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The Lonely Empress: Elizabeth of Austria by Joan Haslip: A Book Review

The Lonely Empress: Elizabeth of Austria
Author: Joan Haslip
Genre: History, Nonfiction, Biography
Publisher: Phoenix
Release Date: 2000
Pages: 464
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: Consort to Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, Elizabeth was a modern woman who fled the confines of Habsburg to roam free--she fancied dangerous riding, sailing and poetry--but her life ended with her assassination in 1896. 
    My Review: Elisabeth of Austria is considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful queens. At the age of 15, Elisabeth caught the eye of Emperor Franz Joseph, who was at the time courting her sister. The Emperor immediately fell in love with her and decided to marry her. At first Elisabeth’s marriage seemed to be a fairy-tale. However, her love for Franz Joseph quickly deteriorated. Suffering from an overbearing mother-in-law and a stiff court, Empress Elisabeth left her husband, her family, and her duties as an Empress. Over the course of 35 years, she traveled the countries of Europe, sightseeing and going to spas. This is the story of the Empress who was never happy with being queen.

    I came away from the book intensely disliking Elisabeth of Austria. While the author gives us the impression of the Empress having a mental illness that was inherited from her mother's side, she was still a very unsympathetic figure. Mrs. Haslip portrays Elisabeth as self-absorbed, vain, and narcissistic. She did not care about her husband and her two eldest surviving children. She did not care for her country, and politics bored her. The Empress only cared about her beauty and her personal pleasures. She spent millions traveling the world and even built a palace that she quickly tired of. She wanted everyone to fawn over and worship her like a goddess on Mount Olympus.

    Mrs. Haslip also paints a one-sided portrait of Franz Joseph. The author shows that he does not have any flaws. Even when he has affairs, Mrs. Haslip quickly dismisses it and blames the Empress’s sentimental behavior. Franz Joseph is described as a lonely man. He always misses and longs for his wife. He writes her many letters during her absence. He is overindulgent and never refuses the Empress anything. He spends millions trying to make her happy, much to the disapproval of his subjects.

    Overall, this was a very unsympathetic but fascinating look at Elisabeth of Austria. Elisabeth is a very complex figure and it is hard for anyone to try to understand her. However, The Lonely Empress was very well-written and meticulously researched. It shows the splendor, glitz, and glamour of the Austrian court. The Lonely Empress tells a tragic tale of a woman who longed to escape the harshness of reality into a world of a dreams and fairy tales.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


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