The proposed paper is a critically informed reading of a selection of representative literary texts produced over a fairly long period of time, comprising more than 200 years and punctuated by some of the key events of European and world history. The texts under discussion include Rudolf Erich Raspe’s Baron Munchausen (first published in English in 1785), Byron’s Don Juan (1819 - 1823), Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs (1870), and Malcolm Bradbury’s To the Hermitage (2000). All of them contain representations of the Russian Empress Catherine II, whose personal life and public persona became the focus of political and sexual fantasies from the Enlightenment onwards. The fantasies led to the emergence of a specific iconography of Catherine as an embodiment of essentially autocratic but also rational and civilizing power. The urge to turn the Empress into an icon of enlightenment and "heroic- femininity was counterbalanced by an iconoclastic tendency, which likewise found expression in literary projections of her image. Iconoclastic representations tended to stress Catherine’s role as a sexually disruptive agent whose pursuit of erotic pleasure would stop at nothing.
The dialectic of iconographic and iconoclastic trends in Catherine’s literary portrayals will be related to recent critical writing on border zones and liminality.