The novel tells the story of the Austrian empress Elisabeth, who ruled in the second half of the nineteenth century. Although the central story is based on factual evidence, there is some degree of artistic freedom to it that makes this book a novel, not an actual biography. Generally, I really enjoy reading historical literature, especially when it revolves around influential women but it took me three weeks to get through this book and I wasn’t exactly impressed by it.
The novel begins with a journey; Sisi’s older sister Helene is chosen to be the new empress and they are both taken to meet their cousin Franz Joseph. However, when the two sisters meet the emperor, he falls madly in love with Elisabeth, who then becomes his new fiancée. After several months they get married and Sisi starts her new life at Austrian court which is often filled with hardships. She gives birth to two daughters before a son and successor is born. Sophie, Franz’s mother, is an extremely stubborn woman and she basically steals her grandchildren from their mother. Elisabeth cannot bear it anymore so she leaves to travel. When she returns after four years spent abroad, she starts her relationship with count Andrassy, who later on becomes her lover. The book ends with the coronation of Franz and Elisabeth as king and queen of Hungary.
The novel isn’t exactly badly written, I liked the historical background and reading about Sisi’s side of the story, I just felt like the author stretched too much. For example it was never proven that Sisi and Andrassy were in fact lovers and some depictions of actual historical figures were a bit far-fetched. I also had issues with the Slovenian translation which was far from acceptable. The writing style didn’t work well, some metaphors tried to be sophisticated but they were not.
Overall I’d say I enjoyed the novel, because despite the downfalls the story ran smoothly and there was some obvious character development, not just with the main protagonist, but also with Franz and Sophie. And the love story between Sisi and Andrassy was so gentle and beautiful, I was sorry it didn’t last longer. I’ll be sure to pick up the second book and find out for myself just what happens to the two lovers. (Unfortunately I already know because I googled it but a girl can always dream.)
A deity does not quake simply because the crowd yells. An empress stands fixed, immutable: the calm that continues on, even as the world rages.
Allison Pataki, The Accidental Empress