GOLDEN FLEECE: THE STORY OF FRANZ JOSEPH & ELISABETH OF AUSTRIABertita HardingBobbs-Merrill ($3.50).
Franz Joseph, late Emperor of Austria, lived so long that, like his opposite number, Queen Victoria of England, he became an institution. Both these high-principled embodiments of monarchy were young once; both married for love, neither of them ever got over it. But Victoria was lucky, Franz Joseph was not. Many of his misfortunes were due to foreign levies, but malice domestic caused his greatest sorrows. To those numerous U. S. readers who like to peek through the hedge at royalty, Bertita Harding's intimate narrative of Franzi and his wife Sisi will be as good a show as they could wish for.
A sad true story, it has its lighter moments, which Author Harding plays up for all they are worth; and because the story goes on so long, as stories in real life are apt to, its tired finale is as welcome as a happy ending.
Franzi and Sisi's affair began like a fairy tale. Franz Joseph had been Austria's Emperor since he was 18. Now he was 23, and his managing mother Sophie thought it high time for him to marry. Sophie and her sister Ludovika, an ambitious German duchess, put their heads together, agreed that young Franz could do much worse than wed Ludovika's eldest daughter, Helen. In the ensuing royal houseparty to bring the nervous pair together, this well-laid plan went sadly agley. Helen was mightily pleased with Franzi, but Franzi had no eyes for anyone but Helen's younger sister, 15-year-old Sisi. Sisi was a tomboy, but so pretty she made Helen appear a gawk. Franzi fell in love with her at sight, and for keeps. The scheming mothers put the best face on the matter they could, but Sophie could never forgive -her daughter-in-law-elect. To Son Franz Joseph she said: "Sisi is very nice, although the poor child doesn't know how to hold a goblet." And in truth Sisi was country-bred, had to learn painfully how to be regal. Franz thought her perfectly delightful but gave her little hints.
It was wonderful to be courted by a young and handsome Emperor. Sisi was enchanted. At 16 she was married, and the fairytale ended. There was no honeymoon trip. The morning after her horribly disillusioning wedding night (she had been well brought up), when she tried to hide in her room, Mother-in-law Sophie insisted on her facing the crowded breakfast table. From then on Sisi was on parade nearly every hour of the day. She hated it. More than anything else, she hated Sophie. And to Sophie, Sisi was never anything more than a bad bargain. When Sisi quickly became pregnant, Sophie scolded her for keeping parrots, said the sight of them might affect the child's looks. When Sisi's baby daughter was born, Sophie immediately snatched her away, kept her. "Give her the child?" said Sophie. "When she cannot even discipline herself? Never!" The same thing happened with the second baby, also a girl. Finally Franz Joseph took a hand, attempted to rescue Sisi's children for her. Sophie chalked up another score to settle.