If you were born in England and studied Russian, nobody would be surprised when you published biographic books about Stalin, Lenin, Romanovs or Queen Victoria.
Okay, I’m exaggerating. If you are an author who wrote books about three powerful leaders of last century, everyone would like to know a little bit about you.
Helen Rappaport is just like what I told above. She got publishers attention after publishing Joseph Stalin: A Biographical Companion, An Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers and Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion between 1999 and 2003. Her first trade title is No Place For Ladies: The Untold Story of Women In The Crimean War, published at 2007. That’s followed by The Last Days of The Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg, which eventually became a best-seller in USA.
Rappaport crowned her works about Russia and Russians with Conspirator: Lenin in Exile published at 2009. After this, she started to work on subjects about England and British History. She becomes ‘it-girl’ for authorities one more time, with her last book Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and The Death That Changed The Monarchy, a study of the impact of the Prince Consort’s premature death in 1861 on England, the monarchy, and Queen Victoria, and covering the first terrible ten years of her retreat from public view.
Rappaport works on two subjects at the moment; one of them is about history of photography, other is a tragic story about a family.
Rappaport answered our questions about her career and Queen Victoria.
*Before you start to write the biography of someone who is not alive at the moment, what kind of research steps you’re following? What is the first thing you look for?
The research for all of my books is very intensive and extensive and I can’t describe it all in full it would take too long. With historical subjects I always go the all the primary archival sources I can find – letters, diaries, etc. This sometimes involves travel abroad which can be expensive and time consuming. I always search for books and articles published in magazines and newspapers of the time for further information, as well as ploughing through any secondary sources on my subject, which often can be extensive. I also talk to people with specialist knowledge in subjects relating to my research.
*Which was the hardest topic, out of the persons you wrote about?
They have all been difficult for different reasons. The most commonly recurring problem is a lack of evidence when you need it – e.g. Letters or diaries destroyed. I would not take on a subject in the first place if I did not find it challenging. I enjoy the challenge and I like being stretched as writer. I suppose Lenin was the most difficult subject – because I was the first woman to take him on in a major biography and he is a very complex subject, as too the politics.
*Do you love all of the persons you wrote about?
Love is not the right word – I have found all of them intriguing and fascinating, but also at times absolutely infuriating. You don’t necessarily need to like your subject to write about him or her but you do need to be curious about them and you do have to want to get at the truth.
*Your latest work at the time is about Queen Victoria. Do you think she went so far while she was mourning?
Yes, she took it too extremes and after a while people lost patience with her and she became very unpopular as Queen. But it is a very complex issue and one that is fully explained in my book. I’m afraid it would take too long here.
*Beside from the fact that Queen changed forever, how did that mourning cost for United Kingdom? What would UK become if there were no mourning Queen but the one has a husband and is happily ever after?
I don’t think ‘happily ever after’ is a realistic scenario. If Prince Albert had lived sooner or later there would have been real problems. He was getting too powerful and I think eventually there would have been a challenge from the government to his growing power.
* Did you visit www.queenvictoriasjournals.org? What do you think about it?
As a historain I am thrilled and delighted to see this project initiated. One of the first places many 19th century historians go is to the journals of Queen Victoria. They are an incredibly valuable document and should be much more easily available. It will of course take time for them all to be made available online and it won’t be for free – I think this initial free access is only during Jubilee Year. But it is a great step forward.