Four Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses, with Helen Rappaport

On the 17th of July 1918 the four daughters of the last Tsar, Nicholas II were brutally murdered along with the rest of the imperial family in the bloody climax to the Russian revolution

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Helen Rappaport joins us for this splendidly illustrated talk based on her New York Times bestseller, Four Sisters.

On the 17th of July 1918 the four daughters of the last Tsar, Nicholas II were brutally murdered along with the rest of the imperial family in the bloody climax to the Russian revolution.

The four captivating young Romanov sisters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, had been perhaps the most photographed and talked about young royals of the early 20th Century, exerting a Diana-like fascination, admired for their happy dispositions, their looks, and their devotion to their parents and sick brother.

From an early age they were at the centre of unceasing gossip about the dynastic marriages they might make. But who were they really beyond the image perpetuated by photographs of them as pretty girls in white dresses and big hats? What were their personal hopes, dreams and aspirations and how did they interact with each other and with their parents? What was life really like within the insular Imperial Family and how did they really feel about their mother’s obsessive and all consuming love for their spoilt, haemophiliac brother Alexey and the mad monk, Rasputin?

For most of their tragically brief lives the four Romanov sisters were beautiful birds in a gilded cage, shut away at their palaces at Tsarskoe Selo or Livadia as a reaction to the fear of terrorist attacks on the Imperial Family. The sisters had few friends and were largely cut off from the real world outside and the normal life experiences of other girls – that is, until everything changed in 1914. Suddenly, with Russia’s entry into the war, the girls had to grow up fast.

In a deliberate echo of the title of Chekhov’s play, Four Sisters sets out to capture the joy as well as the insecurities and poignancy of those young lives against the backdrop of the dying days of late Imperial Russia, drawing on previously unseen and unpublished letters, diaries and memoirs of the period.

Four Sisters appeared in the New York Times bestseller list under the title, The Romanov Sisters. Helen's book is also the subject of a recently screened BBC 2 documentary Russia’s Lost Princesses, to which Helen was consultant and made many on-camera contributions.

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Helen Rappaport

Helen is a fluent Russian speaker and a specialist in Russian and Victorian history, 1837–1918. Her great passion is to winkle out lost stories from the footnotes and to breathe new life and new perspectives into old subjects.

Her books include:

No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War (2007 ). Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs (2008), a best seller in the USA as The Last days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg. She then followed with Conspirator: Lenin in Exile, (2009; US edition 2010).

She works frequently on television as consultant and 'talking head':

Recently she has appeared in the BBC2 documentaries _Queen Victoria’s Children, Fit to Rule, The Genius of Invention, and Sky Atlantic’s series, The British. She is historical consultant and talking head on a two-part documentary about the Romanov sisters Russia’s Lost Princesses, transmitted on BBC2 last month.

Helen has considerable radio experience, speaking on Victorian and Russian history for BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, Start the Week and the Today Programme.

Helen has become well-known as a Russian translator in the theatre, working with British playwrights - such as Tom Stoppard and David Hare - on new versions of Russian plays. She has translated all seven of Chekhov’s plays, including Ivanov, for Tom Stoppard’s new version that was a huge critical success at the Donmar Season at Wyndham’s in 2008. In 2002 she was Russian consultant to the National Theatre’s Tom Stoppard trilogy, The Coast of Utopia_

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Reviews for Four Sisters:

A well-written gem … a fascinating, in-depth and comprehensively researched study of the imperial daughters. Daily Express

Rappaport is insightful in her analysis of Alexandra's vulnerability and illuminates the precise influence of Grigory Rasputin … An astoundingly intimate tale of domestic life lived in the crucible of power. Observer

Poignant and well written … Rappaport's sensitive portrayal of the doomed sisters draws the reader into an attachment to each one. Mail on Sunday

Evocative and beautifully researched and told, this is narrative history at its best. Bookseller

Compassionate, sensitive and exhaustively researched, Four Sisters is a profoundly moving book that does OTMA [as the girls called themselves] the service they so richly deserve. Country Life

The author achieves a rare feat in depicting the Grand Duchesses as complex and fascinating individuals in their own right. Meticulously researched and filled with new information, this book presents the untold and gripping stories of their lives for the first time in print. The Lady

2014Martin Keeley