Empress of All Russia Critical Context - Essay

Iris Noble

Critical Context

Empress of All Russia has stood the test of time as a classic biography for younger readers for two reasons. First, in style and method, the book is specifically directed toward a younger audience. Noble’s extensive use of dialogue, her imaginative projections of the thoughts and emotions of Catherine and other historical characters, and her emphasis on Catherine’s youth encourage a teenage reader to identify with the future empress. Although few readers are likely ever to have been in an environment such as Catherine’s, most can identify with the feeling of being trapped in a situation over which they have little control. Catherine’s perseverance provides a good example, although the goal of her efforts might not.

Second, in Empress of All Russia, Noble succeeds in challenging readers to think about questions of wealth, power, and justice in society without adopting a preachy tone. The historical background material necessary to understanding the context of such questions is so skillfully integrated into the portrait of Catherine that it becomes a natural part of the drama of her rise to power. What Catherine did with her power, however, suggests that the title “the Great” may have several different meanings, and Noble offers, through her interpretation of the views of Voltaire, one alternative. Readers are thus encouraged to consider whether the fates of Catherine and Russia could have been different.