Empress on Her Own

Book - 2016
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"In imperial Vienna, where the court halls buzzed with waltzes and champagne, as well as temptation, rivals, and cutthroat intrigue, the intensely personal tale of Empress Sisi unraveled. Infamously beautiful, a mother of four, and wife of Emperor Franz Joseph - whom she unintentionally stole away from her sister - Sisi's reign was anything but simple. Against the backdrop of a rich, romantic, and volatile time period--marked by pivotal events such as the opening of the Suez Canal, Vienna's World Exhibition, and the lead up to WWI--Sisi, the beloved "Fairy Queen, " was a woman well ahead of her time during a true Golden Age in European history"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Dial Press, [2016]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780812989052
Characteristics: xiii, 438 pages ; 25 cm


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Sep 04, 2019

Pataki writes well. This entire novel is carried by conversation, dialogue, and inner thoughts of her characters with short paragraphs of description of the surroundings that the characters
find themselves in. When letters between the characters are included - there are no footnotes - so it is impossible to know if the letters are artifacts. There is no bibliography, only a suggested reading list of books should her reader wish to delve further in the lives of Empress Sisi and her family. Despite these caveats, I enjoyed reading Pataki's novel more than Daisy Goodwin's novel, "The Fortune Hunter", also a historical fiction novel, which focuses on Empress Sisi's time in England riding horses in foxhunts with Bay Middleton. As Pataki also writes about Empress Sisi's infatuation with Bay Middleton, it was interesting to compare the two author's treatment of that time period in Empress Sisi's life. Pataki's novel covers the time period 1868 to 1898 while her earlier novel, "Accidental Empress", describes Empress Sisi's childhood and early married life, up to early 1860's.

Sep 07, 2018

I loved this book as much as the "prequel" The Accidental Empress. I was totally engrossed in it from page one. The lives these royal figures lived were so removed from normal people I don't know how they could ever have possibly been good rulers or have had happy family lives. The history was fascinating, Sisi's survival through many upheavals both political and in her immediate and extended families is amazing. The elaborate rituals in every day life was astounding to me, I only thought of rituals in formal ceremonies. The restrictions on women especially would have driven anyone crazy, the fact that she found solace in riding was her saving grace. I wish the author had dozens of books that I could read, she is brilliant.

May 28, 2018

After reading this book, I looked up what became of Princess Stephanie (Sisi's son's wife) and her daughter. From what I was able to glean, their lives were pretty terrible, being disinherited by father Leopold II, caught in the middle of two world wars, mother/daughter estranged, etc. It would probably make a more interesting book than "Sisi."

Also interesting to me because my grandpa was drafted into Franz Joseph's army back in the mid-1890's from Croatia. He had never been anywhere, but was assigned as a valet to an officer, traveling on horseback from castle to castle, delivering dispatches. He loved it, and tried to re-up when his two years' service ended, but wasn't allowed to; so, with all his experience from waiting around in castle kitchens, he took off for California and opened a restaurant.

Mar 16, 2017

This is a wonderful story. Allison does a great job of bringing these historical figures to life. I found it so interesting that I started Googling the different people to see what they looked like and to read about them. I felt sorry for Sisi because she thought she had true love with Franz but like history, the Emperor can have a mistress but the Empress can't have one. Sisi fell in love with a couple men who could never be with her romantically. I didn't know there was an Emperor in the late 1800's like them who ruled several countries. This was well worth my time. I do recommend reading Accidental Empress first. You will not be disappointed.

Apr 20, 2016

This second book by Allison Pataki imagines the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary from 1868 to her death in 1898. When her fourth child was born a girl, Sisi got permission from her husband to raise this child alone in Hungary. Only the news that her son Rudy was being abused and tortured as part of his "becoming a man" brought her back to Vienna and the reviled court life. This novel explores Sisi's restlessness, her growing detachment from her court role, and her relationships with men outside her marriage. Tragedy stalks her as various members of her extended family succumb to the "Wittelsbach disease" which appears to be manic-depression and melancholy. The book ends with her assassination in Geneva in 1898 just as she and Franz Josef appear to be reconciling. As the author says in her historical notes, "You can't make these things up!"

Mar 17, 2016

Allison Pataki’s Sisi: Empress on Her Own is an affecting and engrossing historical novel of the beautiful and melancholy Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Married to Franz Joseph, the last of the Hapsburg emperors of Austria-Hungary at the age of fifteen, she was never made for the life of an empress.

Sisi would have been happiest if she had been one of the British landed gentry, part of the horsey set that did not have to stand on ceremony, whose lives were private and whose manners and customs were more relaxed than those of the aristocracy. But that is not her role, she was married to perhaps the most rigid and stolid of the royals, a man disciplined since birth to be a ruler and lived in a society where even the napkin-folds were state secrets.

She had an effusive and loving nature and was denied that, her oldest children’s care wrested from her by a domineering mother-in-law. This had tragic consequences for her son, Rudolph, whose life has been memorialized several times for its tragic end. I have read a few historical biographies of Empress Elizabeth and this novel keeps very much to the historical record. Many of the letters and conversations are direct from primary sources. However, it is a novel and Elizabeth’s thoughts and conversations are from Pataki’s imagination–grounded as they may be in historical record.

Overall, I enjoyed Sisi: Empress on Her Own. I appreciate that it did not wander too far astray from the facts. I also could identify, at times, with Sisi’s frustration and need for escape. I found the language a bit florid and melodramatic at time, more like a historical romance than a historical fiction novel. I also very much disliked the interstices that imagined her assassin’s scheming and preparation. He was mad and he wanted fame. I guess I don’t like giving murderers fame, even more than a hundred years later.

It is historically accurate and I think historical fiction plays a role in drawing people into history to learn more. Her life was consequential and Pataki suggests that history may have evolved differently if Sisi had been a different person. For example, except for her singular innovation to put a halt to the sadistic tutoring her son Rudolph was subjected to as a child, she was a very distant mother figure to her older chidren. Her mother-in-law Sophie has elbowed her out from their birth, but even when Sophie died, she did not try to assert herself in their upbringing. She worried about him, knew he was displaying tendencies we would now identify as sociopathic such as killing animals and she knew he was depressive, though that term was only coming into use then. And she did nothing.

However, her son was a liberal, a reformer, who perhaps if he had felt loved as a child, might have mitigated his father’s conservatism, might have drawn her father toward England and reform rather than toward Russia and Germany and rigidity – and then might have avoided the alliances that led to World War I and, inevitably, to World War II. History is full of “for want of a nail” events, and Rudolph’s story is a tragic, not just on the personal level, but also in the scales of history.

If you like historical fiction and are interested in the personal lives of the dynastic rulers whose lives and decisions had profound effect on our world, you will probably enjoy Sisi: Empress on Her Own. I enjoyed it and it was a fast and pleasurable read, other than moments when the dramatic prose got too rich for me, but then Sisi was a dramatic woman.


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