Video: Rasputin

The very name Rasputin evokes mystery – a whiff of the occult. Rasputin is famous for compelling eyes, mystical powers and a great sexual appetite. His death has become legendary. No other Russian has penetrated so deeply into urban folklore and pop culture. Born a peasant in Siberia in 1869, Rasputin established himself as a Holy Man – a starets – a teacher, preacher and healer. In October 1905 he met Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, the Empress Alexandra. Their son Alexis, heir to the throne, was a hemophiliac who suffered excruciating attacks of internal bleeding. The doctors were helpless, but when Rasputin prayed, the attacks ended. This made Rasputin influential with the tsar and his wife, to the extent that, by 1914, he was thought to be all-powerful, and Russians were soon speaking of “The Reign of Rasputin.” Alarmed, a group of monarchists murdered Rasputin on December 17, 1916. Even so, when a popular uprising forced Nicholas II to abdicate in March 1917, Rasputin was dug up and cremated; his remains were dumped in a stream in a lonely forest on the outskirts of St. Petersburg.

Joseph T. Fuhrmann was fascinated with Russian history from childhood. His father was a college professor and music lover, and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov was often heard on the family phonograph. Having majored in Russian history, language and literature at Emory University (BA, 1962), he went on to earn a Ph.D. from Indiana University (1968) and was an exchange student at Moscow University (1965-1966). He taught Russian history at Murray State University from 1978 until he retired as Professor Emeritus in 2010. His Rasputin, a Life (1990) appeared without the benefit of archival research since Soviet authorities would not permit foreigners to work on politically sensitive subjects like Nicholas II and his circle. But the archives opened up after the USSR collapsed, and from 1994 to 2005 Fuhrmann made seven research trips to Moscow and Siberia. The information he collected resulted in a new biography of the peasant mystic and healer entitled Rasputin, the Untold Story (Wiley, 2012). He is currently working on a biography of Nicholas II, which will be his tenth book.