Like The Aviator’s Wife, The Danish Girl is based on real people and real events but is a fictional account of what really happened. Einar Wegener was an artist, who in 1920s Denmark, leads a simple life with his wife, Greta, who is also an artist. One day Greta asks her husband to sit in for a portrait when her female model has to cancel. Although Einar is a bit reluctant, he puts on the pantyhose & ladies shoes and steps into the beginning of his new life. Greta exclaims they should call “her” Lilli and encourages Einar’s cross-dressing behavior.
Pretty soon Lilli is making more and more appearances; she attends events with Greta who introduces her as Einar’s cousin and even begins a relationship with a man named Henrick. The book flash forwards about 4 years to the Wegeners living in Paris, they followed an old friend of Einar’s named Hans. Einar’s health is deteriorating, he won’t eat and has sporadic unexplained bleeding, which leads to Greta finding a doctor who can help. Einar goes to the hospital and registers as Lilli Elbe and Einar Wegener effectively dies. Lilli is one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery; some of it goes well but some of it creates complications.
Transgender equality has been in the headlines for most of the summer. Caitlyn Jenner, who besides spelling her name incorrectly, has really shone a spotlight on a previously taboo subject. While I have never been one to keep up the Kardashians I find myself more sympathetic to Kris Jenner and the Jenner/Kardashian children who have been affected by Caitlyn’s decision to transition into who she feels in her true self. Yes, Greta gave Einar the opening to become Lilli but by doing so Greta lost her husband. Lilli was not always honest with Greta; she hid her romance with Henrick, she kept Greta away during most of her hospital stay and did one last surgery despite Greta’s reservations. While this was a fictional account of what really happened I do wonder how things really went down between all the involved parties.
I am definitely interested in seeing the film adaptation starring Eddie Redmayne.