WRITER HISTORIAN RUSSIANIST
Helen’s only foray into fiction, so far, has been a collaboration with William Horwood on a historical thriller, Dark Hearts of Chicagopublished in the UK in 2007.
Helen is a fluent Russian speaker and a specialist in Russian and and Victorian history covering the period 1837–1918. Her great passion is to winkle out lost stories from the footnotes and to breathe new life and new perspectives into old subjects.
In 2005 she was historical consultant and talking head on a Channel 4 documentaryThe Real Angel of the Crimeaabout the Jamaican nurse, Mary Seacole. In 2010 she was talking head on Mystery Files documentaries about the Murder of the Romanovs and Rasputin for National Geographic channel, and more recently she has appeared in the BBC2 documentaries Queen Victoria’s Children, Fit to Rule, The Genius of Invention, and Sky Atlantic’s series, The British. She is historical consultant and talking head on a two-part documentary about the Romanov sisters Russia’s Lost Princesses, that was transmitted on BBC2 in the summer of 2014.
In 2014 Helen appeared in an episode of Tony Robinson’s Walking Through Historytalking about Queen Victoria’s love of Scotland and in a Channel 5 documentary, The Last Days of Rasputin.
In 2016 she discussed the work of the Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole in a special feature for
The One Show.
Helen has also had considerable radio experience talking on Victorian and Russian history for: BBC Radio Oxford, Radio Berkshire and Radio London; ABC Australia; RTE Radio Ireland; BBC Radio 4:Woman's Hour, Start the Week and the Today programme. In December 2011 she appeared on a Radio 2 programme on the history of the Royal Albert Hall and on Peter Snow's Random Edition about the death of Prince Albert for Radio 4. In 2012 she appeared in several episodes of the major 8-part Radio 4 series The Art of Monarchy.
Since the mid-1970s Helen has become well-known as a Russian translator in the theatre, working with British playwrights - such as David Lan, Kevin Elyot, Nick Wright, Tom Stoppard, David Harrower and David Hare - on new versions of Russian plays. She has translated all seven of Chekhov’s plays, includingIvanovfor Tom Stoppard’s new version that was a huge critical success at the Donmar Season at Wyndham’s in 2008. In 2002 she was Russian consultant to the National Theatre’s Tom Stoppard trilogy, The Coast of Utopia.
A passionate Victorianist and Russianist, Helen is a member of Equity, the Victorian Society, the Society of Genealogists, the Society of Authors and The Biographers’ Club. She lives in West Dorset, where she likes nothing better than to walk by the sea, tend her garden and soak up the English countryside that means so much to her.
orn in Bromley, England, Helen Rappaport fell in love with Russian while attending Chatham Girls’ Grammar School and studied for a degree in Russian Special Studies at Leeds University. After graduating she rejected suggestions of a career in the Foreign Office, having been heavily involved with student theatre as an undergraduate. She opted instead for the insecurities of the acting profession. After appearing on British TV and in films and commercials until the late 1980s, she abandoned acting and embraced her second love – writing history.
You can now visit my new Helen Rappaport Writer page on Facebook
To see Helen talking about her writing,
her book on the Romanov sisters,
and her love of Russia
In 2014 Helen had a major international best seller with Four Sisters, published in the USA as
The Romanov Sisters. In the UK the book was a Sunday Times bestseller in non-fiction; in the USA
it was in the New York Times Top 20 non-fiction chart for twelve weeks. It also won the Good Reads Best History & Biography of 2014. Foreign rights have now been sold to nine territories: Estonia, Spain, Brazil, Serbia, Netherlands, Poland, China, Hungary and Russia.
Helen’s 12th book is Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd 1917– a majortie-in book for the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in 2017. The book has already sold to the USA, Netherlands, Brazil, Norway and Russia.
Her 13th book The Victoria Letters has been written to tie in with the ITV drama series and will be published in the autumn of 2016.
Helen Rappaport is an historian and Russianist with a specialism in the Victorians and revolutionary Russia. Her books include Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs and No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War. She lives in Oxford. She has a website at www.helenrappaport.com.
Her latest book, Conspirator, reconstructs Lenin's years in exile, moving from city to city across Europe fomenting revolution, and is published by Hutchinson this week.
Buy Helen Rappaport books at the Guardian bookshop
"Finding 10 readable and – more importantly – revealing monographs on Lenin is quite a tough call. Not very many exist. That's because the Soviet hagiographers for decades so carefully controlled the documentary record on him that they ensured a boring, sanitised view of the Great Leader that has virtually nothing honest to say – in Russian at least, and certainly not until after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Books in English published in the west have been similarly frustrated by a lack of penetrating primary source material except amongst Russian exiles who had the freedom to say what they thought. Lenin's voluminous letters are at times revealing but with their relentlessly hectoring tone are not an easy read. There are no candid diaries by him and – worst of all – from a populist point of view, absolutely no kiss and tell memoirs that dish up the dirt. Here, in no particular order, are my 10 best in English:"
1. Encounters with Lenin by Nikolay Valentinov
Valentinov escaped exile in Russia to join Lenin in exile in Geneva in 1904 as an eager young underground activist. He was for an all too brief time a loyal and admiring acolyte until he saw the darker side of Lenin and became disenchanted by his inflexible political thinking and his ruthlessly domineering behaviour. A wonderful, illuminating source.
2. Lenin: Life and Legacy by Dmitri Volkogonov
The best post-Soviet book by a Russian available in English. Volkogonov is as unequivocally critical of Lenin as he is of Stalin in his companion biography. Contains some interesting revelations from the newly opened Soviet archives to which Volkogonov had exclusive access, particularly about German financial support for the Bolsheviks in 1917, and clearly shows the roots of Stalinism in Lenin's policies.
3. Memories of Lenin by Nadezhda Krupskaya
This, like it or not and despite its limitations, is the holy grail. Krupskaya, who as a young revolutionary married Lenin in 1898, was the only person who remained consistently close to Lenin throughout the last 27 years of his life. She went on to be the dogged keeper of the flame after his death in 1924. Unfortunately she never said a single controversial word about him, his behaviour, or their life together, but nevertheless this is a valuable and sometimes fascinating source.
4. Days With Lenin by Maxim Gorky
The best literary memoir of Lenin by the great socialist writer; at first a friend and admirer of Lenin and later an outspoken critic of the Bolshevik takeover. Brief but telling in its detail, especially of Lenin at the London Congress of the RSDLP in 1907 and during his visits to Gorky on Capri in 1908 and 1910. Essential reading.
5. On Lenin: Notes Towards a Biography by Leon Trotsky
Episodic and frustratingly incomplete, these notes were to form the basis of a biography that Trotsky sadly never wrote. It is nevertheless a fascinating source, full of insight and a perceptive portrait of Lenin's single-mindedness and his relentless, all-consuming drive towards revolution in Russia.
6. Lenin by Marc Landau-Aldanov
An interesting curiosity, written by a Russian émigré and translated from French. This early (1922) western take on Lenin during his lifetime is a fascinating read for its analysis of the communist experiment in the making. It pinpoints the most disturbing aspects of Lenin's despotism in a brilliant chapter on Lenin's personality, likening him to a moral and intellectual cross between Savonarola and Tartuffe, "a madman with the lunatic's cunning … a man who knows the masses without knowing anything of men".
7. Impressions of Lenin by Angelica Balabanoff
Balabanoff, like many, was at first impressed by Lenin's tremendous dynamism, but after breaking with the Bolsheviks she left Russia and joined the Italian socialists, taking an increasingly jaundiced view of him from the distance of exile. Like Gorky's, this brief memoir is the most human portrait of the man and contains some brilliant and disturbing flashes of insight into Lenin's ruthlessness and amorality.
8. Lenin: A Biography by Robert Service
If you need a quick fix on Lenin, his life and political career, then this is the best standard popular biography to date. It has benefited from access to the archives after the fall of communism and is particularly revealing about Lenin's family background, his relationship with his mother and sisters Anna and Mariya, as well as charting the difficulties Krupskaya had in getting on with them.
9. Three Who Made a Revolution by Bertram D Wolfe
One of the great, authoritative and insightful studies of the rise and development of Russian Marxism, closely interweaving the political careers of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky. Long but highly readable, it is still a valuable standard 45 years after publication.
10. The Life of Lenin by Louis Fischer
One of three major Lenin biographies published in the mid-60s, this perceptive account is by a Jewish-American journalist who was based in Moscow from 1922, where he actually knew Lenin and became an expert on the Soviet system. Not particularly strong on Lenin's years in exile, it is extremely good on his years in power from 1917.