quite a few times), such as when Johanna spent all the money on her own wardrobe and then Sophia couldn't be presented at Frederick's court because she didn't have the right clothes. I mean really, what did Johanna expect! Overall, she amused me though.

I also liked the description of Sophia's interactions with her teacher Wagner (especially the question of why great men of antiquity were eternally damned when they didn't know about Christ's salvation).

For me, there seemed to be a lightness to this section (at least as compared to other sections which seemed a lot more dense - not dense in a bad way, but just a lot more information to take in), and I got through it pretty quickly.


message 3: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie I too have enjoyed everything you mentioned. Johanna was something else! Yeah, the bit about the clothes when they travel first to Berlin was unbelievable. One can understand why Sophia wanted to escape her mother. You understand why she is receptive to kindness and caring.

I have just begaun the chapter where Sophia and Johanna have arrived in St. Petersburg. I am not quite sure how the threads are split up here in the discussion.....


message 4: by Sara W (new)

Sara W (sarawesq) | 2153 comments Chrissie wrote: "I too have enjoyed everything you mentioned. Johanna was something else! Yeah, the bit about the clothes when they travel first to Berlin was unbelievable. One can understand why Sophia wanted to ..."

Chrissie, does the Kindle version have the chapters separated into "Parts" in the Table of Contents? The advanced copies have Part I called A German Princess (chapters 1-13), Part II called A Painful Marriage (chapters 14-26), etc. - the threads are broken up by the parts. If it's different in your version please let me know.


message 5: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Sara, I checked the Kindle version. It is done in the same manner. It is me that has difficulty flipping around in the "book". To get back to where you are you have to write down the location number which I have difficulty seeing. I have found myself lost in other books so I don't tend to jump around. Also sometimes the movements that should work from chapter to chapter don't function properly. I avoid such hassles.

Thanks for explaining. I have a lot more left in Part 1. Currently I am finding the bit about Peter the Great's children interesting. I did test the Kindle text to speech facility. That really is bad. They either talk too fast or too slow and all the pauses are misplaced. This is not a criticism of the book, just of the Kindle function. I am not complaining. I am so very thankful it is available on Kindle.


message 6: by Laura (new)

Laura | 99 comments My copy arrived a little late so I'm just getting started. I realize that its because I'm reading the ARC, but I do miss the index and a family chart to help keep track of who is who.


message 7: by Misfit (new)

Misfit | 696 comments I read about halfway through and then got sidetracked by some other books. I am enjoying it, but since I'm not a huge reader of NF the *telling* wears me down at times and I'm better reading in smaller chunks.

One thing that I did pick up on, is that what I've retained of Catherine's early life and taking away from it is the same information I got from reading Anette Motley's Men on White Horses. Plus I had more fun with that.


message 8: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Huston (telynor) | 17 comments True, MoWH was a lot more fun, but I was glad to see that Motley had done her research well and used it. I did purchase the final published edition, and discovered that the photos are different, and that many of the typos and goofs were fixed.

As to Johanna -- oh what a dreadful woman! You would think that she was going to be marrying Peter, not her daughter, given the way that she behaves. It's sad in a way to watch her making a spectacle of herself.


message 9: by Misfit (new)

Misfit | 696 comments Rebecca wrote: "True, MoWH was a lot more fun, but I was glad to see that Motley had done her research well and used it. I did purchase the final published edition, and discovered that the photos are different, an..."

I really did like what Motley did, especially nutty Peter. That was probably my biggest disappointment with The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great was that the part of him kind of got brushed under the carpet - he just drank a lot :/


message 10: by Sera (new)

Sera Yes, Joanna is really foolish in how she handles herself. I felt badly for Joanna's father. It appears that the marriage of Catherine's parents wasn't one to be emulated, which provides another reason behind Catherine's inability to understand the happenings of her own marriage to Peter.


message 11: by Sera (new)

Sera The one thing that I found to be interesting is Catherine's own ambition, even at a young age. However, she was able to be more subtle about it than her mother because she had humility and failed to be presumptuous about anything. In addition, her approach of taking in the actions around her when considering her own actions was very wise. As a reader, I could tell early on that this woman was not going to be a tragic figure.


message 12: by Mandy (new)

Mandy Moody | 544 comments I always enjoy reading about the early lives of royalty - especially someone like Sophia/Catherine, who wasn't necessarily born to be queen.

I thought the parts about her being an ugly child were hilarious! in a sad way, of course. I loved that she said she was so convinced of her own ugliness that she was far more interested in developing internal virtues and intelligence instead of focusing on how she looked. Such a different attitude for a woman in that time period!

Johanna was nuts. What a terrible mother! Thank goodness Catherine didn't inherit any of her personality traits.


message 13: by Laura (new)

Laura | 99 comments I'm almost finished with the first section and have enjoyed it so far. I've read a little bit about this time period but not much. Most of the dtail is generally glossed over in what Ive read. I was surprised at how unsettled the succeesion to the Russian throne was during this period. Never relaized that most of Peter the Great's successor's weren't even Russian or that his immediate successor was his wife who was born a peasant. I also didn't expect that Elizabeth was allowed to live as she did when young - multiple lovers and a fairly independent life.


message 14: by Mary (new)

Mary | 44 comments I love how Massie is going into detail regarding Sophia/Catherine's early years. I agree her mother was something else.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 378 comments I see it's on GR giveaway again currently.


message 16: by Laura (new)

Laura | 99 comments It seems as if Catherine and Peter had something of a friendship before Peter came down with smallpox. Catherine's reaction to him when seeing him for the first time seems to have destroyed any relationship that they may have been able to have. While her reaction is understandable to me given her age I'm left wondering if history would have been different if each of them had reacted differently.


message 17: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Huston (telynor) | 17 comments Laura, I don't think so. Peter never had the maturity or smarts to rule effectively -- he was so infatuated with Frederick the Great and the Prussians.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 378 comments Yeah, he didn't even play with toy soldiers and real soldiers in Russian uniforms, but Prussian ones. Which was probably the unforgivable part as far as the Russians were concerned. (The alternative would have been, I guess - "So our Czar is crazy? At least he's patriotic!")


message 19: by Mary (new)

Mary | 44 comments Catherine threw herself whole heartedly into learning Russian lit, culture history and language. She earned the respect of the Russian people something her husband never really could.


message 20: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Huston (telynor) | 17 comments Exactly. And especially the observation of the Russian Orthodox faith, which Peter openly mocked and derided. I liked how Massie explored that aspect, as it really showed how she won so much support from the middle class and peasants.


message 21: by Mary (new)

Mary | 44 comments I had read elsewhere that the Empress Elizabeth had some mood swings but the incident at the opera where Catherine was reprimanded for overspending by 2000 r was very petty and mean. Peter and Johanna's reaction was just bizarre. Talk about being thrown under the bus.

I also felt sorry for Peter after his recovery from smallpox. I am sure he was severely disfigured and he had hoped that the one person he could count on would not react the way she had. I don't blame Catherine at all because I am sure she was shocked by his appearance and sometimes you just can't hide a reaction.


message 22: by Cindy (new)

Cindy I have just finished the first part and I am amazed at the lives some have lived. The pressure Peter and Sophia/Catherine must have felt!
I agree with Mary and was impressed with how Catherine learned everything should could about Russia.


message 23: by Destiny (new)

Destiny | 51 comments I just got the book today and will try and have it done by tomorrow night. It looks very interesting. Has anyone read the book Peter the great by the same author?


message 25: by Cindy (new)

Cindy I look forward to reading more of Robert Massie's work.


message 26: by Destiny (new)

Destiny | 51 comments I felt Empress Elizabeth's outburst at the opera was mean. I also hated how Peter turned away from Catherine because of how she acted when he came back from being sick. She's a young girl and probably was horrified to see him like that. What would have happened if he was actually loving to her? History would have been completely different. It amazes me how one small thing can change everything. I am glad Johanna went away, she seemed very cruel to me.


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