Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Royal Physician's Visit

The Royal Physician's Visit is a 1999 Swedish novel written by Per Olov Enquist, translated into English by Tiina Nunally on the love affair between Princess Caroline Mathila of Great Britain and Doctor Johann Struensee.

King Christian VII is a sensitive, intellectual boy who was emotionally and physically abused by his tutors in order to make him more malleable to their ambitions like his Father was. He is so damaged that by the time that his fifteen year old bride, Princess Caroline Matilda of Great Britain, arrives to her new country, he is little more than a raving lunatic. He is so terrified of intercourse with his wife that he only ever slept with her once but that was enough for Frederick VI to be conceived.

Instead of finding intimacy with his Queen, he turns to the comforts provided by the courtesan, Bottine Caterine, who he calls his "Mistress of the Universe". Christian's stepmother, Dowager Queen Juliana, deems Caterine to be a threat and sends her away, driving the King of Denmark into the deepest pits of despair. To appease his broken heart, he is permitted by the court to go on a Europeans tour to look for his lost love but only on the condition that he be tended to by a doctor. The doctor that is chosen is named Johann Frederick Struensee.

The doctor quickly makes it into Christian's high esteem and the King of Denmark soon hands him the reigns of power much to the chagrin of the old establishment, fully aware of that Struensee is a man of the enlightenment. Queen Caroline Matilda is fascinated by Struensee and he is the one that teaches her how to ride a horse; she does so riding astride like a man. The two become lovers. And in 1771, Caroline Matilda gives birth to Struensee's only child, Princess Louisa Augusta of Denmark.

The court and country's growing contempt for Struensee's reforms as well as his affair with the Queen reaches its boiling point in autumn of 1771 and he and Caroline Matilda are arrested. Dowager Queen Juliana and a group of reactionaries barge into King Christian's room and wake the sleeping monarch. In a daze, he is forced to sign the warrants for the death of Struensee and his divorce from Queen Caroline Matilda. The  pit the couple against each other and while Caroline Matilda's will is unbreakable, tricked into believing that the Queen confessed, Struensee admits to everything.

Johan Friedrich Strunsee is executed on April 28, 1772. Caroline Matilda is exiled to Celle where she dies on May 10, 1775. King Christian forgets that his wife ever existed and returns to his Mistress of the Universe. And the winner of this whole debacle is the Ove Hoegh Guldberg, the man who has been watching it all from the sidelines who know one that would succeed.

I give this book a 3/5. As we all know by now, I am not unfamiliar with the story of Queen Caroline Matilda of Denmark. Now I don't know if there it has something to do with the translation or this is actually Per Olov Enquist's writing style, however, it was very confusing to read (So confusing in fact that the first few chapters gave me a headache). I read a review of the book stating that "The erotic scenes are among the most beautiful I have read in modern literature" and I don't know about you but I don't find the word "membrane" very stimulating.

P.S. On the related note of the historical figure known as Johann Struensee, has anyone seen the movie "A Royal Affair"? Kermode gave the movie a wonderful review and so far it is his top film of 2012. I hope very much to see it soon!

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