Publishing year: 2013
This new novel takes place in the nineteenth century, and it revolves around Elizabeth or Sisi, the Austrian Empress.
From the blurb and a radio programme I listened to recently, I know that it is about Sisi having an affair with an Englishman called Bay Middleton.
The novel, though, doesn’t start with Sisi or Bay Middleton, but with Charlotte Baird, a young heiress, who is not like the girls from her generation. She has no interest in fashion or suitors and her main interest is photography. I really like Charlotte, but I’m afraid she might be hurt. Charlotte is an orphan and lives with her aunt Adelaide and her brother Fred. Charlotte knows that she is no beauty, but her charm lies in her fortune, which is the reason why some men chase her. One of these men is Captain Hartopp, who is one of his brother’s friends, but Charlotte is not interested.
Then we get to meet Bay Middleton, who is also friends with Fred Baird. Bay is handsome and has had his share of women. He had an affair with Blanche Hozier, a married woman, but the affair ended when he got her pregnant, and she decided to leave and have her child away. Bay meets Charlotte in the opera, and from the first she intrigues her, and from then on there are more encounters, and he isn’t shy around her. He finds her very different to the women he meets, and Charlotte is not indifferent, but Charlotte’s aunt and her future sister-in-law think Bay is unsuitable, so Charlotte won’t have it easy.
At the same time as Charlotte and Bay are enjoying time together in the country, the Earl of Spencer has the Empress of Austria as his guest, and he has advised her to take Middleton as her guide and pilot in the hunting party she is going to take part in. At this time Sisi is not a young woman any longer, and she is somehow disenchanted with her life. If Sisi and Middleton have an affair, I will feel very sorry for Charlotte. When I was a child, I used to love the films about Empress Sisi, played by lovely Romy Schneider, but after going to Austria and reading something about the Empress, I realise that the films were nothing but a romantic tale that had little to do with reality.