An extract from the Introduction to my forthcoming book - ALIX AND NICKY: The Passion of the Last Tsar and Tsarina
The analogy which comes most readily to mind when writing a new book about such apparently well-known yet still controversial figures is that of curating an exhibition of some already famous artist. Just as the curator endeavours to present a different view, through judicious, sometimes idiosyncratic, selection, juxtaposition, ordering, and even omission, so the biographer must select, consider, compare, and above all look with a fresh eye at what is already 'known' as well as seeking out the previously 'unknown'. In so doing, curator and biographer may respectively light upon something that previous exhibitions and books have missed, some detail or a new way of seeing that may alter earlier perceptions. Through engaging closely with a number of texts, particularly diaries and letters - and sometimes looking at what is unsaid as much as what is said - I have aspired to come as close as possible to 'penetrating the souls' of these two complex characters, while presenting the story of their 'passion' (taken in both senses, of love and of suffering) in a way that I hope will pique the interest of both the Romanov expert and the general reader. At the same time - and again bearing in mind the curating analogy - mine is only one way of seeing, of arranging the material to allow the characters to appear, of 'telling the same story differently'. It may be almost as impossible to find the historical Nicholas and Alexandra as to find the historical Jesus, so much being dependent on the attitudes and beliefs of witnesses. There may be as many Nickys and Alixes as there are theories about them, their images distorted by the parts they are assigned in other people's mythologies. During their lifetime they were constantly surrounded by gossip, and sometimes it may seem that it has not yet died down. They were in addition extremely private people, only really known to one another - and maybe too shy even for such private knowledge to be complete. Nicky's own account of himself, in his diary, is designed to give little away; he was always restrained, rarely given to obvious self-expression (though at times his silence speaks volumes). And, as if misleading gossip on the one hand and considerable reticence on the other did not present sufficient obstacles to knowledge, Nicholas and Alexandra have now vanished even further from our sight, into the reflective surface of an icon - where the image as instrument of devotion is meant always to point beyond itself, to be seen through rather than stared at, the portal to a different sort of knowledge. As saints - if that is what they are, or might be - they have moved literally beyond our understanding.