And now we come to Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, the Four Sisters of the title. I have mentioned in my first post how they led a stifling existance due mainly to the isolation imposed upon them by their mother, which many saw as cruel. 'Poor things! ..... what a way to bring up imperial children. They might well be in Peter-Paul (the fortress prison). It is all right for the little Anastasia and for Marie, but for Tatiana and especially for Olga, who is fifteen, it is ridiculous'.
Yet despite, this restricted life it seems that everyone who met them found them to be fine young women, who demonstrated affection and loyalty. Alexis took centre stage once he was born and it seemed that the Four Sisters were doomed to linger in the shadows of the future Tsar but they never complained. The relationships seemed to split naturally between the four, the elder two, Olga and Tatiana, becoming slightly detached from 'the little pair'. Maria, in particular, felt unwanted by her older sisters while the younger sibling, Anastasia, seemed to be coping in her own way.
When Russia went to war in 1914 it was faced with a desperate shortage of nurses and the Tsarita and her two elder daughters undertook Red Cross training. Although Maria and Anastasia were too young to train, they were allowed to play an active role, becoming hospital visitors. Alexandra seemed to be spurred into action as well and spent less time worrying about her own ill health during this time. The sisters must have seen some pretty horrific injuries and sights during this period and yet it seems from reading this section of the book, that they were able to feel useful and enjoy a sense of freedom outside of the Romanov circle which had hitherto been denied them. It did not seem to cross Alexandra's mind, however, that her daughters who she still referred to as 'my little girlies' were growing up and showing interest in the opposite sex. Olga and Tatiana had their favourites amongst the wounded soldiers and they spent a great deal of time with them.
So sad to think that this was perhaps one of the most enjoyable periods in their short lives and that falling in love, flirting, enjoyment were all denied them.
The more I read about the Four the more I began to love them. Despite their upbringing and circumstances they were loving, loyal daughters and this was commented on by all who met them. Their last days together at Ekaterinburg are not marred by tantrums, tempers and hysteria but by calm acceptance, cheerfulness and stoicism which fills me with admiration. I find it very hard to understand and to forgive George V for his lack of action or backbone regarding the Romanov family and their rescue from Russia. While it would have been fraught with danger and politically difficult, my feeling is that he should have put his foot down and thrown his best efforts into getting his cousin Nicky and the family to safety. I cannot imagine his feelings when he heard of their murder but I understand that he felt guilt for the rest of his life.
The sadness of it all is that if the family had made it to England, they would have been so happy. Nicholas would have settled down to the life he was more suited to, that of a gentleman farmer, his wife would have been away from the land which seemed to have sucked the life out of her, and the children would have led happy healthy lives. They may have married into the English aristrocracy and far away from the turmoil of Russia found contentment. It is a tragedy that instead of this possible outcome they ended up herded into that awful little cellar in Ekaterinburg and being brutally shot and hacked to death.
I repeat what I have already stated. Helen Rappaport is a fine writer and ensures that you become totally involved with her subject and I think this is her best book yet. The Four Sisters is beautifully produced and contains some fascinating and never before seen photographs. How lovely Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia look, how beautiful with their long hair and simple but elegant dresses, how sweet, how young and how impossibly sad was their end.
Thank you Helen for writing about them and for letting us get to know them better.