Title: Rasputin: His Malignant Influence and His Assassination.
Author: Prince Felix Youssoupoff.
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir, history, true crime, politics.
Publication Date: 1927.
Summary: Prince and Count Felix Youssoupoff is most known as one of the men who plotted and carried out the assassination of the Russian mystic and "Holy Man," Rasputin. In this book, he recounts his first meetings with Rasputin, his own and all of Russia's growing unrest at his malignant influence on and proximity to the royal throne, the planning of his execution, and, finally, the drawn out ordeal of the assassination itself. Married to Tsar Nicholas II's niece and very close to the royal throne, Youssoupoff provides a unique perspective on both Russia's climate during the period, Rasputin's influence, as well as his death. In the Preface and Introduction, he also comments on the Soviet rule and its influence.
My rating: 8/10
My review: This is an immensely interesting piece of h, although one has to keep in mind the very heavy bias on the narrator and the fact that whilst this books functions as
♥ Malicious scoffing at the expense of those who have atoned with their blood for all their involuntary errors is inadmissible. Yet in respect of our recent past there is another extreme - an exaggerated idealisation of the last reign, with all its unhealthy features.
These two extremes hinder in equal degree a sober and objective analysis of the past.
~~From the Preface.
♥ Stunned by the horrors of the revolution, harassed by the hardships of exile, Russians have forgotten much of the past. The Soviet Government has turned out country into such an inferno that any other political and social régime seems a paradise in comparison. The domination of the Third International has revealed to the whole world the lengths to which crime may go.
♥ Reaction can be just as blind and intolerant as revolution.
♥ The public resented the so-called "repressions," and felt it their duty to support the most extreme tendencies, not realising the danger thereby incurred.
♥ Whenever disaster looms ahead, circumstances seem to unfold themselves in such a way as to precipitate it.
♥ If you leave the village, to stand for a moment on the banks of the Tura, you are confronted with the spaciousness of Siberia, a spaciousness the like of which is probably not to be found the whole world over. Meadows and steppes dotted with birch groves stretch away into the distance, and beyond them lies the urman, an endless forest of fir and pine.
In summertime the urman is strewn with berries of all sorts, raspberries, currants red and black, and bramble-berries. The forest-clearings are carpeted with strawberries.
The woods abound with game; the grasses and flowers grow almost to the height of the man.
No village can be seen for miles around.
♥ In Western Siberia live many Old Believers. They are of various persuasions, and they are settled in the forests and other inaccessible places. Their ancestors came here long ago, to escape the persecution of the Government. They strictly observe their ancient customs, and lead godly and austere lives, zealously guarding the memory of their past, and the books of Divine Service in their cumbrous bindings.
♥ The Siberians are a bold people, rough, but usually very honest. They strongly disapprove of theft, and often take the law into their own hands to punish it.
The only person whom they ever reproach with his past is the thief, particularly the horse-stealer. There is a special Siberian term, varnak, which means "vagabond," "run-away thief," and they can use no worse insult.
♥ Any ordinary peasant would have become confused by life in the capital. He would have lost himself in the intricate web of Court, society and official relations.
No ordinary muzhik would have had the courage, particularly while everything was as yet strange to him, to show such ease and independence in such surroundings.
Incidentally, the easy manner and familiar tone which this former horse-stealer adopted even towards the most highly-placed personages, was a very considerable factor in his success. Rasputin went in and out of the Tsar's palace as calmly and unconstrainedly as if it had been his own cottage at Pokrovskoe. This made a deep impression.
♥ Rasputin became a weapon in the hands of Russia's enemies. But were the Germans her only enemy? Or did there stand behind Rasputin some other power? - a power which sought the political enfeeblement of Russia and her moral disintegration and destruction, in order to strengthen its own diabolical hold on her? Rasputin duped the Empress and the Emperor who trusted him. The Bolsheviks duped the whole of the Russian people, who blindly followed them in some sort of wild, intoxicated, Khlystic ecstasy of revolution.
Unknown to himself, Rasputin was, in a sense, the first "Commissary" of Bolshevism.
♥ In the whole world there was not - nor has there yet been found - a power ready to rise up unhesitatingly in defence, not of the Russian people only, but of all that is best in morals and in culture.
Civilised countries live in close contact with the leprosy of Bolshevism; they stretch out a hand to the servants of the devil and are not choked by the moral rot and stench which, like poison gas, are spread over the entire earth by that criminal organisation - the Third International.
Peoples and their governments do not seem to understand that Bolshevism is something more than a mere form of administration closely fitted into the framework of the Soviets; they do not realise that first and foremost it is a moral perversion - a terrible and complicated disease of mankind of to-day, a disease which stifles conscience, duty and honour.
Bolshevism paralyses and destroys the heritage of long centuries of spiritual culture; it gradually transforms man in a civilised brute, governed by his lowest instincts and devoid of all needs of a higher order.
♥ Purification is essential; without it no new life can be built up, no new system of government can be established. Any form of government which is not founded on all that is best in the spiritual life of the people will prove frail and fleeting, and will end in a repetition of the terrible calamity of 1917, when a throne which had stood firm for centuries collapsed, having lost - thanks to Rasputin - its moral authority.
♥ The whole world reads books which are written in blood, and yet remains indifferent not only to the position of Russia, but to its ultimate fate.
Humanity of to-day is blind to everything save the small concerns of the moment, petty personal interests and the thirst for immediate success. It closes its eyes to the spectacle of a great country, exhausted and bleeding, struggling alone against the powers of darkness.
~~From the Introduction.
♥ The peculiarity of his eyes was that they were small, almost colourless, and too closely set in large, exceptionally deep sockets; so that from a distance they were not visible - they seemed to get lost in the depths of their recesses. Hence it was often difficult to see whether they were open or not, and only the feeling that a needle was piercing through you told you that he was looking at you and examining you closely. His keep and penetrating gaze did, in fact, convey a feeling of some hidden, supernatural force.
♥ Meanwhile, innumerable lives were lost at the front. With magnificent, unheard-of heroism, the Russian troops went submissively to their death.
Spread over a vast front of some thousands of versts, they were fighting under conditions which no other soldiers in the world could have endured. Beset by terrible frosts, often deprived of all rations, they held the snow-filled trenches, never dreaming of retreat. Certain sections, owing to shortage of ammunition, fell under the enemy's fire without ever being able to reply. Whole regiments endeavoured to repulse attacks with their bare fists. Others went over the top armed only with sticks and stones.
The Russian army did not "grouse"; it knew neither fatigue nor the fear of death, whether in defending its own territories or in sacrificing itself in support of its allies.
♥ I do not know whether their evasive attitude was dictated by their fear of losing their posts, or whether they light-heartedly hoped that nothing terrible would happen, and that time would put everything right. But in either case I was astonished at the absence of any alarm for the country's fate. It was clear that their addiction to a quiet life, and an eager desire for their own welfare, impelled them to avoid any kind of decisive action which would necessitate departure from the beaten track. I think they were all convinced of one thing: that the old order of things would in any case remain unchanged. They relied on this order, as if it were as firm as a rock; and the rest - whether their country would emerge victorious from this terrible war, whether all the blood poured out by Russians would be spilt in vain, whether a disastrous defeat would be the tragic end of the nation's enthusiasm - did not worry them overmuch.
♥ Into what depth of mental and moral abjection, I thought, can people sink. Here is this impudent scoundrel shamelessly hoaxing them - and they don't want to be undeceived. That's just it; they don't want to be undeceived. They are pleasantly intoxicated with his narcotic suggestions. An ignorant muzhik sprawling in armchairs, spouting forth the first words that come into his head, is something new for them, something unexpected; it excites their nerves, fills up their time, and perhaps even induces in them a state of hysterical ecstasy.
♥ Cunning and extremely observant, he undoubtedly possessed great hypnotic power. On watching him closely, the least superstitious person would feel that there was something satanic in his powers.
More than once, when I have looked him in the eyes, I have felt that apart from all his vices he was possessed by some sort of demon, and that he often acted unconsciously, as if in a trance.
This frenzy invested certain of his words and actions with a peculiar authority; so that persons lacking in strength of mind and of will fell readily under his power. His position as the most trusted friend and counsellor of the Tsar's family increased his hypnotic influence, particularly over those who were inclined to be impressed by the halo of power which thus surrounded him.
♥ Remembering all that I had heard from him I had no doubt that before me was an assembly of spies. In this very ordinary room, with the ikon of the Saviour in the corner, and the Imperial portraits on the wall, the fate of millions of Russians was apparently being decided.
♥ We could not then foresee that those whose hands had been thus freed would assume such a criminally frivolous attitude both towards his death and towards the duties which confronted them.
We did not for a moment realise that personal interests, base truckling, and the thirst for power and reputation would so effectively stifle all feelings of duty and patriotism.
The death of Rasputin opened out limitless possibilities before those who were in positions of influence and power. But not one of them desired or was able to take advantage of the favourable moment.
I refrain from naming those people; some day their attitude towards Russia will be set down at its real value.
♥ I stood over him for a little time longer, and was on the point of going away when my attention was arrested by a slight trembling of his left eyelid. ... I bent down over him, and attentively examined his face. ... It began to twitch convulsively. The movements became more and more pronounced. Suddenly the left eye half-opened. ... An instant later the right lid trembled and lifted. ... And both eyes ... eyes of Rasputin - fixed themselves upon me with an expression of devilish hatred.
My blood froze in speechless horror. I was petrified. ... I wanted to run, to call for help; but my feet would not move, and no sound came from me.
I stood riveted to the floor as if in a nightmare.
Then the incredible happened. ... With a violent movement Rasputin jumped to his feet. I was horror-stricken. The room resounded with a wild roar. His fingers, convulsively knotted, flashed through the air. ... Like red-hot iron they grasped my shoulder and tried to grip me by the throat. His eyes were crossed, and obtruded terribly; he was foaming at the mouth.
And in a hoarse whisper he constantly repeated my name.
I cannot convey in words the fear which possessed me.
I tried to tear myself away, but his iron clutch held me with incredible strength. A terrible struggle ensued.
This dying, poisoned, and shot-ridden creature raised by the powers of darkness to avenge his destruction, inspired me with a feeling so terrifying, so ghastly, that the memory of it haunts me to this day.
At that moment I understood and felt in the fullest degree the real power of Rasputin. It seemed that the devil himself, incarnate in this muzhik, was holding me in vice-like fingers, never to let me go.
♥ Even those who served their country and Emperor in the name of duty, envisaged that duty only in the narrow frame of the routine of a ministry or government department. In spite of their assiduity in the performance of their official tasks, they lacked the breadth of view which would have enabled them to realise the supreme importance of the moment; they did not venture to overstep the recognised limits of their authority. Devotion to the Emperor, as felt by the most sincere among them, meant little more than a desire to please him, a blind obedience tempered with the fear of compromising themselves by association with anything that savoured of opposition.
♥ To awaken his own initiative and encourage his independence the influence of his immediate surroundings would have had to be directly opposed by some very powerful and solidly-organised force.
If he had seen that the majority of the Imperial Family and all honest men holding high office in the State were harmoniously united in striving to save the Throne of Russia, it may well be that he would not only have responded to their exhortations, but would have been grateful to them for their moral support, and for having freed him from the chains which had bound him.
But from what elements could this solidly-organised force be drawn?
Where could people be found who were ready to sacrifice their own interests?
Long years of Rasputin's influence, with its surreptitious intrigues, had contaminated those who stood high in the government service, had fostered a widespread distrust, and had tainted even the best and most honourable with scepticism and suspicion.
Some recoiled before serious decisions; others no longer believed in anything; while others, again, simply did not bother their heads. ...
♥ With what youthful fervour we had believed that with one blow we could triumph over evil?
To us it had seemed that Rasputin was merely a cancerous growth, and hat with its removal the Russian Monarchy would be restored to health. We would not admit that this cancer had become so deeply rooted that its work of destruction would baffle even the most radical measures.
It would have been still more depressing to realise then that Rasputin's appearance on the scene was not merely an unfortunate chance, but that it was inexplicably connected with some hidden process of disintegration which had already affected part of the Russian State organism.
♥ Each of us cherishes visions of the past; memories of dear ones long since dead; memories of a mode of life that is over; visions of our country, so beautiful, so mighty, and so vast, from its icebound northern shores to the radiant south.
Memory unfolds to us scene after scene, and fills us with yearning for all it depicts - Russia's vast plains, her towns and cities crowned by the church domes shining with gold, the Eastern contours of ancient chapels and battlements, the peace and spaciousness of life in the past.
Mighty Russia has sunk into an abyss. She was mighty not only by virtue of her territories and her military resources, but in the part which she played in politics and history and in the advancement of civilisation.
Foreigners, for the most part, did not know her. The familiar stories of a "barbarous country" ruled by despotic tsars with the aid of knout and whip are nothing more than crude inventions, often fabricated by the political exiles mostly of alien origin, from who midst came Trotski, Lenin and Zinoviev.
The western world, unhappily, gave credence to these stories and did not see the real Russia or know her history. It had been forgotten that her centuries Russia had been Europe's bulwark against the Mongolian hordes, that she had borne the whole weight of the Tartar yoke, that she had finally cast it from her and under the leadership of the great Muscovite Tsars had been formed into a united and powerful State. The western world had forgotten Peter the Great and Catherine and their successors, whose chief aim was the enlightenment and cultural development of the country. Under the patronage of the Tsars, universities and high schools were founded, science flourished, and art, literature and music attained a level which even now is the admiration of the old world and the new.
♥ To-day, the League of Nations, seconded by the efforts of particular statesmen, spare no pains in averting war. But few people now remember that the first person who conceived this idea on broad, universal lines, devoid of any self-seeking, was the crowned head of the greatest Empire in the world.