The text which follows is the translation of an Italian text appeared in the magazine ULISSE 2000. Here the author adopts a non-conventional perspective.
A rebel at the court of Vienna
by Silvio Bertoldi
Elisabeth, called Sissy, an idealised character, was the heroine of romantic restlessness.
But history provides us with a different portrait of her.
The young girl Elisabeth, called Sissy within her family in the Bavarian castle of Possenhofen, on Lake Starnberg, comes out in society in a not so uplifting way.
She is taken to Ischl, in Austria, where the betrothal between her sister Helene and the Emperor Francis Joseph is due to be celebrated, because of a marriage arranged by his mother and the mother of her, who are sisters.
The sixteen-year-old Elisabeth becomes infatuated with the betrothed, and sweeps him off his feet. Moral: her sister’s wedding goes awry and she gets the big imperial catch, the most eligible bachelor of all Europe. Without the slightest thought for Helena’s drama, with a breath taking away cynicism. Later, the character will be idealised and romanticism will turn her into an unhappy and tormented heroine. Her extraordinary beauty, never seen before and never to be seen again at the same level in young girls of royal blood, largely explains the adoration with which she was surrounded in every milieu, also in the Republican ones.
The unfair dramatic ending, killed with a stab in the heart by an Italian thug for a senseless demonstrative action, granted her a halo of sacrificial victim, the sympathetic compassion that one can feel for a dissipated existence ended in bloodshed through no fault of hers.
So: beautiful, restless, misunderstood, unfulfilled, hit by terrible tragedies, desperately in search of herself, without peace and without love. But the truth?
During Elizabeth’s life neurosis has a key role. She is a Wittelsbach, German dynasty over which the shadow of madness has threatened for centuries. The insane King Ludwig II, Wagner’s patron, was her cousin: and whoever in the family is touched even slightly by insanity shows some oddities in a way, and impulses of uncontrollable attitudes. This explains, at least partially, her personality and her contradictions.
Maybe, when she steals the husband to her sister, Elizabeth is convinced to being falling in love at first sight with the handsome young blonde-hair emperor and she is certain that everything is legitimate to conquer happiness. But she soon realises she deceived herself. Love quickly fades away before Francis Joseph’s sentimental bureaucratism, her mother-in-law (and aunt) Sophie tries to impose her dictatorship, interferes in their marital relations and she immediately hates her, together with the formalistic and backward milieu of Vienna’s court, and she gets equal coldness and aversion in return.
She was brought up without impositions, she grew up free and straightforward in a serene home, among seven siblings, with a cheerful and libertine father and a mother who is used to forgive everything and everyone since the very day of her wedding.