Synopses & Reviews
An international sensation, The Royal Physician's Visit magnificently recasts the dramatic era of Danish history when Johann Friedrich Struensee court physician to mad young King Christian stepped through an aperture in history and became the holder of absolute power in Denmark. His is a gripping tale of power, sex, love, and the life of the mind, and it is superbly rendered here by one of Sweden's most acclaimed writers. A charismatic German doctor and brilliant intellectual, Struensee used his influence to introduce hundreds of reforms in Denmark in the 1760s. He had a tender and erotic affair with Queen Caroline Mathilde, who was unsatisfied by her unstable, childlike husband. Yet Struensee lacked the subtlety of a skilled politician and the cunning to choose enemies wisely; these flaws proved fatal, and would eventually lead to his tragic demise.
"An extraordinarily elegant and gorgeous novel." The Los Angeles Times
"The Royal Physician's Visit is a masterpiece." The Wall Street Journal
"Enquist's principal characters are realized with a vividness and subtlety that place the book in the front ranks of contemporary literary fiction." The New York Times Book Review
"Enquist...turns [an] actual historical incident into an enthralling fable of the temptations of power - and a surprisingly poignant love story." Time magazine
"A towering achievement." Booklist
About the Author
Per Olov Enquist is a novelist, playwright, and poet with works published in twenty-six countries. The Royal Physician's Visit
won Sweden's most important literary prize - the August Prize - and France's Prix du Meilleur Livre étranger.
Tiina Nunnally is an award-winning translator whose credits include Peter Høeg's bestselling Smilla's Sense of Snow.
Table of Contents
Part I: The Four
1: The Wine Treader
2: The Invulnerable One
3: The English Child
4: The Sovereign of the Universe
Part II: The Royal Physician
5: The Silent One from Altona
6: The Traveling Companion
Part III: The Lovers
7: The Riding Master
8: A Live Human Being
9: Rousseau's Hut
Part IV: The Perfect Summer
10: In the Labyrinth
11: The Child of the Revolution
12: The Flute Player
13: The Sailors' Revolt
Part V: Masquerade
14: The Last Supper
15: The Dance of Death
16: The Cloister
17: The Wine Treader
18: The River
Reading Group Guide
Group Reading Guide
The Royal Physician's Visit
Per Olov Enquist
- 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?