Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl, by David Ebershoff, was Annika's pick for the BPYC book club, and we had such a large turn out, we separated the larger group into two for discussion.

A provocative and timely choice! The novel was first published in 2000 but is being released as a movie this weekend.

Although Einar/Lili is cast as the 'Danish girl' of the story, for me the Danish girl is the wife, Greta Wegener. Given American nationality in the novel, she was Danish in fact. Greta supported her husband throughout the transformation, even though it meant losing him. When Einar became Lili, he was provided a death certificate and Greta became a widow.

David Evershoff admits to having made so many assumptions that his story is now historical fiction, but it rings true.

Greta Wegener was an  illustrator and painter who dabbled in erotica.  Her husband, Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener was a successful landscape artist under that name, but became far better known as one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery in 1931.

Annika brought along a copy of Wegener's diary, Man Into Woman, which she had to order online from London because it is not yet available here. In that book, the photos of Einar/Lili show a very masculine looking person in feminine posture, whether dressed as a male or female. Definitely not the alluring female portrayed in the film.

At our table, we talked about the nature of the love between Einar and Gerda, how they both supported and exploited each other, and how the story from almost a century ago is enacting itself today. Not just in the movie, but in reality shows with Caitlin/Bruce Jenner and quiet neighbourhoods across the country.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and fiction often true.

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