The Royal Physician's Visit - Per Olov Enquist, Tiina Nunnally NO SPOILERS

On completion: WOW - what a way to learn history! This reads like a horror story or a political crime novel. But NO!, this is history. I applaud Per Olov Enquist's talents. He presents all the facts, all the events of the "Danish Struensee Era", and yet not once do you feel you are reading anything but a political crime novel. And yet.... I don't enjoy political novels or crime novels or horror stories, either - but this I adored!

The imagery is stupendous:

The revolution that Struensee initiated was quickly stopped. It took only a few weeks for everything to revert to the way it was before, or to even earlier times. It was as if his 632 decrees, issued during the two years known as the "Struensee era" were paper swallow, some which landed, while others were still hovering low over the surface of the field and hadn't yet managed to alight on the Danish landscape. (page 310)

The theme focused upon Christian's insanity has the reader continually asking: Is he insane? Yes, he is! No, he can't be, not when he is capable of such reasoning. This is not a criticism of the quthor's description of Christian. It is instead the author's ability to keep us pondering: What is insanity?

The book offers intriguing philosophical insights. The following text concerns a painting of the Swedish King Gustav III by Carl Gustaf Pilo:

Is it the darkness that is light or the luminous that is dark? A choice must be made. The same is true of history; people choose what to see, what is light and what is darkness. (page 304)

This is of course very relevant to the events of the story.

There is superb character portrayal. The writing is very Swedish/Scandinavian. Characters simply cannot reveal themselves to one another. There is always an atmosphere of tension and the prevalent suppression of communication.

Christian, Caroline Mathilde, Struensee. Those three.

They seemed to be observing each other with curiosity and suspicion. The court observed them too. As they observed the court. Everyone seemed to be waiting.
(page 137)

I don't like political novels. I don't like horror stories. I usually shy away from Swedish authors since I have read a fair share of them. Thus, I shouldn't like this book, but I really, really did. 5 stars!

Now I simply must get my hands on The Book about Blanche and Marie. This I must read in Swedish, but the Swedish edition is out of print currently.

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Through page 100: I don't quite see how you can possibly give spoilers for this novel. Right at the beginning the reader is told what will happen. The Danish King Christian VII, born 1749, was found to be crazy. A royal physician was called in to "protect" and care for him. This physician was the German doctor Johann Friedrich Struensee. It was he who along with Christian brought the ideas of the "Enlightenment" to Denmark. Laws were passed supporting these theories. What did the "Enlightenment" stand for? It was an attempt to bring freedom of thought, tolerance and liberty into government. It supported beliefs in reason and empiricism witnin medicine, physics and mathematics. Struensee held his position as the Royal Physician for four years from 1768-1772, after which he was tortured and beheaded. He had an affair with the Queen Caroline Mathilde. This was a convenient excuse for removing him from power! You see, before Christian, the Danish Kings were weak in power and the Danish Court were the ones who in fact held the reins. Christian was very young when he became King. If he wasn't crazy from the start, he certainly had to be brought to this state by those responsible for his uppbringing. I am telling you, the description of how this was brought into effect is hair-raising! I guess what is fiction is the exact words and the personification of the characters..... The author does this so well that you never doubt a smidgeon! The elegance of the author's words is astounding. When revealing the facts he is short and precise. When describing the love affairs you are there too. The prose is wonderful. I guess the translation is too, because I am reading the translated version, by Tiina Nunnally. I will give you a taste by quoting from pages 99-100 when Struensee first meets Christian:

Their first encounter was extremely odd.

The King was staying at the mayor's residence. One evening when he asked for the courier Andreas Hjort, he was informed that the man had been recalled home. No explanation was given. The courier's action was described as inexplicable but might have been prompted by illness in his family.

Christian suffered a recurrence of his peculiar spasms and then began furiously demolishing the room, throwing the chairs and breaking windows. With a oiece of coal taken from the embers in the fireplace he wrote Guldberg's name on the exceedingly beautiful silk tapestries, although deliberately misspelling it. During the tumult the King's hand was injured and started to bleed, so that Struensee's first task on the journey was to bandage the monarch's hand.

The new Royal Physician had been called in.

His first memory of Christian was this: the quite slender boy was sitting on a chair, his hand was bleeding, and he was staring, straight ahead.

After a very long silence Struensee asked kindly:

"Your Majesty, can you explain this sudden...anger? You don't have to, but..."

"No, I don't have to."

After a moment he added.

"They tricked me. She's not anywhere. Even if she is somewhere, that's not where we are going. And if we do, they'll take her away. Perhaps she is dead. It's my fault. I must be punished."

Struensee writes that at the time he didn't understand (though he did later) and that he simply and quietly began bandaging the King's hand.

"Were you born in Altona?" Christian then asked.

Struensee replied:

"In Halle. ButI cam to Altona at an early age."

"They say," Christian continued, "that in Altona there are nothing but freethinkers and men of the Enlightenment who want to smash society into rubble and ashes."

Struensee merely nodded calmly.

"Smash!!! The existing society!!!"

"Yes, Your Majesty," replied Struensee. That's what they say. Others say ir's a European center of the Enlightenment."

"And what do you say, Doctor Struensee?"

The bandaging was now done. Struensee was on his knees in front of Christian.

"I'm a man of the Enlightenment," he said, "but first and foremost a doctor. If Your Majesty so desires, I will leave my post at once and return to my normal medical practice."

Christian regarded Struensee with a newly sparked interest, not in the least annoyed or disturbed by the man's almost insolent bluntness.


I took the time to give such a lenthy quote because I believe the prose will appeal to some readers and not to others. You determine. I think you also see from this quote that this is a work of fiction for portions cannot be known facts. The author has umade his own suppositions. Tere is no author's note at the end.