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Reviewed by Kimberlee J Benart for Readers' Favorite
In a Gilded Cage is a historical fiction account by Susan Appleyard of the life of Empress Elisabeth “Sisi” of Austria (1837-1898). It covers the period from the time the fifteen-year-old Bavarian princess accompanies her older sister to visit their cousin, Emperor Franz Josef, and he unexpectedly chooses to marry Sisi, to roughly fourteen years later, when she and her husband are dually crowned as King and Queen of Hungary. Appleyard details the political and social background against which the beautiful but unprepared Sisi experiences life at the restrictive Hapsburg Imperial court. Overshadowed by her mother-in-law (and maternal aunt), her children taken from her at birth and one lost to fever, her health fluctuating, and her marriage less than satisfying, Sisi searches for some form of personal fulfillment.
More than a hundred years after her death, Empress Sisi is still a fascinating iconic figure of this period. Appleyard presents her in a sympathetic but honest light and ends on a high note. The historical detail is enlightening, and the narrative moves at a good pace. Until I lived in Europe and saw some of the romanticized film versions of Sisi’s childhood and courtship, my only images of her were from the gorgeous Winterhalter portraits, and the tragic story of the suicide of her only son in the Mayerling Incident. In a Gilded Cage brings the young Sisi to life: the spirited teenager and energetic horsewoman, the new wife and mother, the overwhelmed court novice, and the Austrian empress who favors Hungary and its people. A fascinating study. Highly recommended.