The Russian princess who inspired Pushkin and Tolstoy
This biography brings to life, through its subject's vibrant personality, a romantic period of enduring fascination.
Princess Zinaida Volkonsky was a member of one of Russia's oldest families, became a maid of honour to the Dowager Empress and at court was soon noticed by Tsar Alexander I whose mistress she became and with whom she maintained a deep and lifelong friendship.
Married to one of the Tsar's aides-de-camp, she travelled across Europe during the German and French campaigns, when she met Goethe. In the 1820s as the hostess of one of the most influential literary and musical salons in Moscow, where Alexander Pushkin was a leading guest, Zinaida became the glamorous hostess who later inspired Tolstoy.
Zinaida inherited a strong tendency to depression. A lifelong search for spiritual answers eventually brought her to the Roman Catholic church and to a new life in Rome. Here, she at first created another salon, entertaining among many Stendhal, Rossini, Donizetti, Glinka and Sir Walter Scott. It was in her garden that Nikolai Gogol, worked on part of his great novel, Dead Souls.