Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Emperor Francis Joseph I: An Intimate Study by his Valet by Eugen Ketterl

Rating: ★ ★ ★  ☆
Obtained from: ILL
Read: June 14, 2014

The emperor as only one person saw him: the valet de chambre and the human sides of the monarch. Eugen Ketterl was Franz Joseph's last Kammerdiener (valet de chambre). His memoirs, which he wrote after the end of the monarchy, supply interesting insights and quirky anecdotes from the Emperor's everyday life. 

════════════════════════════ ❧  ════════════════════════════

Eugen Ketterl
© Österreichische Nationalbibliothek
I stumbled over Eugen Ketterl's The Emperor Francis Joseph I: An Intimate Study by his Valet in the bibliography of another resource. I believe it was The Emperor & the Actress: The Love Story of Emperor Franz Josef & Katharina Schratt by Joan Haslip, but don't quote me on that. It took me months to track down a copy. There are few available in the United States and most belong to University collections, but thanks to the efforts of my local librarian I was able to get my hands on the rare volume. 

I personally found the biography interesting for a couple of reasons, but the one that stands out in my mind is Ketterl's tone and command of prose. The text is clear, straightforward and unpretentious. He talks about his insecurities and fears as he does his strengths and personal triumphs. He has nothing to prove and isn't nearly as self-righteous as Marie Larisch or H.R.H. Princess Stephanie of Belgium, Fürstin of Lonyay & Ex-Crown Princess of Austria-Hungary

Ketterl's position gave him a unique perspective on the Emperor and those he associated with. The pages dedicated to Emperor Franz Josef's meeting with President Roosevelt was particularly interesting to me, as were his description of the valet's duties and muted critique of the Emperor's love life. The picture he paints is that of a simple man with modest needs, a flawed and compassionate individual who struggled to balance his nature against the duties and responsibilities of his station. It is a sympathetic view that lacks the pomp of most biographies and while I certainly think it bias, I can't help but admire Ketterl's attempt to characterize the Franz Josef he knew and so obviously respected.

A rare firsthand account of the Emperor by someone who followed his daily movements, I feel Ketterl's work essential to anyone looking to understand the man who ruled Austria for nearly sixty-eight years. I caution, however, that it be taken with a grain of salt in acknowledgment of Ketterl's relationship with the Emperor and his tenancy to trade in gossip when discussing events and affiliations to which he did not bear witness. 

════════════════════════════ ❧  ════════════════════════════
I, however, think that His Majesty was ashamed to show what he felt, afraid that an expression of grief might be taken as a sign of weakness, for I often surprised the Emperor gazing with profound sadness at the portrait of the Empress, who seemed to be greeting him graciously from the easel that stood near to his desk.
════════════════════════════ ❧  ════════════════════════════

No comments: