Donald Rayfield

Eminent Tsarist Statesman

Tales of Imperial Russia: The Life and Times of Sergei Witte, 1849–1915


Oxford University Press 314pp £35 order from our bookshop

Many Russian émigrés – not least Nabokov, in his memoirs – and even some non-Russian historians fancied that imperial Russia would come unscathed through war and revolution to develop into a prosperous and liberal monarchy. This fantasy was inspired by the ministers of genius who held office in the 1890s and 1900s – men like Piotr Stolypin and, above all, Sergei Witte. In their time they transformed Europeans’ view of Russia: thanks to Stolypin, Russian peasants sent butter in refrigerated wagons to London’s Home and Colonial shops; thanks to Sergei Witte, the Russian rouble was as acceptable as sterling or dollars in Italian hotels, and trains ran faster from Paris to St Petersburg than they do today. (My grandfather accordingly invested the family fortune in Russian railways, which is why his offspring have all had to work for a living.)

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • What a charming, candid blogpost from one of our dear contributing editors. ,
    • RT : The first guess from one of my 1st graders was “death” and such an awed, somber, reflective hush fell over the clas… ,
    • Merry Christmas from Literary Review! Hope your stockings were laden with books, and the tree bending under the weight of further books....,
    • Last minute Christmas gift required? We're offering discounts on all our subscriptions (20% no less!) with the cod… ,
    • In this issue's 'Silenced Voices', Lucy Popescu writes of Thailand's restrictive lese-majesty laws and their latest… ,
    • "Gunn was a disciple of the American formalist Yvor Winters, but Winters’s poetry could never give off such a scent… ,
    • Christmas gift hunting? Why not give the gift of being even better read? We're offering discounts on all our subscr… ,