The Magazine

Duchess Wannabe

"Anastasia" fooled some of the people all of the time.

Dec 3, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 12 • By JUDY BACHRACH
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Ultimately, and perhaps inevitably, Anna was brought to the United States, birthplace of reincarnation. Here she married a wealthy guy named Jack who lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, called her Anastasia, and believed in her utterly. Ultimately, too, the story goes full circle, in a lot of ways: Anna's 1984 death certificate lists her father as "Czar Nikolai," and under the listing "Usual or Last Occupation," the word "Royalty" is typed.

In her tidy and well-written book, Frances Welch resists the temptation to analogize or even analyze this passion to believe in the unbelievable, which most of us in varying degrees share; and very likely this is to her credit. Anyway, who needs analysis when we have Prince Felix Yussoupov doing a Beliefnet play-by-play in the middle of the book? "If you had seen her, I am convinced that you would recoil in horror at the thought that this frightful creature could be a daughter of our Tsar," Yussoupov informed Grand Duke Andrew. "Hysterical, vulgar and common," was his verdict, and as Yussoupov was not simply a critic of character but also the assassin of the nasty monk Rasputin, who shared these same sad flaws, his judgment may be considered to carry some weight.

"These false pretenders ought to be gathered up and sent to live together in a house somewhere," the prince concluded with uncharacteristic
moderation.

Judy Bachrach is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.