Making a Man of the Mad Monk


Boris Dralyuk in the LARB:

For all the talk of seduction, depravity, and treason, Rasputin’s greatest crime was, it seems, to have been born a peasant with ambitions. The speed with which he had clambered up the social ladder, all the way into the throne room, left the country baffled. How did this happen? It had to have been his sexual prowess, or the work of “dark forces.” His growing philosemitism didn’t help matters. Here is another — and far profounder — irony in Rasputin’s story: superstition and mystical thinking, which had secured him the royal couple’s confidence, also fueled the frenzied reaction to his rise. The crumbling Russian Empire that emerges in Smith’s pages is distinctly pre-secular. It is also — in the parlance of today’s political analysts — distinctly post-factual.

From about 1908 until his death, Rasputin was the subject of near-constant surveillance. His code name in the Okhrana (secret police) files was first “The Russian,” then “The Dark One.” An agent’s report from 1912 reads: “‘The Russian’ […], when he is walking alone, particularly in the evening, talks to himself, waves his arms around, and slaps himself about the torso, which attracts the attention of passers-by.” Smith comments:

If these details are indeed accurate it should not be too surprising, for the pressure on Rasputin continued to mount and the scandals continued to grow […]. Throughout it all the press and the police had never left him alone. Rasputin was being hunted like an animal.

The countless investigations into Rasputin’s behavior were indeed witch hunts; so-called “reports” were biased allegations, either trumped-up or pulled out of thin air.

More here.