2022 Sylvia Naish Lecture Winner Announced

Monday 4 April 2022

The IMLR is delighted to announce that the winner of this year’s Sylvia Naish Lecture competition is Rhoslyn Beckwith. Rhoslyn, a research student at the University of Swansea writing on the cultural afterlives of Queen Luise of Prussia and Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria, takes as her subject the postmodern literary commemorations of Empress Elisabeth in the 21st century.

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.

‘Sex and the Sisi: An Examination of the Postmodern Literary Commemorations of Empress Elisabeth of Austria in the 21st Century’ will be given at the 70th National Postgraduate Colloquium in German Studies, which is being hosted by King’s College London, on 9 and 10 June 2022.

Image: Franz Xaver WInterhalter's portrait of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary (1865) in the Hofburg, Vienna. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)