What is the significance of the title The Royal Physician's Visit? Do you find the word "visit" to be an understatement of Struensee's revolution? What are your associations with the word "visit," and how do they relate to Struensee's personal view of his rise to power?
The first sentence of the novel announces that Johan Friedrich Struensee is executed. How did this affect your reading of the novel? Did you take Struensee's fate at face value, or did you hold on to some hope that he would survive the revolt?
The novel describes several interesting first impressions. The tutor Reverdil finds young Christian "charming" (p. 32); Guldberg describes Struensee on sight as "imposing, handsome, and lecherous" (p. 25); and Struensee says of Guldberg, "His eyes, at leastŠ were not insignificant" (p. 124). How do these initial impressions compare to what we eventually learn about the characters? What does each comment tell us about Reverdil, Guldberg, and Struensee's powers of observation? Do you generally trust your first impressions, when meeting someone new?
Caroline Mathilde undergoes a striking transformation during the course of the novel. At first, her motto is "O, keep me innocent, make others great" (p. 52). Four years later, she calls that motto "ridiculous" (p. 275). What do you think are the central causes of the Queen's rapid transformation? Can you imagine a new motto to match her later maturity?
Christian, Struensee, and Gulberg struggle with the issue of being chosen for their lofty roles in history. What kinds of anxieties does this pressure of greatness put upon these powerful men? Do you think any of these men was "chosen" — whether by a higher power, by fate, or otherwise — to rule Denmark?
Bottine Caterine, Christian's lover and the so-called Sovereign of the Universe, plays a mysterious but key role in the story. Why do you think there was such a strong bond between a lowly prostitute and the King? How does Christian's relationship with Caterine compare to his marriage to Catherine Mathilde?
At Brandt's execution, his coat of arms, which is the seal of his rank, is literally broken in half. What did this say about the role of rank and status in this era of Danish history? How do you think this compares to the importance of status in our society today?
King Christian scoffs that "No one talks about the Guldberg era" (p. 16), in contrast to the Struensee era's great productivity and controversy. Based on the novel's description of Gulberg's rise to power, what do you imagine the Guldberg era was like?
Caroline Mathilde and Guldberg both enjoy the power that comes from instilling fear. Does the power of fear work in either character's favor in the long run? What are the benefits and dangers of using fear to gain power over others? Have you ever felt powerful in this way?
The narrative states that Christian "had never actually been able to distinguish between reality and illusion. Not because of any lack of intelligence but because of all his directors" (p. 248). Consider Christian's fascination with the theater, and how it influenced the progression of his madness. Do you think that Christian's madness may have been partially inherited, or that it is solely due to his upbringing by ruthless "directors?"
Enquist carefully constructs the psychology of several characters, especially Christian, Struensee, Guldberg, and Caroline Mathilde. Which character do you believe you know best by the end of the novel? What is the relationship between the inner psychology and the physical appearance of each of these main characters?
The first chapter is a scene ten years after the end of the Struensee era, depicting King Christian's "mad" behavior at the The Royal Theater. How does this set the stage for the events of the novel? In what ways does the first chapter encapsulate the novel's themes as a whole?
adab, August 1, 2008 (view all comments by adab)
The language is poetic and the characters are very well developed. This book brings the reader to the 18th century court of Denmark and includes the French philosophes as characters. Diderot and Voltaire make an appearance in more than one way. Not only are they characters, but the ideas they spent their lives fighting against and fighting for are major themes of this novel: religion, posterity, liberty, history, human rights, and sexuality. However, Enquist does not seem to be a novelist completely taken in by the French revolution; rather, he makes an interesting and perhaps daring comparison between the main protagonist, a "wolfish" court mortician zealously set against the Enlightenment, and the protagonist, the court doctor who whole heartedly embraces Englightenment ideals and finds favor with the insane young king. This is a novel that challenges common conceptions of the Englightenment and embraces some of it's lesser known aspects; a very entertaining, thoughtful, and intriguing piece of historical fiction.
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