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The 2022 Sylvia Naish Lecture

Speaker: Rhoslyn Beckwith (University of Swansea)

The enduring popularity of the 1950s films starring Romy Schneider and the traditional representations of the Empress in museums, articles and documentaries are dominated by the image of an idealised fairy-tale princess. The darker side of her life such as the STI she received from her husband, who continued to see prostitutes during their marriage as well as her cocaine usage and rumours of an eating disorder, are entirely elided. In recent years, authors, biographers and filmmakers have begun to chip away at this glorified and sanitised narrative.

In her lecture, Rhoslyn explores to what extent Sisi’s recent commemorations are symptomatic of an increasingly subversive attitude towards historical heroines in the postmodern era. Examining texts by Lilian Faschinger, Linda Stift, and the book accompanying the RTL serial Sisi (2022), this lecture shines a spotlight on revisionist attitudes towards the history of royal women and contemporary celebrity culture in modern-day Germany and Austria. Engaging with Fuchs and Cosgrove’s concept of ‘memory contests’ (2006) and Rigney’s theory of ‘memorial layers’ (2005), Rhoslyn explores tropes that have dominated since the success of Netflix’s Bridgerton (van Dusem, 2020-), and examines how history is being ‘sexed up’ and adapted afresh for postmodern tastes by focusing on historical women breaking out from their traditional constricting roles and engaging with sex in a strikingly modern manner.

The lecture will be given live at King's College London, Virginia Woolf Building, Kingsway, London WC2B 6LE, and online via MS Teams. 

Participation free; advance online registration is required for both the in-person event and online. 

Image: Franz Xaver WInterhalter, Elisabeth of Austria (1865) (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)