Items from my small Romanov collection.
In 1918, the royal family of imperial Russia was killed in the dead of night. Over the years, many individuals claimed to be Grand Duchess Anastasia or another member of the family who miraculously escaped the massacre. Their stories often captured our collective imagination. I believe the enduring popularity of Romanov “survival” stories speaks to strong human desires. We long for high drama, but also coherent narratives, happy endings, and enduring links between the romanticized past and the troubling present. The story of the last Romanovs addresses all of these needs and so it continues to enchant us.
Both in life and death, the Romanovs inhabited the world of twentieth-century celebrity culture. It’s easy to transplant images of the past to the present; photos of the tsar’s adolescent daughters flirting with handsome naval officers popping up in gossip magazines or blogs. Like many other celebrity icons, the Romanovs died tragically and died young. Perhaps we long to preserve their images and stories as a means of granting them immortality. Perhaps this is one way we manage the horrifying prospect of premature death.
In my own work, I craft an alternate history for the Romanov family alongside the story of a contemporary woman, Veronica Herrera. Veronica lives very much in our present, yet nevertheless experiences the power of the Romanovs’ mythic presence. I chose this path because to my mind, the field of history stretches far beyond the realm of social science. Like fiction, it enriches our capacity for empathy by allowing us to imagine what it might feel like to experience life as another human being.