Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Vännen min

Portrait de la Reine Astrid (Par Herman Richir)
In 1985, a Swedish historical novelist, Countess Anna Sparre, published her recollections of her friendship with Queen Astrid of the Belgians, niece of King Gustav V of Sweden. The book, Vännen min, has since been translated into French as La reine Astrid: mon amie à moi (1995) and as Astrid mon amie (2005). Under Anna's pen, Astrid's subtle personality comes to life. Tender, sensitive and loving, although not without her strict side, she was a loyal and devoted wife, mother and queen. Anna sensitively portrays Astrid's blossoming, through love, from a painfully shy, fearful, rather melancholic child into a radiant, dignified young woman, courageously assuming the role of royal consort under tragic circumstances. While carefully avoiding betraying confidences, Anna offers insight into her friend's spiritual depth and development, through her discussion of Astrid's conversion from Lutheranism to Catholicism. In a particularly haunting passage, Anna also mentions Astrid's mysterious premonitions of her death, shortly before her fatal car accident. However, she does not discuss the rumor that Astrid was expecting her fourth child at the time. Anna provides an affectionate portrayal of Astrid's beloved husband, King Leopold III, and father-in-law and dear friend, King Albert I. Throughout her life, the Countess remained close to Astrid's son, King Baudouin, who referred to Anna as an honorary aunt. By contrast, Anna found Astrid's mother-in-law, Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians, to be aloof and distant. This is surprising, since so many other personal accounts, such as the memoirs of Russian sculptress Catherine Barjansky, describe Elisabeth as natural, spontaneous, and extremely approachable. Perhaps Anna and Elisabeth simply had incompatible personalities? In any case, the rather derisive tone Anna adopts in Elisabeth's regard is one of the few aspects of the book I disliked. Otherwise, Vännen min is a noble, beautiful tribute to faithful friendship.


Anonymous said...

That's kind of odd, accusing Queen Elisabeth of being remote; Swedish women do have a reputation of being a tad cold and distant themselves, taking quite awhile to warm up to others.

May said...

Good point. I thought Anna should have been more respectful, considering Elisabeth's position and all the heroism and concern for others she had already displayed in her life.