Berowne's weekly quiz is quizless this week, because I wanted to tell you the following story.
I wanted to write you about a certain mother-in-law. I found her life fascinating. I thought you might find it interesting, too.
Let’s zip back, via time travel, a few hundred years or so to the court of Catherine the Great, Empress of all Russia.
Though she became the Russian Empress, she was from Germany and her actual name was Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg. No wonder she preferred Catherine.
Among her other activities in Russia, and believe me there were many, she started the first school for women in Russian history. It was called Smolny. It was a remarkable institution, pictured above, there on the right, as it looked in the 1700s.
Now, still using our time-travel device, we zip forward to the early 20th century. Smolny was now firmly established as an institution of learning for young ladies of the Russian nobility. As the Russians put it, a “school for noble maidens.” Reason I find this all so interesting is that one of the noble maidens was to become my mother-in-law.
(You knew Berowne would get around to working himself in here somewhere.)
She was a member of the minor nobility because her father was a major general of the Czar’s army.
In the year 1917 she was just seventeen years old, and it was in that year that her pleasant, cosseted life was met with disaster. She was devastated to learn that her father was assassinated by his own troops and the country was taken over by Soviets and one Vladimir Lenin.
She and her mother were in great danger just by being there – after all, the revolutionaries slaughtered the entire royal family - so they had to quickly leave the country. I can only imagine what that 17-year-old girl must have gone through; all she had known was a highly sheltered, almost gossamer, existence. They struggled desperately to get to Istanbul, then finally, years later, to Paris.
Paris was chock-full of Russian refugees from the revolution; folks whose social position had plummeted - grand dukes working as headwaiters, generals driving taxis.
It’s ironic that back in Russia Lenin, looking around for a suitable headquarters for him and for what was to become the Soviet HQ of the world-wide Russian Revolutionary empire, settled on this famous girls’ school, Smolny.
I have to be honest; after I married into the family I had mother-in-law troubles. She could, at times, be difficult. So, it might easily be said, could I. But then I would remember the incredible life she had led and I would do my best to avoid causing her too many present-day problems.
She has been gone for many years now, but I don’t think she would mind my telling you her remarkable story.