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Paula Paul | What is a woman?

May 13, 2012

Paula PaulSINS OF THE EMPRESSA remarkable woman. A woman you can’t forget. An interesting woman. There’s more to her than meets the eye.

Chances are, a woman you’ve heard described by any of those terms was also the object of criticism. A woman who won’t stay in her place subjects herself to disparagement .

Catherine The Great, Empress of Russia is no exception. She’s the subject of my historical novel, SIN OF THE EMPRESS.The first time I heard of her, I was in my early twenties and read a scholarly history book that I was called upon to review for a newspaper. Later, I heard all those salacious stories about her sexual appetite and the (false) story about her having sex with a horse. None of that was mentioned in the somewhat dry tome I’d read, I might add.

Over time, I forgot about the book and dismissed the sensational gossip until years later when I was inspired by authors Phillipa Gregory and Allison Weir to try my hand at historical fiction. Catherine was there, lurking in the shadows of my mind. I found that old book I’d reviewed and reread it. I also found a copy of her memoir, written by her own hand and, although unfinished, it made me cry. I found more books that had been written by others about her over the years. I read Russian history, I read books about her lovers and associates, and I even read the books she read and that she claimed shaped her life and her reign.

Out of all of that a remarkable, interesting woman began to show herself, a woman I couldn’t forget. She was a woman who seemed to be crying out to have her story written, not as straight history, but as a flesh and blood woman with faults and virtues who could laugh and cry and bleed and love and hate and shape a nation.

She was in some ways a tragic figure, unloved by her mother, forced to leave home and live in a foreign country where she didn’t understand the language, forced to marry someone who didn’t love her, had her children taken from her. At the same time she was a heroic woman who overcame adversity and used her considerable intelligence to change the world. Still, she wasn’t a typical romantic heroine of today’s historical fiction. She was too flawed, too much a woman of her time for that.

In spite of that, I still felt she was crying out to have her story written in a format that would allow her to speak and feel. It had to be written as historical fiction. But her life was so full, so complicated, so filled with so much drama, I wasn’t sure how to write it. Finally, I decided that the only way to get a handle on this very complex woman was to allow her to speak to me. The first thing she seemed to want to say became the first paragraph of my novel.

All that I have ever done, I have done for love. I have sought love, hungered for it, and schemed and manipulated for it all my life. Some say that I even murdered my husband for love—love of power, they say.

Catherine’s life took many unusual turns. Her husband, Peter III, was the catalyst for many of those odd events because of his bizarre personality. Soon after she was ordered by the reigning Empress Elizabeth to become his wife she was called to his presence.

The future emperor was on the floor propped up on his left elbow when I arrived. My first thought was that he had fallen and was trying to get up, but all the servants who were preparing the table for our meal were ignoring him. I soon saw he was preoccupied with a collection of toy soldiers.

She was eager for the love that her husband was incapable of showing her. It wasn’t that she sought out lovers, it was only that she was too hungry to resist. Her first offer came from a handsome soldier.

” There’s nothing more dangerous than a beautiful and charming woman like you,” Sergei said. He had his arm around my waist, guiding me across the uneven ground toward a grassy area surrounded by small trees.

I was taken aback by his remark. No one had ever told me I was beautiful. My reaction was to glance up at him. I’m not certain why. Perhaps it was to assure myself that he was serious. When I did, he gave me a quick kiss on the lips then squeezed my waist just as he said, “Here. On the grass.”

Curls of his thick, dark hair dropped along his forehead, and his eyes, the color of dark earth, shown with passion. He was the most handsome man I’d ever seen.

Her life was never easy. Forbidden by Elizabeth to see her children, she spent hours weeping and longing for them until she found a way to climb out of the dark cavern of her grief by trying to rescue her new homeland from her inept husband’s grasp. In the process, she built a nation and earned the sobriquet “Great.”

Catherine was a woman who changed the world. I was intrigued by her unusual circumstances at first, but later, as she continued to speak to me through my research and my writing, I came to admire her. It is my hope that she speaks to you through the pages of SINS OF THE EMPRESS. I can’t predict your reaction to her, but I’m certain that you will never forget her.

About the Author:

Paula Paul is the award-winning author of 25 novels for both children and adults. She also had a career as a newspaper journalist and has won several state and national awards in that field. A native Texan, she grew up on a cotton farm/ranch in Bailey County, a county named for her ancestor who died at the Alamo. She loves playing the piano and learning how to or about just about anything. Oh, and big family get-togethers with her two children and their families. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband.

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