Sisi: Empress on her Own
by Allison Pataki
This is the second of two books about Empress Elizabeth, wife of Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria-Hungary. Her nickname was Sisi. The first book is The Accidental Empress, and I do recommend reading it first, which I didn’t do.
Sisi picks up when she is 30 and living on her estate in Hungary. She is somewhat estranged from Franz Joseph at this point, and apparently having an affair with Julius Andrassy, a Hungarian count and patriot. Shortly into the book Franz Joseph appoints Andrassy Foreign Secretary in the government, ending the affair.
Sisi was known for her beauty. She was the supermodel of her day (mid-late 19th c.) as she was 5’8″ tall, slender and beautiful, with a mane of brown hair that reached to the floor. It took at least 3 hours for her to be dressed and coiffed every day. She spent some of that time reading and learning languages; she spoke at least five. This is probably the most famous portrait of her.
Sisi married early, at age 15, and had three children. Her domineering mother-in-law, Duchess Sophie, took the first two children away from her and restricted her time with them. When she became pregnant again, she grabbed the baby and ran off to Hungary, determined to raise this child, at least, on her own.
The book follows Sisi’s life for the next 30 years, in which she spent more time away from Vienna than not, hence the title Empress on Her Own. Her husband loved her, but he hadn’t been faithful. She was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in Geneva in 1896. (Not a spoiler since she was a real person and the first thing we see in the book is the anarchist stalking her.) She was not popular in her time, but was later, after she died. All in all, her life was rather sad.
The book was well-written and interesting, if not gripping. I learned a lot about Austro-Hungarian life and politics. I particularly enjoyed the chapters set during the Vienna World Expo in 1873, and the scenes with mad King Ludwig, Sisi’s cousin, were fascinating.
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