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Princess Cultures

Mediating Girls’ Imaginations and Identities


Edited By Miriam Forman-Brunell and Rebecca C. Hains

Princesses today are significant figures in girls’ culture in the United States and around the world. Although the reign of girls’ princess culture has generated intense debate, this anthology is the first to bring together international and interdisciplinary perspectives on the multitude of princess cultures, continuously redrawn and recast by grownups and girls from the Ancien Régime to the New Millennium. Essays critically examine the gendered, racialized, classed, and ethnic meanings of royal figures and fairytale and pop culture princesses inscribed in folk tales, movies, cartoons, video games, dolls, and imitated in play and performance. Focusing on the representation and reception of the princess, this collection sheds new light on the position of princess cultures mediating the lives, imaginations, and identities of girls from toddlers to teenagers – and beyond.
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Chapter Eleven: Princess Sissi of Austria: Image, Reality, and Transformation



Princess Elizabeth of Wittelsbach (1837–1898)1, later Empress Elizabeth of Austria, continues to be one of the preeminent figures that characterizes the international princess culture. Popularly known as “Sissi,” Elizabeth became known “as an exceptional beauty and a popular ‘people’s Empress’ around whom a mythology has arisen that continues to lend the figure of Sissi … a great deal of mystique and appeal” (Wauchope 2002, 170). The inscrutability and charisma of Elizabeth’s life story have blossomed into a veritable veneration, as “Princess Sissi” has firmly established itself as a mediating figure in the imaginations and identities of girls in Austria and Germany, indeed in other countries in Europe and around the world.

In the popular imagination, Elizabeth is a tragic historical figure associated with forestalled feminist and egalitarian tendencies of nineteenth-century Europe as well as an idealized princess figure who could easily fit into the Disney-fied canon of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast.

Indeed, for the youngest girls in Europe, there is an animated cartoon series, a co-production of the German, French, and Italian national television services, which is devoted entirely to Elizabeth. Sissi explores her early life and courtship, replete with coloring books depicting Sissi as the princess at the perfect intersection of youth and beauty, Franz Joseph as the handsome prince, and Archduchess Sophie as the evil mother-in-law (Stumpf). For slightly older girls, there is a Sissi Barbie doll, a Zapf-made Sissi doll with a horse, a...

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