Week 11

Catherine the Great will very likely be the most fascinating, brilliant, fun, sexy person that we will meet during our entire year of Russian history. She is a bit like Frederick the Great (her contemporary) in the Prussian story. The stories of her boyfriends is a whole course in itself. Listen to just a few words from Paul Bushkovitch about her reading and her general knowledge. She worked constantly to improve her mind.

"Catherine’s reading not only gave her a series of ideas about justice and administration but also about economic development and social status. The Enlightenment writers believed that society required a civilized population to flourish, and that came from education and culture. The new empress came to the throne at a propitious time, for the efforts of the Cadet Corps, the Academy, and Moscow University were beginning to show results. The generation that came to maturity with Catherine was the first to have absorbed European culture in full, and the first to include many men and even women who had also been abroad long enough to begin to understand European society. Catherine was determined to speed this process along. Though by birth and culture she was German, for most of her reign she was at the center of Russian culture, unlike any monarch after her and more so than even Peter himself. She was not merely a reader, but an active participant in Europe’s cultural life. She corresponded with Voltaire from 1763 until his death in 1778. She also had correspondents among the French Encyclopedists, Denis Diderot, and Jean d’Alembert, as well as the German Baron Friedrich Melchior Grimm. Grimm was a sort of literary journalist reporting from Paris, and after a visit to St. Petersburg in 1773–74 he was Catherine’s chief correspondent and epistolary confidant until her death. Catherine did not merely correspond with the great men of the Enlightenment. When she heard of Diderot’s financial problems she bought his library, granted him the use of it for life and paid him a salary as her librarian." Bushkovitch, Paul. A Concise History of Russia (Cambridge Concise Histories) (p. 125). Cambridge University Press.


Paul Bushkovitch,

A Concise History of Russia,

Cambridge University Press,

ISBN 0521543231


Robert Massie,

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman,

Random House Trade Paperbacks,

ISBN 0345408772