Helen Rappaport was born in Bromley and grew up by the Medway Estuary in North Kent. After leaving Chatham Grammar School for Girls she read Russian Special Studies at Leeds University. Having become involved in university theatre she decided against a career in the Foreign Office and became a professional actress, working in TV and films before moving to Oxfordshire in 1986.
Here Helen worked as a freelance copy editor for academic publishers Blackwell and OUP as well as London-based publishers; she also wrote biographical and historical entries for encyclopedias and part-works, before becoming a full-time writer in 1998. Her favourite historical period is 1837 to 1921: from the reign of Queen Victoria to the Russian Civil War - with specialisms in Victorian social and women’s history and the Russian Revolution. Helen is a fluent Russian speaker and has an abiding love of the language and its literature. She enjoys public speaking and broadcasting and recently undertook a lecture cruise on the Black Sea. She has appeared on Woman’s Hour, Start the Week, the Today Programme and Irish and Australian radio, as well as BBC national and regional TV news. In 2005 she was talking head on the Channel 4 documentary The Real Angel of the Crimea, about the Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole, and in 2010 for a programme about the Romanovs for National Geographic Channel.
She has maintained her passion for Russian, translating all seven Chekhov plays, working on new versions with leading British playwrights such as Tom Stoppard, David Hare and Nick Wright. In 2002 she was Russian consultant to the National Theatre production of Stoppards’ Coast of Utopia trilogy.
Helen lives in North Central Oxford. She is a member of the Society of Genealogists, The Society of Authors, The Victorian Society and the Biographers’ Club.
For more information visit www.helenrappaport.com
LATEST BOOK: MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION: VICTORIA, ALBERT AND THE DEATH THAT CHANGED THE MONARCHY
When Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, died in December 1861 the nation was paralysed with grief. He was only forty-two and official bulletins had, until the day before he died, given no cause for alarm.
But in fact Albert had been in a progressive physical decline for years - worn out by overwork, stress and the exacting standards he set himself. His death was a catastrophe for the queen, who not only adored her husband but had, through twenty-one years of marriage, utterly relied on him: as companion, father of their children, friend, confidant, wise counsellor and unofficial private secretary. There was not a single aspect of public business on which she had not deferred to his advice and greater wisdom. She would even consult him on what bonnet to wear.
Britain had lost its king. For that is the role that Albert had performed in all but name. Politicians and the press agreed that his death was a national calamity. The public, totally unprepared, responded with a massive outpouring of grief.
This royal death had a profound impact on Britain. Cast adrift and alone, the Queen donned the widow's weeds that she would wear for 40 years, till her own death in 1901. Her grieving was relentless. Without Albert to guide and support her, with a feckless heir who had caused her nothing but anxiety, and a family of nine children to parent alone, she retreated into a state of pathological grief which nobody could penetrate and few understood. Her stubborn refusal to return to public life rapidly began to alienate even her closest family and friends and to bring a resurgence of republicanism. There was even talk of abdication.
For the 150th anniversary of Albert's death, this book examines the circumstances leading up to it, the ritual of his funeral and obsequies, and offers new theories on what killed him. It will describe the overwhelming despondency of a country plunged into mourning: bells tolling, shops shuttered up, everyone - no matter how poor - clad in black. Albert's death and the Queen's demand for the most rigorous observance of mourning, while precipitating months of anxiety about its effect on business, also fostered an explosion in the funeral trade and mourning ephemera. The Whitby jet trade went into overdrive to cope with the demand for black jewellery. Over the next ten years, the Queen's single-handed mission to memorialise and commemorate her husband in perpetuity set in train plans for a range of artistic and cultural monuments that would transform the British landscape and set their visual stamp on the second half of her reign.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed the Monarchy (Hutchinson, 2011) (USA: St Martin’s Press, 2011),
dramatic rights sold to Parthenon Entertainment. US audio rights to Tanotor. Beautiful For Ever: Madame Rachel of Bond Street, Cosmetician, Con-artist and Blackmailer (Long Barn Books, March 2010),
Conspirator: Lenin in Exile (Hutchinson, 2009); (USA: Basic Books, 2010),
Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs (Hutchinson, 2008); (USA: St Martin’s Press, 2009). Foreign Editions in Brazil, Finland, Estonia and Portugal,
No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War (Aurum Press, 2007),
Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion (ABC-Clio, 2003),
An Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers (ABC-Clio, 2001),
Joseph Stalin: A Biographical Companion (ABC-Clio, 1999),
Dark Hearts of Chicago (Hutchinson, 2007) - a historical thriller co-written with William Horwood. A shortened version of this novel was published in paperback by Arrow (2008) as City of Dark Hearts under the pseudonym James Conan. Published under this pseudonym in Germany as Die Stadt der Dunken Herzen (Heyne Verlag, 2008) and in France as Dans L’Ombre de la Ville (France Loisirs, 2009).