Monday, August 17, 2015

The Accidental Empress

The Accidental Empress is a 2015 historical fiction novel written by Allison Pataki on Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria, "Sisi", lives a happy life in her family's ducal home of Possenhofen with her elder sister, Helene "Nene". Her idyllic life comes to an end when her mother, Ludovika, announces that Nene is to marry Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. Helene is reluctant to marry the Emperor, preferring to live the life of a nun, so Sisi accompanies her to Bad Ischl to support her.

Almost upon their arrival, Nene makes a terrible impress on Archduchess Sophie, her aunt, and Emperor Franz Joseph. Helene is barely able to speak so it is up to Sisi to make small talk. Franz Joseph becomes enamored with Elisabeth, completely forgetting about Helene. Elisabeth is conflicted about falling in love with her sister's intended but Franz Joseph will have no other. Elisabeth and Franz are married on April 24, 1854.

From her very first moments as Empress, Archduchess Sophie makes Sisi's life a living hell.  Franz's occupation with his role as Emperor leaves Sisi wanting. Elisabeth gives birth to her first daughter, named Sophie after the Archduchess despite Sisi's wish to name the child "Helene" after her sister, 11 months after their wedding. A second daughter, Gisela, comes the very next year. Both children are taken from Sisi immediately after they are born and they are instead raised by Archduchess Sophie.

Elisabeth proposes that Franz take her and the children tour Hungary. Franz agrees despite his mother's protest that the girls aren't strong enough for the journey. In Budapest, the Empress meets Count Julius Andrassy. This idyllic period in Sisi's life comes to an end when both of her daughters fall in. Gisela manages to recover but little Sophie dies in her mother's arms on May 29, 1857.

Sisi falls into a deep depression after the birth of her eldest child. While pregnant with her third child, Elisabeth falls dangerously ill. She is saved only due to the intervention of her mother. On August 11, 1858, the Empress gives birth to a long awaited son, Rudolf. Again her happiness is short lived. Sisi learns of her husband's infidelity when she is infected with a venereal disease. The Empress decides to flee.

After years abroad, Empress Elisabeth of Austria returns to Vienna. While her relationship with her husband is frosty while her relationship with Count Andrassy is in full bloom. The Austo-Prussia war begins on June 14, 1866 but ends a scant seven weeks later. Because of Austria's defeat, the Hungarians press for a constitution. Sisi gives into Franz and he agrees to a dual monarchy. Their coronation occurs in 1867 and ten months later their four child, Marie Valerie, is born. Franz agrees to let Sisi raise the child in Hungary and she and Andrassy consummate their love.

I give this book 1.5/5. It is evident from page one that Allison Pataki  does not come from a history background. Every interesting aspect of Sisi's life has been so watered down that it's incredibly bland and boring. Sisi's wikipedia page is more informative than this book is. Pataki seems to forget the existence of Sisi's older brother, Ludwig! One thing that bothered me, is that Pataki gets all the titles incorrectly. It would not have bothered me as much as it is did if she was at least consistent with them! Is Ludovika Duchess OF Bavaria or IN Bavaria? The characterizations of all the characters are incredibly off. Sisi lacks any of the complexity that makes her a fascinating individual. Franz Joseph has no personality whatsoever. Archduchess Sophie wishes that Sisi was the elder but then she gets upset when Franz favours her above Helene? What? The person who got the short end of the stick in this category is Helene. She is so whiny that it's no wonder she was passed over for her younger sister. On the subject of whether or not Sisi and Andrassy were intimate with one another, Sisi once said that their relationship was never poisoned by love. Sisi was also not a physical woman. It is highly unlikely, at least on her part, that their relationship was anything other than platonic.

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