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Monday 13 June 2011

"Golden Fleece"

What a treasure of a book I received as a gift last week! Bertita Harding’s “Golden Fleece” – the story of Franz Josef and Sissi of Austria. Apart from the wonderful feel and smell of the paper that only comes with ‘old’ books(this was published in 1939) the style and brilliance of the author is so appealing that it is amazing that she isn’t better known!

Written in the style of a novel but totally true to history, this book is a masterpiece of psychology, humour and sincere respect for its subjects.The style sometimes reminds me of Dickens – the little asides that are universally and timelessly amusing – but is far less heavy; and the story itself is told in such a captivating way that it is both hugely informative and easy to read. There are magical, but not verbose, descriptions and anecdotes, and each page reads like watching a film unfold. There are moments when I literally laugh out loud at some of the occasional comments (e.g. regarding Sissi’s parents: “Marriage had been difficult, a matter of mostly avoiding each other. Even so, eight children....bore witness to an occasional meeting...” or, of her father, Duke Max, “He rejoiced in the reputation of being the most unpractical man of his time.”) but – true to the formula of ‘make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry’ – there is such insight into the characters that you can feel Sissi’s grief and frustration without being allowed to succumb to it. Basically, the author grasps how both Emperor Franz Josef Empress Elizabeth felt at various times, so we understand exactly their position, but at the same time the author manages to point out (often with small humorous phrases) that their feelings were not necessarily their finest feelings.

Bertita Harding, about whom I can find very little information, must have been one of the most underrated authors of her age; and one of the most underrated authors of royal history. This book is really one to treasure!

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