...Catherine The Great...What an exceptional historical figure!
Author Paula Paul
Author Paula Paul
Watch for my review this week...
Today, here on EBJ - History Salon, I have the pleasure of receiving Paula Paul with this terrific post on "Equality for Women".
Please welcome Paula Paul!
Equality for women?
Catherine the Great of Russia never heard that expression. She knew women weren’t seen as equal to men anywhere during the eighteenth century when she lived and reigned. Yet it never seemed to occur to her that she wasn’t equal to anyone or that she wasn’t superior to most.
Catherine is the protagonist in my novel Sins of the Empress. The story begins when she was a young German princess and was chosen at the age of thirteen by the reigning Empress Elizabeth of Russia to become the bride of the heir to the throne, Peter III. Arranged marriages were the norm, of course, especially among royalty. Catherine, however, thought she had a right to protest. She announced that she would choose her own husband.
She was thwarted in that attempt, but it didn’t stop her from striving for her right to be her own woman and make her own choices. That wasn’t the last time she lost a battle, either. Still, she never gave up. She was one of the strongest women I’ve ever read or written about, as well as one of the most unorthodox—at least by twenty-first-century standards.
I came to write about Catherine after an editor asked me to write a historical novel. “You can write about anyone you choose, as long as it is a real woman.” she said.
Write about anyone? Really? Who? Phillapa Gregory among a host of others were writing about women in England and France and other places in Europe. Was there a woman left who hadn’t been written about?
“Who would you like to write about?” the editor asked.
“Catherine the Great of Russia,” I said, literally without thinking, but I had an eerie feeling that she was standing behind me telling me what to say.
It wasn’t as if I’d never heard of her, but I didn’t know much about her. I first met her when I was in my twenties and an editor at the newspaper where I was working handed me a book about her and told me to review it for the book page in the paper. No, I don’t remember what I wrote, but I do remember that the book was very dry, and after I wrote the review I was left with the haunting feeling that I hadn’t done her justice, and that she knew I hadn’t. I was given the book after I reviewed it, and it rested on one of my overstuffed book shelves for more years than I care to admit. I would look at the spine from time to time when I was searching for another book, and the haunting feeling would return briefly.
In time, I forgot some of the details. Was she a British princess? No, not British, but what? What did she do that earned her the right to be called “great?” I’ll reread that book one of these days, I told myself, secretly knowing I wouldn’t because it was so dull--not even a hint of the salacious story about sex with a horse which I later heard, and no it’s not true. (You can read what my character Sveta has to say about that in Sins of the Empress.)
Every time I looked at the spine of that book, I felt she was calling out to me to read more about her. She was even taunting me: I’ll change your life if you’ll just read.
Shortly after the editor called, and I had foolishly spoken without thinking, I did begin to read. I read and I read and I read. Books about her, memoirs written by her, books she read during her life time. A powerful, intelligent, independent woman immerged as I read. But she was anything but orthodox. She changed lovers as often as she changed ball gowns. Some of them were younger than her sons. She gave one of her children away. She was accused of murdering her husband.
How was I going to make a woman like that a sympathetic character whom modern women would understand? I didn’t know the answer to that, but I began to write anyway, allowing my characters to speak to me, as I always do. I continued to research her life as I wrote, and I began to see her as a woman of her time with mores different from our own, but a woman who was capable of deep love—enough love to give a child away to save his life. She was a woman who dared to save Russia from the clutches of her mentally incompetent husband and from economic crises because of her intellect and understanding of economics. She was a woman who built hospitals for the poor and schools for girls, who faced down generals and kings, who did her best to end wars.
She did all of that while all of Europe tried to call her incompetent because she was a woman.
Equality for women? Of course you’re equal, even superior to some, and don’t ever stop believing that even when we suffer setbacks.
Yes, she changed my life.
It is my hope she will change yours as well.
About the Author: Paula Paul is the award-winning author of 25 novels for both children and adults. She also had a career as a newspaper journalist and has won several state and national awards in that field. A native Texan, she grew up on a cotton farm/ranch in Bailey County, a county named for her ancestor who died at the Alamo. She loves playing the piano and learning how to or about just about anything. Oh, and big family get-togethers with her two children and their families. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband.