As far as infamous affairs among royalty go the relationship between Emperor Franz Josef and the actress Katherina Schratt was the most unorthodox. This was not a sultry, sexually charged affair between two hot-blooded people, but a cozy, coffee and gossip relationship conducted via letter writing and arranged assignations where a very lonely old man and a very high spirited, slightly younger woman enjoyed a deep, pure intimacy blessed by his own wife. Joan Haslip is the only author to date who has tackled the relationship between Franz Josef and Katherina head-on, and the final work is overall entertaining and informative. Haslip accomplishes a very difficult task: giving us an all-but complete picture of a relationship where most of the evidence (their letters to each other) was either destroyed by both parties after Franz Josef’s death or shrouded in secrecy and vagueness. A handful of letters survive, mostly Franz Josef’s to Katherina. The book charts their relationship from their first encounter to Katherina Schratt’s death in 1940. I felt at times this book could also double as Katherina Schratt’s biography. Haslip’s style can sometimes feel sugary and overly romantic (even melodramatic), but she succeeds in making me care very much that these two people had each other (though it is very obvious the Emperor needed Katherina more than she needed him). The book also could have done without the lapses into the politics of Austria-Hungary (a very, very complicated situation), though these are few and far between. This is a gem worth reading again and again!
Hardback 1st edition