It starts with a question, a simple favour asked by a wife of her husband while both are painting in their studio, setting off a transformation neither can anticipate. Uniting fact and fiction into an original romantic vision, The Danish Girl eloquently portrays the unique intimacy that defines every marriage and the remarkable story of Lili Elbe, a pioneer in transgender history, and the woman torn between loyalty to her marriage and her own ambitions and desires.
Over the last few years, the film industry has become an almost inexhaustible source of reading inspiration. I have first looked up the story of Lili Elbe, while reading the rave articles about the stunning transformation of Eddie Redmayne, who started filming The Danish Girl shortly after scooping all possible awards for the role of Stewen Hawking.
David Ebershoff’s novel tells the story of Danish painter Einar Weneger and his American wife
Greta, also a painter. Weneger became the first recipient of gender reassignment surgery after standing in as one of his wife’s models and gradually discovering his true feminine identity as Lili Elbe. Lili Elbe became a transgender pioneer, the story of her marriage is as unconventional and provocative as one may be. But the fact is, David Ebershoff’s novel bears only a slight resemblance to the truth, and had I know the extent of historical inaccuracies I would most likely have avoided reading it altogether.
Literature, and art in general, should allow space for artistic interpretation. However, when it comes to remarkable people who’ve lived remarkable lives, overt disregard to historical fact, especially when it comes to all but one character of the novel, is a sacrilege. In his acknowledgments, the author of The Danish Girl does state that the novel is only loosely based on Weneger’s /Elbe’s life, all other characters save for Einar/Lili have found no reflection in reality.