Letters of Life in an Aristocratic Russian Household Before and After the Revolutionamy Coles and Princess Vera Urusov

Author: Tyrras, Nicholas
These letters, written over thirty-five years apart, may be read as chronicles from daily life in Russia. The letters by Amy Coles reflect a contemporary Englishwoman’s perspective on life in a Russian household from 1879-1883. Four decades later, her pupil, Princess Vera, chronicled the ruin and mortal danger that had befallen her and her mother following the Russian revolution. The juxtaposition of the letters reveals the enormous contrasts between privilege and persecution, comfort and penury, security and the threat of imminent death. These are historical accounts by eyewitnesses to Russian life before and after the revolution. With photographs.


“Nicholas Tyrras has presented the reader with a work that is at once elegant, poignant, and remarkably informative. This monograph will need to be part of any serious research library. More than that, it will be a valuable for the instruction of University students at all levels. Introductory students will benefit from this particular introduction to the Imperial Russian world and its sudden collapse, and emerge from it with important questions and unexpected insights. Upper year students will find this work to be a valuable primary resource in essay writing, and a stimulating departure point for seminar discussions. But even those outside of the scholarly community will be drawn to the deeply personal tone that graces its every page. In short, [the book] is a true gem, and worthy of the broadest possible readership.” – Dr. Leonard Friesen, Department of History, Wilfrid Laurier University

“The publication of Dr. Tyrras’ translation of the lives of two women, from two diverse backgrounds, points of view and two different time frames in history gives this book a richness that other memoirs of the period do not. . . . [Amy Coles’s] letters home chronicle and record the rather adventurous and privileged lives of the Alexeyev family in Ekaterinoslav and in Kotovka. She recounts travels to St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the Crimea, enjoying the opera, meeting the elite of Russian society, and bathing in the Black Sea. Amy’s letters are detailed and give us an impression of both country and city life. . . . an incredibly vivid picture of Russian cultural and social life. . . .Princess Vera’s memoirs continue the story of life in Ekaterinoslav and Kotovka begun in Amy Coles’ letters home. . . . Princess Vera’s intelligent descriptions and vivid writing style deftly translated by Dr. Tyrras allows us to imagine this daughter of the nobility bandaging savagely wounded soldiers, enduring the humiliation of eviction from her home and the arrest of her husband by the Bolsheviks, as well as enduring a life on intense poverty. . . . Most valuable is her impressions of the power struggles between Bolsheviks and Ukrainian nationalists under Skoropadsky, and the authority of the anarchist Makhno on a power dynamic over which the mass of the population had no influence for full understanding, but who nonetheless suffered under the weight of violent conflict. . . . These letters and memoirs are also extraordinary because they present a coherent history of a Russian upper class family spanning the most unstable and tumultuous years of Russian history. Dr. Tyrras’ translation and annotation of Amy Coles and Princess Vera’s memoirs is an invaluable contribution as a primary source on the social and cultural history of Russia bridging the periods before and after the 1917 Revolutions.” – Dr. Aileen Espiritu, University of Northern British Columbia

“The manuscript’s originality is largely a result of its rather innovative format. The two sets of historically, culturally, and familially interconnected letters successfully highlight both the cultural and political change in the Russian society. . . . They also offer a scholar something extremely valuable in serious historical research – a set of personal-level insights into the period in question. The letters are framed by a thoughtful, well researched introduction and epilogue. Both of these are well-referenced and draw on solid historical research.” – Dr. Yuri Druzhnikov, University of California, Davis