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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman
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RUSSIA > 7. CATHERINE THE GREAT - CHAPTERS FOURTY-SEVEN - FIFTY-TWO (302 - 362) ~ Aug 20th - Aug 26th; No Spoilers, Please

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message 1: by Alisa (last edited Jul 23, 2012 10:32PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alisa (MsTaz) Hello Everyone,

For the week of Aug 20th - Aug 26th , we are reading chapters 47 through 52 of Catherine the Great.

The week's reading assignment is:
WEEK SEVEN - Aug 20th - Aug 26th > Chapter 47 - 52, pp 302 - 362


Chapter 47 Serfdom, Chapter 48 Madame Orlov Could Never Be Empress of Russia, Chapter 49 The Death of Ivan VI, Chapter 50 Catherine and the Enlightenment, Chapter 51 The Nakaz, Chapter 52 All Free Estates of the Realm

We will open up a thread for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers. We will also open up supplemental threads as we did for other spotlighted books.

This book is being kicked off on July 9th. We look forward to your participation. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders and other noted on line booksellers do have copies of the book and shipment can be expedited. The book can also be obtained easily at your local library, or on your Kindle. We offer a special thank you to Random House for their generosity.

There is no rush and we are thrilled to have you join us. It is never too late to get started and/or to post.

Alisa will be leading this discussion.

Welcome,

TO ALWAYS SEE ALL WEEKS' THREADS SELECT VIEW ALL

Catherine the Great Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie by Robert K. MassieRobert K. Massie

REMEMBER NO SPOILERS ON THE WEEKLY NON SPOILER THREADS

Notes:


It is always a tremendous help when you quote specifically from the book itself and reference the chapter and page numbers when responding. The text itself helps folks know what you are referencing and makes things clear.

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If you need help - here is a thread called the Mechanics of the Board which will show you how:

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Glossary

Remember there is a glossary thread where ancillary information is placed by the moderator. This is also a thread where additional information can be placed by the group members regarding the subject matter being discussed.

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/9...

Bibliography

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http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/9...

The author Robert Massie will not be joining the discussion.

Catherine the Great Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie by Robert K. MassieRobert K. Massie


Lewis Codington | 291 comments In chapter 52, page 352, Catherine shows unusual astuteness in handling members of the government in a way that she believed would be best for the country (which she believed meant that she would have total power). Given her lack of previous ruling or political experience, she displays a keen understanding of how to rule and manage people toward the ends she believed were right. Very interesting to watch how she did this time and again.


Lewis Codington | 291 comments Catherine understood the importance of having a knowledge of her entire, vast empire, and worked hard to learn what was happening all across the land. (chapter 52, page 357) Her sense of duty drove her to study and become educated about her empire. A great servant to her people.


message 4: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim | 17 comments I find it interesting how much Catherine seemed to care what Europe thought of her. She won over the Russians, her next goal was to win over the rest of Europe.

Massie mentions that to Europe, Russia was "a country famous for violence and freezing temperatures" (p.338). It seems Catherine set out to prove there was more to her adopted country (and to her) than that.


Alisa (MsTaz) Great comments Lewis and Kim. I too think it is very interesting to see how Catherine is evolving as a leader and the astuteness she displays early on. Do you think she draws on her self-imposed reading earlier in her youth? I wonder.


Alisa (MsTaz) Folks, please keep the discussion going. I had an unanticipated interruption in my availability and catching up now. Chapter summaries to come soon. In the meantime, glad you are all chiming in! Thanks.


Lewis Codington | 291 comments Certainly she was well educated. But I think her abilities came from her character mostly. I've read a lot of history, about nations, biographies, etc...but I'm sure I wouldn't have a clue about handling groups and leaders in the way she did!


Alisa (MsTaz) Lewis wrote: "Certainly she was well educated. But I think her abilities came from her character mostly. I've read a lot of history, about nations, biographies, etc...but I'm sure I wouldn't have a clue about ha..."

Some of it must be an developed ability to lead. Judgement is something that doesn't develop overnight, for sure.


Brian (BrianJ48) | 58 comments Chapter 49 - The Death of Ivan VI discussed Ivan's imprisonment. It read like an old movie plot. The mysterious unnamed "Prisoner No. 1" held in solitary confinement for 18 years. His only contacts his two guards and sometimes the fortress governor. The two guards were themselves virtual prisoners, not allowed to leave the fortress.

I do wonder if Ivan's identity was really a secret. Lieutenant Mirovich knew who he was in less than 5 months. Pages 324 - 325 say that he was posted in "mid-winter 1764" and had found a co-conspirator to attempt to free Ivan and written a manifesto by "Early in May 1764".

And welcome back Alisa, hope all is well now.


Brian (BrianJ48) | 58 comments In Chapter 51, Page 347 Catherine's comments on torture-

"The accused party on the rack, while in the agonies of torture, is not master of himself to be able to declare the truth..."

I was surprised to find Catherine, almost 250 years ago, held an opinion that is debated to this day.


Alisa (MsTaz) Brian wrote: "Chapter 49 - The Death of Ivan VI discussed Ivan's imprisonment. It read like an old movie plot. The mysterious unnamed "Prisoner No. 1" held in solitary confinement for 18 years. His only contacts..."

Thanks.
You have to think little Ivan had his early sympathizers and there was reliable rumor about his location and identity. It doesn't say if there were other anonymous prisoners so if he was the only one, or one of very few, well . . .


Alisa (MsTaz) Brian wrote: "In Chapter 51, Page 347 Catherine's comments on torture-

"The accused party on the rack, while in the agonies of torture, is not master of himself to be able to declare the truth..."

I was surpri..."


So true! She questioned everything yet had her own instincts on things. A woman before her time?


message 13: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill Hutchinson (Bucs1960) Brian wrote: "Chapter 49 - The Death of Ivan VI discussed Ivan's imprisonment. It read like an old movie plot. The mysterious unnamed "Prisoner No. 1" held in solitary confinement for 18 years. His only contacts..."

It makes you wonder why Ivan was seen as a threat....imprisoned since childhood and frankly, pathetic. But one has to assume that anyone who had a claim to the throne was a danger if the population rallied around them....I guess I just answered my own question!


Alisa (MsTaz) Jill I think that's it.


message 15: by Katy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Katy (Kathy_H) Jill I think you did answer your own question too. I do think that if the right people rallied Ivan was useful, not as a true ruler, but as the figurehead so that others could actually rule.


message 16: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim | 17 comments Lewis wrote: "Certainly she was well educated. But I think her abilities came from her character mostly. I've read a lot of history, about nations, biographies, etc...but I'm sure I wouldn't have a clue about ha..."

I agree. And she was certainly insightful. I was impressed when she was hosting Diderot and they were frequently discussing governmental theory. She agreed with his opinions in theory, but told him that when it came to reality there was no way the people would agree to change!


Alisa (MsTaz) Perhaps when she was married to Peter before he took the throne she was paying much closer attention to what was happening within Russia than what we might expect. I give her credit for being observant even though she seemingly led a sheltered life when Elizabeth was in power.


message 18: by Joanne (last edited Sep 02, 2012 07:29PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Joanne | 647 comments This section takes us beyond Catherine's character-shaping personal problems into the wider "growing pains" of Russia. Internal issues -- the condition of the serfs, for example -- give the Empress an opportunity to put Enlightenment theories into practice. Though she, and Gregory Orloff, extend themselves to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Diderot, Voltaire, etc, their ability to bring Russia forward into the modern Western world is another thing. Catherine's purchasing of Voltaire's library and the offers to publish Diderot's encyclopedia and purchase his personal library,for example, are astounding gestures and symbols of her desires to incorporate modern thinking into her realm. Were these really goals for Russia? Or were these gestures tantamount to acquiring jewels or Art, a display for Catherine herself?
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques
Denis DiderotDenis Diderot
VoltaireVoltaire


message 19: by Joanne (last edited Sep 02, 2012 07:27PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Joanne | 647 comments Catherine's comments to Diderot about the gulf between theory and practice indicate that she is not naive about the challenges she faces to modernize Russia, "In your plans for reform, you are forgetting the difference between our two positions: you work only on paper which accepts anything, is smooth and flexible and offers no obstacles either to your imagination or your pen, while I, poor empress, work on human skin, which is far more sensitive and touchy." Despite her elegant phrasing, her reduction of her subjects to human skin (presumably on which she would write) reveals her extreme detachment as a despot.
Denis DiderotDenis Diderot


Alisa (MsTaz) Joanne wrote: "This section takes us beyond Catherine's character-shaping personal problems into the wider "growing pains" of Russia. Internal issues -- the condition of the serfs, for example -- give the Empress..."

We can only speculate about her motives, but the aquisition of these works seems consistent with her earlier interest in reading works from these philosophers. Once in political power I suppose any act such as this is open to interpretation.
Don't forget to add the appropriate citations when you mention authors like this. Thanks.

VoltaireVoltaire
Jean-Jacques RousseauJean-Jacques Rousseau(no photo)
Diderot Denis 1713-1784 Denis


Barbara (BarbaraAnneWaite) Reading about serfdom in chapter 47 is both enlightening and very disturbing. I appreciate how Massie clearly demonstrated this by his description of price a serf was often less than that of a hunting dog. Massie pointed out on page 306 how Catherine had described serfdom as "an unbearable yoke." Yet upon reaching the throne she awarded thousands of serfs to her supporters. I do like the way Massie brought this Russian history closer to home for me when he compared this injustice to the 12 American presidents that owned slaves, eight of them while in office. Massie makes the point on page 310 that there was no protest against the inhumane treatment of serfs. As I read this I could not help but think of the human trafficking that still continues today in a number of countries and many of us remain ignorant and fail to protest this current day tragedy. Rather than criticize Catherine it made me wonder if I do not need to be more involved and vocal today about current situations.


Bryan Craig What is striking compared to American slavery is the number of serfs, especially the Sheremetevs: owning 210,000 serfs! I can't wrap my head around that.


Alisa (MsTaz) The number of serfs is staggering. Certainly it brings to light the concentration of wealth among the nobility. Talk bout the 1%!


message 24: by Alisa (last edited Sep 03, 2012 03:56PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alisa (MsTaz) My sincere aplogy for the unanticipated delay. Better late then never and I know folks are still reading along.

Chapter Summaries for discussion
47. Serfdom
Among the population of 20 million people, the better part of 10 million peasants were serfs and the majority of those belonged to nobility. Serfs were tied to the land and considered property by the landowners. They were bought and sold like hunting dogs. Early in her resign she initiated a change be precluding factory owners to purchase serfs not bound by property. The serfs in the Urals went on strike and she sends Vyazemsky to investigate. The industrial managers resisted reforms and it took Catherine several more years to ease in changes. Her beliefs were guided by the Enlightenment and the rights of man, and although serfdom was fading in Europe there were no true examples of reform. The majority of serfs were agricultural peasants. Their treatment depended on their owners’ behavior but all were oppressed, abuses were common, and all were treated as property.

48. Madame Orlov Could Never Be Empress of Russia
Gregory Orlov was constantly at Catherine’s side but as her lover. Having helped her seize the throne and now no longer married, he wanted marriage to Catherine. She viewed this as impossible due to the demands on her time and sought to reward him with titles, jewels, and estates as a substitute. Yes, she was conflicted due to her feeling for him and his qualities, good and bad. Separately, a petition had been drawn up requesting Catherine marry, ostensibly to secure an heir to the throne. There was public and political outcry denouncing a prospective marriage to Orlov. He was a commoner soldier not worthy of the sovereign.

49. The Death of Ivan VI
Ivan VI had been imprisoned as an infant by Elizabeth. A rebellion involving Ivan VI could be a threat to her reign and Elizabeth also constantly worried about this. Shuvalov had issued an order that if any attempts to free Ivan succeeded he was to be killed. When Catherine took over she visited him and although unkempt and barely intelligible he was not insane. She ordered Nikita Panin to manage his imprisonment. The guards watching over him grew bored and frustrated and wanted out. A Ukrainian soldier guarding another fortress learned of Ivan’s fate and decided to seek fortune by freeing Ivan and plotting his rise to the throne. The plot failed, Ivan was killed during the attempt to storm the prison, and Mirovich, the remaining conspirator, assumes responsibility for the fiasco. When news reached Catherine she was surprised but relieved. Mirovich was put to trial for the death of Ivan and he was sentenced to death and beheaded. The guards who killed Ivan under the pre-existing order were rewarded in exchange for their silence. The incident resulted in mixed opinion by Europeans. Nonetheless, she was now free of anyone with a legitimate claim to the throne.

50. Catherine and the Enlightenment
Russia was regarded as culturally behind Europe, where France dominated. Catherine was influenced by various writings, among them Voltaire. He lived in Geneva and then France, over the years writing massive amounts of philosophical material. He wrote on the Roman persecution of Christians and persecution by Christians on each other. He became a largely revered philosopher. After his death, Catherine purchased his entire library from his mistress. The library and a replica of Houdon’s state of Voltaire seated were placed in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Voltaire and Catherine came to admire each other. He viewed her as a rational enlightened monarch and they shared views regarding justice and tolerance. They never met, only corresponded. Denis Diderot was another figure of the Enlightenment who she followed. Diderot denounced Catholicism as ignorance and espoused the virtues of nature and mans ability to reason. When he fell on hard times she bought his library and paid him an annual salary on the condition he keep it, and he became her librarian. Her acts toward Voltaire and Diderot fueled support of and improved the views of Catherine and Russia. Diderot journeyed to Russia at physical danger to himself. Catherine had a daily audience with him on topics of commerce, law, and social issues. He was irrepressible to the point of telling her what she should do as a ruler, she loved his intellect but found his ideas far from practical. He returned to Europe after 5 months. Catherine also subscribed to Friedrich Melchior Grimm and met him when he came to St. Petersburg for Grand Duke Paul’s wedding to Princess Wilhelmina of Hess-Darmstadt. He became a confidant and trusted advisor.

51. The Nakaz
Catherine set out to rewrite the Russian legal code – her ‘Nakaz’ or instruction. When she became empress the code was a mess full of contradicting laws and principles. She based the new code on Enlightenment principles. It dealt with a range of political, social, economic, and judicial principles. Her foundation included value of doing good to one another and laws should protect but not oppress. She took a more moderate approach. She rejected torture, focused criminal law on prevention rather than punishment, and a system of justice based on proof and seeking the truth. Her position to abolish serfdom met with questions of practicality and resistance. She presented her Nakaz to the Senate who cut huge portions and to the noblemen who cut even more. Still it was viewed y many as an important work in most of Europe, even though many of her reforms did not come to pass.

52. All Free Estates of the Realm
She called a legislative assembly to inform her about creating a new law code. The assembly comprised of 564 people from all walks of life. She took a voyage do the Volga before the assembly to be out among the people with an entourage of 1,000. She returned to Moscow after her tour and commenced the assembly. Her Nakaz was read aloud. They chose the title of “Catherine the Great” as their first order of business. It quelled the notion Paul would take the throne upon becoming of age. They then formed subcommittees where thousands of grievances were submitted but nothing solved. Frustrated, after 5 months Catherine halted the assembly’s work. They took a 2 month break and reconvened in St. Petersburg. Issues of commerce and serfdom were debated vigorously. Nobles resisted abolition and Catherine was growing weary. After 18 months not one new law. Her attention shifted when Turkey declared war. The assembly was sent home but never recalled. The experience confirmed Catherine’s view that absolute authority of autocracy was right.

(mentioned in these chapters):
VoltaireVoltaire
Jean-Jacques RousseauJean-Jacques Rousseau(no photo)
Diderot Denis 1713-1784 Denis (no photo)
Francois Marie Arouet (no photo)
Friedrich Melchior Grimm (no photo)
Cesare BeccariaCesare Beccaria
Montesquieu (no photo)
Locke (no photo)


message 25: by Katy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Katy (Kathy_H) I realized as I read these chapters that I really would like to know more about the Enlightenment Period. I loved (page 362) the last paragraph of chapter 52. It puts the history of the rest of the world into perspective and what Catherine was actually trying to accomplish. She was truly a step ahead of her time.

It is also interesting the history of the Russian serfs. Half of the Russian population were essentially slaves. But Catherine and the nobility basically ignored their rights as the founding fathers of the USA ignored those of the black slaves when writing the constitution.


Susan (shushan) | 26 comments Kim wrote: "I find it interesting how much Catherine seemed to care what Europe thought of her. She won over the Russians, her next goal was to win over the rest of Europe.

Massie mentions that to Europe, Rus..."


I expect her childhood in Germany had a lot to do with her desire to look respectable to the rest of Europe. She'd worked awfully hard to get and keep her position. She wanted folks elsewhere to be impressed with her success instead of maybe thinking she happened to be their (Russian) kind of crazy.


Susan (shushan) | 26 comments Joanne wrote: "This section takes us beyond Catherine's character-shaping personal problems into the wider "growing pains" of Russia. Internal issues -- the condition of the serfs, for example -- give the Empress..."

I think she believed that if she could successfully apply their goals and transform Russia - ahead of the more resistant Western states - her name would never be forgotten. As for buying the Enlightenment treasures - I think it was a display, but she hoped it would encourage Russia to embrace Enlightenment ideals in the future - as part of their treasured legacy, thanks to these historic properties


Alisa (MsTaz) Kathy wrote: "I realized as I read these chapters that I really would like to know more about the Enlightenment Period. I loved (page 362) the last paragraph of chapter 52. It puts the history of the rest of the..."

It was interesting to see her struggle with her desire to affect change and her inability to do so regardless of her own beliefs. She did impress though as a woman before her time with her reform goals.


Alisa (MsTaz) Susan you raise a god point about the influence of her German upbringing. She seemed to always be very aware of her respectability in Europe, and I am sure because she was not from Russia she was concerned about this. She needed European approval to be successful.


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