A new novel about “Sisi”, the Austrian Empress

Karen Duff is a passionate contestant. This ties her into the KuK icon, to whom she has now dedicated her new book, Sisi.
(Photo: Christine Ahlrich)

Wiesbaden – Nearly 125 years after her death, she’s still dazzling: Elisabeth, Empress of Austria-Hungary. A new series has been released on Netflix (see article at right), and writer Karen Duff is now also dealing with Sisi. Before presenting the novel on October 25 at 7.30pm at the Wiesbaden Literaturhaus, she spoke about her view of the KuK icon.

Mrs. Dove, why is the historical figure of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth so drawn to you?

She was one of the best hunters of her era. This is unusual for an empress who already has other things to do. This is the second reason why they are so interesting. She refused to do what was expected of her – unveil antiquities and open exhibitions. Instead, she did an extreme sport with the English Jagdreiterei. Franz Joseph must have loved her so much that he allowed her to take such liberties.

What do you think of the fifties “Sisi” films?

Only since I knew more about Empress Elizabeth did I really appreciate the Marischka movies. They worked very lovingly – down to the smallest detail. However, Sisi’s father – “Babeli” – does very well. He wasn’t there most of the time. And Sisi’s mother was not so ambitious, she was the loving support of her children. Sisi will be seen again at Christmas.

for someone

Karen Dove, born in Hamburg in 1961, worked as a taxi driver for 13 years. She has been working as a freelance writer since 1996. Her novel “Taxi” was made into a movie. “All Decent” and “Miss Netts Kurtz Sommer” from other books.

Now one might think that everything about Sisi has been told. But there are always new films, new series like “The Empress”. What do you think: Why is she so cool?

I watch all of Sisi’s films: it’s always exciting to get another perspective and it’s a pleasure to discover all the references and little mistakes that have been made especially for Sisi who knows everything like me. By the way, not everything about Sisi was told from afar. Numerous anonymous letters and secrets are still stored in the castle’s dusty archives. If you want to be as famous as Sisi, you have to be very beautiful, have a mysterious soul, live a strange and mysterious life, and have a fantasy wedding with a king. or become influential.

One often hears that Sisi was in the nineteenth century as Lady Di was in the twentieth. An iconic, famous, and perhaps manipulative figure, she defied the rules and her beauty captivated audiences. Do you agree with the comparison? Her novel begins in a very exciting way in the rural area of ​​Spencer….

The idea also shocked me. Sadness, strained relationship with food, disappointment with spouse, relationship with a riding instructor. Even when you see pictures of the two women, how they visited hospitals and a familiar relationship with the seriously ill. It’s just that Sisi was not very popular with her subjects when she was alive. They could hardly see them. Their drawing came later. And Sisi was a much better rider than Diana.

It is not without reason that two horses are given to the title of the book: Equestrian sports take up a lot of your time. Because you ride yourself?

Yes, and in fact I had planned to write a book about horses. It was supposed to be about an old riding expert, based on his life I wanted to write about the art of horse riding. Surprisingly, I kept meeting Sisi during the research. Her life also turned out to be much more interesting. In fact, it was very interesting for the horses to take a back seat to it. Here’s the downside to writing about a historical figure: you can’t plan because you don’t know what you’ll find when searching. It only took four years to evaluate all the books already published on Sisi.

They also tell new stories. Such as the relationship with Hare Basher and the relationship with her niece Marie. Is this fiction or does it have a historical basis?

Of course I wasn’t around, but the thing is said about Herr Pacher, with whom the Empress kept a somewhat frivolous pen pal under a pseudonym after a disguised ball. Mr. Basher kept the letters and it was only in his old age that Elizabeth Conte Corti’s biographer came to him and inquired of the letters, and found that he had carried the Empress by the arm. There is the content of these letters, and Elizabeth’s daughter Valerie was acquainted with this secret and confirmed it. In the case of Mary, Elizabeth’s favorite niece, things are not entirely clear. It is always the same as who talks about her relationship with the imperial aunt; And biographers do not consider it particularly serious. I checked her memoirs against other sources to confirm or refute them, but when nothing came up I had to decide for myself whether or not I found her story believable. That’s why I call the book a novel, because I’m on the safe side – even if I’m convinced that it all somehow happened that way.

Do you see Sisi with different eyes today?

My view has also changed a little, but above all, my picture of Sisi is complete. There’s fifteen-year-old Sissi Fratz, but there’s also a beautiful woman in her late thirties, disillusioned and wise, who is fighting a desperate battle against aging and the loss of beauty. And that still maintains Possenhofen’s brutality.

Interviewed by Birgitta Lambarth.

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