Image: The Tsarina and the Prostitutes November 24, 2016Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback
This photograph is one of the most iconic from the Great War in Russia. Tsarina Alexandra and her two elder daughters, Olga and Tatiana, were photographed in 1914 in nurses uniform as hostilities began. Nor was this an empty boast, a bit of easy propaganda for Russia’s rulers. Alexandra and especially Olga and Tatiana worked for the next years in hospitals in St Petersburg and already in August 1914 were observing operations: soon they would be assisting in them. For the Romanov girls this was their first taste of real life: they had grown up in a very sheltered world. Both would have their first (and thanks to the Bolsheviks) their only love affairs in the hospital. The memory of Mitya, an officer who Olga involved herself with, would follow her into Siberia in 1917.
The picture also though had a darker meaning for many who saw it in shopfronts or on magazines in the next year. In St Petersburg a consignment of British nurse outfits had somehow fallen into the hands of local prostitutes and now ‘nurses’ were to be seen walking up and down the seedier quarters of the city. (Here is a dressing trope to add to the more unusual symbols of prostitution). This unfortunate association had, of course, a certain resonance for the Russian public. The Tsarina and her daughters were widely said to be the sexual play things of the dreadful Rasputin: a belief that, in the case of the Tsarina, Rasputin himself encouraged.
This was almost certainly not the case: but given Alexandra’s German blood the supposed coupling of the two was easy to exploit in the war. Yes, Rasputin somehow combined the role of Christian mystic and libertine: in hell he is probably forever committing acts of indecency on terrified demons, with Alexander VI and his brood clapping hysterically. But Alexandra was as uptight as the English and German dynasties she came from; while the girls’ diaries and letters and photographs show that they were virginal white. And here we have them in the aspic of the developing room, before the revolution, before Siberia, before 17 July 1917, and the cellar steps.
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