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Empress Sisi as nobody knows her

One could hardly save oneself from royal important and trivial things this year, in addition to the eternal Windsor soap opera, Empress Sisi has already experienced her triumphant restoration as ruler of hearts.

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Empress Sisi as nobody knows her

One could hardly save oneself from royal important and trivial things this year, in addition to the eternal Windsor soap opera, Empress Sisi has already experienced her triumphant restoration as ruler of hearts. And now Karen Duve with a novel that tells the story of two years – 1876/77 – in the life of Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary, with a love of detail and a love of horses.

The story cleverly begins with a trip to England, during which Sisi, suffering from her completely ritualized role life, can experience the greatest possible kick of freedom during the literally breakneck fox hunts. Erotic thrill meets mortal danger. "Now there is only springy grass, the horses, the fox, the barking pack and the most beautiful hedges and ditches." A kind of bungee jumping for monarchs, which in contrast makes the everyday self-torture appear all the more violent - even in her sleep Sisi has to freeze , so as not to irredeemably tangle her famously long hair.

On the other hand, if Sisi is looking for a home in the k.u.k. Corset after breakout possibilities, it takes revenge bitterly. At carnival she goes incognito to the masked redoubt under the strictest secrecy and finds out that gender roles outside the court are not quite as progressive. "Oh, god, that's how you were treated when you weren't the Empress. Maybe the idea wasn’t so good after all.”

Incidentally, her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph, also regularly meets with "little Annerl" for a quickie in the park - a cleverly set, melodramatic subplot that provides an outside perspective and presents the monarchy as a fantasy machine and substitute religion in a hierarchical society.

Duve gets as close to the myth as is possible without presumptuous introspection. It is based, for example, on the diary of Sisi's devoted lady-in-waiting, Countess Festetics, who becomes a main character. Just like the pretty niece Marie Louise, blessed with various courtly talents, with whom Sisi - like a younger version of herself - can live out her black pedagogy of self-denial in an almost paradoxically uninhibited way. The highest ideal, which Sisi painfully endured and relentlessly propagated at the same time, is the renunciation of (civil) liberties, submission to court etiquette and reasons of state. You get to know and fear Sisi as an ice-cold manipulator of her environment.

"As Empress, I have risen to a level where normal human existence is no longer possible for me." Karen Duve captures this essence of the aristocratic, which determines the most private relationships, with great precision. The repetitiveness - here one hunt follows the next - makes the special visible in the first place. In this world, every word is a training act. Absolute power is subject to the strongest constraints.

Karen Duve: "Sisi". Verlag Galiani Berlin, 416 pages, 26 euros.

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