Friday, January 16, 2015

Rasputin the Nicknamer

Dan Carlin recently released another episode, the fifth, of Blueprint for Armageddon, his account of World War I for his Hardcore History podcast. This one runs more than four hours and takes the war through the end of 1916, by which time things have gotten really complicated: it's clear that the United States will likely enter the war soon, Russia is teetering, and Germany and France have both nearly been bled dry.

The best part, though, is the arrival of Rasputin. Can anyone with a pulse not find him fascinating? There's not much new in Carlin's telling of the story of Rasputin for anyone who has read up on the Mad Monk, but there was one moment that really amused me. As part of his explanation of how Rasputin was able to worm his way into the royal family, and thereby the lives of the Russian nobility, Carlin points out that contemporary accounts describe him as being entertaining, his wild ways and unbuttoned approach a hit at parties. Carlin quotes from a book on Rasputin by Joseph Furhmann on the topic of the acute, funny, even cutting nicknames he would give to members of the Tsar's circle. To wit:
Rasputin was fun. It was a pleasure to be in his company He gave people nicknames, and they were often cutting and quite appropriate. He might dub a woman "Hot Stuff," "Boss Lady," "Sexy Girl," or "Good-Looking"; while a man would be called "Fancy Pants," "Big Breeches," "Long Hair," or "Fella." People accepted this as a charming characteristic, the humor of a peasant, who meant no disrespect.
Seriously? That's how respectful, hidebound, and stultifying noble life in pre-revolutionary Russia was, that nicknames as bland and innocuous as these could be seen as clever? Could be seen as clever enough to be remembered and quoted later? Good lord. I know there were a lot of valid reasons for the Tsar to be overthrown, but--horrors of the revolution of course aside--that might in itself be enough reason to rally to the barricades.

If you're interested in WWI or are simply a history buff, you should definitely check out Carlin's podcast. Twenty or so hours in, with a lot of the war to go, it already stands as a very impressive achievement, a telling of history that is fully alive, energetic, and thought-provoking.

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