Drawing on letters which have only recently come to unexpurgated light, crisp royalty-watcher Haslip (Catherine the Great,...


THE EMPEROR AND THE ACTRESS: The Famous Friendship of Franz Joseph and Katharina Schratt, 1885-1916

Drawing on letters which have only recently come to unexpurgated light, crisp royalty-watcher Haslip (Catherine the Great, The Lonely Empress, etc.) does her best to turn the Hapsburg emperor's long, platonic (?) love-affair into a book-length study--but the friendship isn't really either dramatic or psychologically rich enough to hold this court/theater/history mix together. They met in 1885, when Katharina (with an adored son and an estranged husband) was plump, 32, a Viennese stage-favorite--and when F.J. was, at 55, ""an elderly man whose wife had not gone to bed with him for over eighteen years."" Soon he was visiting her for breakfast and walks, with full knowledge (even approval) of his still-adored Empress Elizabeth, an unstable beauty who herself--to some extent--befriended the actress. But was it just friendship? So it seems--though ""it is difficult to believe that there were not certain moments when Franz Joseph's iron discipline broke down. . . ."" Still, in any case, the relationship was intense, especially when it was (partly by chance) Katharina who first told F.J. of his son Rudolf's liaison with Mary Vetsera . . . and was there to console him after the Mayerling tragedy. She made him jealous, too, with her chumship with King Ferdinand of Bulgaria (lots of sticky Balkan politics here)--and sometimes demanded his help in Vienna-theater politics. But after the 1898 assassination of the Empress, the Emperor aged suddenly; there were periods of estrangement; Katharina left Vienna to become a European celebrity. And only in his last frail years (with World War oppressing him) did the friendship bloom again, with Katharina at his deathbed, ""playing her last role in history. . . ."" Some readers, perhaps, will be sufficiently entranced by ""an undefined romance which keeps us guessing after over sixty years."" Others, however, will find this only intermittently absorbing--as Haslip fills out rather thin court-romance material with unfocused digressions into more general Hapsburg history.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1982