Rasputin’s story is a familiar one – an illiterate Siberian peasant who managed to secure the confidence of the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, while indulging his legendary sexual appetite and love of hard drinking. Rasputin was so revered by his acolytes that they would collect his fingernail clippings, as if they were some kind of holy relic. When his extraordinary life was brought to an equally extraordinary end when he refused to die – murdered eventually in cold blood by a group of aristocrats – it unleashed the Russian revolution, and changed the geopolitical landscape in ways that still resonate today.
That’s one version of events that’s held sway for more than one hundred years. And yet so much of the Rasputin legend has been pieced together by those looking to discredit him. Is it possible to peel away the layers of myth-making and get to the heart of who Rasputin really was and what he stood for?
Joining Bridget Kendall on a truth-seeking mission is Russian imperial historian Helen Rappaport, author of The Race to Save the Romanovs; Russian literary translator and executive editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books, Boris Dralyuk; and historian Douglas Smith, author of the 2016 biography Rasputin: Faith, Power and the Twilight of the Romanovs.
Photo: Grigori Rasputin. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)