The Jacana

 Great Lives Site


Back to Jacana

Great Lives index


Grigori Efimovich Rasputin
1872 - 1916

The Russian monk Grigori Efimovich Rasputin gained considerable influence in the court of Czar Nicholas II.


Grigori Rasputin was born in the Siberian village of Pokrovskoe. His conduct in the village became so infamous that Bishop Anthony of Tobolsk commissioned the village priest to investigate it, with the result that the case was handed over to the civil authorities. In the meantime Rasputin disappeared into the wilderness of Russia. He wandered over all Russia, made two pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and roamed both in the Balkans and in Mesopotamia.

On Dec. 29, 1903, Rasputin appeared at the religious Academy of St. Petersburg. According to Illiodor, a student for the monkhood, Rasputin was a man who had been a great sinner but was now a great penitent who drew extraordinary power from his experiences. As such, Rasputin was welcomed by Theophan, inspector of the academy and, for a time, confessor to the Empress. Another of his early supporters was the vigorous bishop of Saratov, Hermogen. He soon had more powerful backing by one of the principal adepts of fashionable mysticism in St. Petersburg, the Grand Duchess Militsa. In St. Petersburg, Rasputin became a social favourite.

Rasputin was highly recommended to the royal family by Militsa and her sister Anastasia. It was the illness of the Czar's son, Alexis, that brought Rasputin to the palace. The date of Rasputin's entry into the palace is fixed by a note in the Czar's diary. He wrote on Nov. 14, 1905, "we have got to know a man of God - Grigori - from the Tobolsk Province."

Rasputin was able to stop Alexis' bleeding. Mosolov, an eyewitness to Rasputin's healing power, speaks of his "incontestable success in healing." Alexis' last nurse, Teglova, writes, "Call it what you will, he could really promise her [the Empress] her boy's life while he lived." Nicholas II was by no means always under Rasputin's influence. Dedyulin, at one time commandant of the palace, expressed to Nicholas his vehement dislike for Rasputin; the Czar answered him: "He is first a good, religious, simpleminded Russian. When in trouble or assailed by doubts I like to have a talk with him, and invariably feel at peace with myself afterwards." Rasputin had greater influence on Empress Alexandra. He was a holy man for her, "almost a Christ."

At his first meeting with Nicholas II and Alexandra, Rasputin addressed them as if they were fellow peasants, and his relationship to them was as if he had the voice of God. In addition, Rasputin represented for the Czar the voice of the Russian peasantry. He informed him about "the tears of the life of the Russian people." Rasputin abhorred Russian nobility and declared that class to be of another race, not Russian.

Rasputin had experienced success in several of the big salons and took a peasant's delight in enjoying this world of luxury and extravagance. He made a point of humiliating the high and mighty of both sexes. There is not an iota of truth in the easy explanation that was so often given that Rasputin became the tool of others. He was far too clever to sell himself to anyone. Rasputin was showered with presents without his asking. On many occasions he took from the rich and gave to the poor.

Rasputin had already become a concern to the chief ministers. When Stolypin's children were injured by the attempt on his life in 1906, Nicholas II offered him the services of Rasputin as a healer. At his interview with Stolypin, Rasputin tried to hypnotize this sensible man. Stolypin made a report on Rasputin to the Emperor. In 1911 Stolypin ordered Rasputin out of St. Petersburg, and the order was obeyed. Stolypin's minister of religion, Lukyanov, on the reports of the police, ordered an investigation that produced abundant evidence of Rasputin's scandalous deeds. From this time on, the Empress detested Prime Minister Stolypin. After Stolypin was assassinated, the Empress brought Rasputin back to St. Petersburg.

Beletsky, the director of the police department, reckons that "from 1913 Rasputin was firmly established." Kokovtsev states that Rasputin had no political influence before 1908 but that he was now "the central question of the nearest future." Rasputin was constantly saying to the Emperor, "Why don't you act as a Czar should?" Only the autocracy could serve as cover for him; and he himself said, "I can only work with sovereigns." The strong movement for Church reform and the call for the summons of a Church council, which had accompanied the liberal movement of 1907-1910, had been opposed by Rasputin with the words "there is an anointed Czar," a phrase which constantly recurred in the Empress's letters. Rasputin was assassinated by a group of Russian noblemen on Dec. 31, 1916, in an endeavour to rid the court and the country of his influence.


Valentin Rasputin was born on March 15, 1937 in the village of Ust-Uda in Irkutsk Oblast of Russia. His father worked for a village cooperative store, and mother was a nurse. Soon after his birth, the Rasputin family moved to the village of Atalanka in the same Ust-Uda district, where Valentin spent his childhood. Both villages, which were located on the bank of the Angara River, do not exist in their original locations any more, as much of the Angara Valley was flooded by Bratsk Reservoir in the 1960s, and the villages were relocated to a higher ground. Later, the writer remembered growing up Siberian as a difficult, but happy time. "As soon as we kids learned how to walk, we would toddle to the river with our fishing rods; still a tender child, we would run to the taiga, which would begin right outside the village, to pick berries and mushrooms; since young age, we would get into a boat and take the oars..."

When Valentin finished the 4-year elementary school in Atalanka in 1948, his parents sent the precocious boy to a middle school and then high school in the district center, Ust-Uda, some 50 km away from his home village. He was the first child from his village to continue his education in this way.

Rasputin graduated from Irkutsk University in 1959, and started working for local Komsomol newspapers in Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk. He published his first short story in 1961.

An important point in Rasputin's early literary career was a young writers' seminar in September 1965 in Chita led by Vladimir Chivilikhin, who encouraged the young writer's literary aspirations and recommended him for membership in the prestigious Union of Soviet Writers. Since then Rasputin has been considered Chivilikhin his "literary godfather".

In 1967, after the publication of his Money for Maria, Rasputin was indeed admitted to the Union of Soviet Writers. Over the next three decades, he published a number of novels, many of them became both widely popular among the Russian reading public and obtained recognition by the critics.

In 1980, after researching the Battle of Kulikovo for two years, Rasputin was baptised by an Orthodox priest in nearby Yelets.

Rasputin's literary work is closely connected to his activism on social and environmental issues. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Rasputin, called by some the leading figure of the "Siberian environmental lobby", took an active part in the campaign for protection of Lake Baikal and against the diversion of Siberian fresh water to Central Asian republics. In the 1990s he participated in the nationalist opposition movement.

Having spent most of his adult life in Irkutsk, Rasputin remains one of the leading intellectual figures of this Siberian city. He was an honoured guest for many events in the city of Irkutsk, including the unveilings of the monuments to Czar Alexander III and Admiral Kolchak. He organized the readers' conference in Irkutsk Central Scientific Library named after Molchanov-Sibirsky.

Valentn Rasputin's daughter Maria died in the 2006 crash of S7 Airlines Flight 778.

Rasputin was closely associated with a movement in post-war Soviet literature known as "village prose," or sometimes "rural prose". Beginning in the time of the Khrushchev Thaw, village prose was praised for its stylistic and thematic departures from socialist realism. Village prose works usually focused on the hardships of the Soviet peasantry, espoused an idealized picture of traditional village life, and implicitly or explicitly criticized official modernization projects. Rasputin's 1979 novel Farewell to Matyora, which depicts a fictional Siberian village which is to be evacuated and cleared so that a hydroelectric dam can be constructed further down the Angara River was considered the epitome of this genre. The opening paragraph below is a good example of Rasputin's writing style (exceptional even for the village prose writers), and the novel's theme of natural cycles disrupted by modernization:

Once more spring had come, one more in the never-ending cycle, but for Matyora this spring would be the last, the last for both the island and the village that bore the same name. Once more, rumbling passionately, the ice broke, piling up mounds on the banks, and the liberated Angara River opened up, stretching out into a mighty, sparkling flow. Once more the water gushed boisterously at the island’s upper tip, before cascading down both channels of the riverbed; once more greenery flared on the ground and in the greens, the first rains soaked the earth, the swifts and swallows flew back, and at dusk in the bogs the awakened frogs croaked their love of life. It had all happened many times before. (From Rasputin's novel Farewell to Matyora, translated by Antonina Bouis, 1979)

Rasputin's non-fiction works contained similar themes, and he often wrote in support of relevant political causes. He directed particularly trenchant criticism at large-scale dam building, which resembled a project that flooded his own hometown, and water management projects, like the diversion of the Siberian rivers to Central Asia. He argued that these projects were destructive not simply in an ecological sense, but in a moral sense as well.

In "Siberia, Siberia" (first published in 1991), Rasputin compares what he considers modern moral relativism with the traditional beliefs of the people of Russkoye Ustye, who believed in reincarnation. According to Rasputin, when burying their dead, the Russkoye Ustye settlers would often bore a hole in the coffin, to make it easier for the soul to come back to be reborn; but if the deceased was a bad person, they would drive an aspen stake through the grave, to keep his soul from coming back into the world of living again. The writer is not ambiguous as to which category the souls of the "modernizers" should belong:

When reflecting on the actions of today's "river-rerouting" father figures, who are destroying our sacred national treasures up hill and down with the haste of an invading army, you involuntarily turn to this experience: it would not be a bad idea for them to know that not everything is forgiven at the time of death.

Some critics accused Rasputin of idealizing village life and slipping into anti-modern polemics. The journal Voprosy literatury published an on-going debate on the question, "Is the Village Prose of Valentin Rasputin Anti-Modern?" Controversy intensified in the 1980s, as Rasputin became associated with the nationalist organization Pamyat. Originally formed to preserve monuments and examples of traditional Russian architecture, Pamyat became increasingly known for a reactionary, antisemitic form of Russian nationalism. Rasputin has been criticized for his involvement with this organizaiton, as well as for making his own antisemitic statements. Rasputin himself argues that his alleged antisemitic statements are exaggerated and taken out of context.









This web page was last updated on: 18 December, 2008