Friday, 23 September 2016

Book Review: The Reluctant Empress by Brigitte Hamann

Title: The Reluctant Empress
Author: Brigitte Hamann
Publisher: Ullstein
Publication Date: 2000 (1982)
Pages: 422
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction / Biography
Source: Gift

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Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known to her family as Sisi, belongs to a famous love story of European royalty. In 1853, the Emperor Franz Josef, the most eligible bachelor in Europe, fell in love with her at first sight when she was fifteen; they were married the next year. On the surface, it was a fairytale marriage, all the more poignant, with hindsight, because her death signalled the twilight years of the Habsburg Empire.

At the time of its first publication in 1988, Brigitte Hamann's biography, which tells Elisabeth's story from her birth as a member of the Bavarian nobility to her assassination at the hands of an Italian anarchist, led to a revised and deeper understanding of Elisabeth. During her lifetime she was idolised solely for her grace and beauty; now, for the first time, the Empress was portrayed as a stronger character, bitter at her marriage, seeking independence, and struggling against the powerful influence of her mother-in-law, the Archduchess Sophie. Researched by a respected historian, this is the definitive account of Elisabeth's life, death and legacy.
(Goodreads Synopsis)

Sissi of Austria has interested me for many years, ever since I first learnt about her from the Austrian musical Elisabeth, which, to this day, remains one of my favourite stage shows. I have read other biographies of Sissi, but this one struck me in particular because of the way it links the story of her life to her letters and poems, giving further insight into her thoughts and feelings through the years. I see the author has also released some of Sissi's writings in a collection, so I am keen to find a copy of that soon to add to my library. Anyone interested in Sissi, or the Habsburgs in general would do well to read this book which is available in both the original German and an English translation.

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