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SOMETHING IS ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF DENMARK...,
This review is from: The Royal Physician's Visit (Paperback)
Having read "Lost Queen" by Norah Lofts, which book was a work of historical fiction that covered much of the same story told by this author, there could not be two books more different, though both are riveting. The major difference is in the writing style. The book by Ms. Lofts is superlative and tells an interesting, intriguing, though somewhat superficial story about the love triangle consisting of the mad king of Denmark, Christian VII, his wife, Queen Caroline Mathilde, and the royal physician, Johann Struensee. This author, on the other hand, rips the reader's guts out with its angst filled, staccato telling of the same story. It is a more literary book than that of Ms. Lofts and compelling in its own way, a beautifully written work of historical fiction that will keep the reader riveted to its pages until the very end.
It, too, tells the story of Princess Caroline Mathilde of England, sister to King George III. At the age of fifteen she was wed to young King Christian VII, who eventually became known as the mad king of Denmark. Temperamental, high strung, and given to strange outbursts, his predilection for odd behavior was known early on, but despite this, the two kingdoms would still see these two wed, as the unification of England and Denmark was paramount to individual happiness.
King Christian VII was a truly pitiable figure who had survived a childhood fueled by rank cruelty and was easy prey for the sycophants of the Danish court. He developed a peculiar aversion to his wife and, consequently, had conjugal relations with her only once, which propitiously resulted in the birth of a son nine months later. Alone in a foreign country, whose language she was only beginning to learn, and estranged from a King surrounded by sycophants, the young queen gravitated to the one person who treated her as a person in her own right, the King's physician, Johann Struensee.
An advocate of the philosophy of Enlightenment that was overtaking Europe, the idealistic Struensee had many ideas that were introduced as reforms in Denmark, through his influence with the King, who by now was easily led, since his madness left a void in leadership that Struensee was all to happy to fill. These reforms were to make many enemies for him, as they upset the established feudal system that still existed in eighteenth century Denmark. As he gained power through his influence, resentment against him grew within those circles that had formerly been close to the King. Unaware of the growing animosity against him and lacking political canniness, Struensee and the Queen became close intimates, bound by shared ideas and interests.
Struensee's relationship with the Queen, who was lonely and starved for affection, eventually transgressed the bounds set by propriety. Now lovers in fact, their relationship became grist for the rumor mill. She even gave birth to a daughter who the King acknowledged as his own but who was actually Stuensee's. As gossip and innuendo about their relationship swirled across royal circles in Europe, it ultimately became the focal point for a political coup that saw them both arrested and charged with treason. It was a relationship that was to have great personal and political ramifications for the protagonists, as well as for Denmark. What ultimately happened to each of them was tragic, governed as it was by the initial reluctance of the Danes to give up their feudal system. Even those whom Struensee championed through his reforms, the peasant class, turned against him in the end.
This is a richly atmospheric work of historical fiction, filled with political intrigue, historical personages and events, shadowed by darkness and a palpable sorrow apparent in each and everyone of its pages. It is as if the individual psyche of each of the protagonists were driving the book, giving it texture, shadings, and glimpses into the psyche of those involved in this high drama. It is an angst filled, almost surreal, rendering of lives that were to come together and leave a mark on the world, making for a story that to this day has the power to captivate the reader. Bravo!