We girls often fall in love with princesses and the idea of being a princess very early on. Be it because of the way we are raised, the movies we watch, the pink dresses that are marketed for us – but it’s more the norm than not.
(I would actually argue against this early stereotyping, but in another post.)
When I was little my favorite princess (long before watching any Disney move) was Sisi. I will remember Romy Schneider’s luscious endless locks forever. Later on the animated series came out and I was very confused. Why was Sisi so… blonde?
Trivia alert: Romy Schneider was descendded from one of Sisi’s ladies in waiting.
The thing I loved the most about Sisi was that she was real.
As I grew up I gradually swapped the idealized fairy tale version for the historical figure, but my fascination remained. I read about the darker, not-so-fairy-tale aspects of her story and, I hate to admit, that made her even more fascinating.
But I never questioned two things that were established along with Romy Schneider’s superior hair regime. The first one – that she and Franz Joseph were in love until the end of their lives; the second – that they faced all challenges together, as any power couple would.
Both very unbelievable when you throw real life into the mix. Franz Joseph had mistresses. He admired Sisi for her beauty and wanted her by his side, but not as an equal, not as a person to rule with. He hardly countenanced her advice when it came to politics. He could not understand her problem with spending hours upon hours having her outfit changed for yet another ceremonial dinner or official event.
This spring I finally visited Vienna and got enthralled all over again by the story of the Kaiserin, but this time it was the story of a lonely woman, who challenged the constraints of social norms and rebelled against the golden cage that suffocated her innocent naive love. It is really the story of a strong woman, very modern in her search for independence and her desire to be allowed a voice, not just a pretty face.
I bought two books about her – one non-fictional (Sisi Mythe et Réalité by Katrin Unterreiner) and one novel (Sisi, Ein Traum von Liebe by Gabriele Marie Cristen) and read both in the span of a couple of days.
Of course, the books we buy today from Hoffburg and Schonbrunn are not immune to idealization when telling the story of the beloved Bavarian princess. Was she really strong or just whinny? Freedom-loving or egotistical?
I prefer to think she was the former in both cases. It is not hard to imagine and empathize with a young girl, raised by a father with liberal views and used to running free wherever, who fell in love with a young and handsome emperor. It is easy to believe that girl hated the formalities of court life; that being young and all alone, she had no means to put up a fight. It is only logical she got disillusioned in her new role; that she was disappointed to realize her own father did not extend his liberal views to the women in his household; that it took her time before she found a way to fight for her small freedoms. If that way was by using her beauty to manipulate the emperor – well, that is only natural as well.
She is still my favorite princess and I’d rather say she was a budding feminist at the dawn of feminism.
Have you read anything about Princess/Empress Sisi? What is your take on her story? Is there a historical figure that has fascinated you from very early on?