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The Reluctant Empress: A Biography of Empress Elisabeth of Austria Paperback – November 8, 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
Not really knowing much about Elisabeth herself, I didn't have any expectations regarding the book's tone or the author's stance toward her subject. After the first few chapters, it seemed as if this was going to be a sympathetic portrait; Elisabeth was married into royalty at a very young age, forced to deal with an overly controlling mother-in-law, and found herself in a highly insular, arrogant royalist society in Vienna that was critical of her insufficient aristocratic credentials. Thus, it seemed as though this would be a fairly familiar, sympathetic tale of an idealistic young women struggling against the repressive social strictures of her time.
But the author takes an increasingly critical stance towards Elisabeth as the book progresses, revealing her neglect of her two older children, her extravagant travels and hobbies, her single-minded support of Hungary at the expense of other nationalities in the empire, and her chilly relations with her husband. The book contains so many fascinating, often horrifying nuggets of information: the one that sticks in my mind is Elisabeth's "adoption" of a young black boy (the author uses the term "blackamoor," which I had to look up) as a playmate for her youngest daughter.Read more ›
If you see the Grand Movie "Sissi" - you come away with a mythical fairytale. This book shatters that myth.
A countess says it best at the time of the suicide of the Crown Prince Rudolf. "If she had thought less of herself and more of her obligations, this tragedgy would not have happened."
The author does a great job of laying out facts and events, and backing them with historical events and private letters. My favorite are the letters and writings of her youngest daughter Valerie. It is amazing....truly amazing...how Valerie's sharp perceptions see through veils and even evolve when she recognizes the flaws in each parent. The author tries to give all perspectives that the reader comes to his or her own conclusions.
What is also wonderful in the book is the private lives of the people around Sisi, both the family and the notables of the day, and certainly Vienna itself.
Hindsight is 20 / 20 - but this is a portrait of a woman who could have done much in the shaping of the world. (at least she could have made an effort, as did Catherine the Great and Marie Antionette - each with vastly different results) If one reads closely one can see the "fin de siecle" and can see the proper course to have set the World (no less) on a kinder, less brutal course.
Sisi was not only a reluctant Empress. She was litterally an absent Empress.
Elisabeth was a woman of great charm and beauty, discipline and strong will. But she never cared for Vienna, and thus the people of Vienna never cared for her.
Hamann did incorporate the chronology of broader historical events, though. She also took an unbiased view of Sisi's life and choices, showing that while the Viennese court was a highly structured and unforgiving place, Sisi didn't make things any easier for herself with her frequent withdrawals from court and her refusal to participate in many fundamental traditions. I found the chapter on Sisi's involvement with Hungarian politics especially fascinating--I had no idea her support was so instrumental in bringing about the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy.
I would highly recommend Hamann's book to anyone interested in the real Sisi. Hamann drew on an extensive array of primary historical sources to show all sides of this remarkable woman--the good, the bad and the ugly. Hamann also provided excellent historical context and was careful to specify when a piece of information was speculation or gossip. This book was both readable and highly informative. I wish more of Hamann's works were available in translation, as I would definitely read them.
I also posted this review on Goodreads.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A methodical and thematically divided biography on a fascinating woman. Well worth reading to get the full story on Sisi, who is so often reduce to a beautiful face. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Sarah
This biography is very well written and beautifully translated. It is an interesting and full account of a strange, tortured woman who did not approve of the existence of royalty... Read morePublished 10 months ago by eledavf Vivian
I really enjoyed this book. After reading a fictional book about the Empress, I wanted to know more. This book left me feeling satisfied.Published 12 months ago by Terri Reilly
I was in Vienna last September, I knew the history of Maria Theresa and Zita. I was surprised at how little I knew about the Empress Elisabeth, Sisi. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Jacquielovestoshop
Very informative with delicious tid-bits about her personality traits.Published 14 months ago by Marsha Closson
I recommend this book to those who are interested in highly intelligent women whose temperaments are fiery and romantic and far from domestic. Read morePublished 14 months ago by pamela friedland