Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Iris Noble’s Empress of All Russia: Catherine the Great is a biography that employs the traditional style of many works written for younger audiences. Although it is based on solid historical research, its characters are brought to life through the use of fictional dialogue and imaginative insights into their thoughts and feelings. Like other such works, it concentrates on the youth of its heroine. The book is divided into ten chapters, the first six of which are devoted to Catherine’s life before she became empress. One chapter then discusses the coup d’état that brought her to power, and the remainder deal with the policies and events of her reign.

As the story begins, fourteen-year-old Catherine and her mother, Princess Johanna of the tiny German state of Anhalt-Zerbst, are being driven in a carriage across the frigid wastes of western Russia toward St. Petersburg. Catherine has been chosen by Empress Elizabeth of Russia as the probable fiancée of her teenaged nephew Peter, who will someday be the czar, or emperor. Catherine’s fears and excitement, as well as her unhappy relationship with her ambitious mother, are vividly portrayed as the carriage bumps along the snow-covered road.

As the story unfolds, the reader sees Catherine’s new world through her reactions to it. She meets the moody Empress Elizabeth, who is sometimes kind but who often seems heartless and hostile. She quickly gains experience in the...

(The entire section is 533 words.)