I’m sure we’ve all heard of the new-ish film “The Danish Girl” starring Eddie Redmayne that's based on this book by Ebershoff. I’m aware the film got a lot of mixed reviews, as Eddie does play a fantastic part and he plays it so respectfully too but I do agree with some comments that said why didn't they just hire a transgender actress to play Lili Elbe rather than a man pretending to be a transgender woman, but whatever your views I've just read the original book that started it all off and it's absolutely incredible.
The Danish Girl is all about Einar Wegener and his wife Gerda/Greta, the couple is very accomplished painters within Copenhagen but when Gerda needs a model with feminine legs at short notice to finish off her latest commission, she calls upon Einar and promises that no one will know it's his legs draped in stockings and kitten heels in the portrait. The next day Gerda comes home to find Lili in the house, what she first sees is her husband dressed in her favourite dress and scarf but when Gerda is introduced to, in fact, not her husband but Lili I was shocked at how immediately supportive and excited Gerda was. I fully expected Gerda to fly off the handle (especially considering this is based in the 1920s when tolerance was low for anything other than the “norm”) but she helped Lili button up the back of her dress and helped fix her makeup and perfume for that evening without a single question as to why this was happening.
Image from worldofbooks.com
If you're still unsure, The Danish Girl tells the true story of the first successful gender-reassignment surgery turning male artist Einar Wegener into female socialite, Lili Elbe, of course, it's not quite as simple as putting on a dress and exclaiming “I’m a woman!”, this book takes you through every tear, every argument, every kiss, lie and eventual truth of Lili Elbe’s incredible life until you get to be there with her in the hospital in Germany where she trusts the wonderful Dr. Bolk to perform the first of three surgeries that will change her life forever.
There is a lot more to this novel than just her transformation, we get to be in the thick of the breakdown of Lili’s marriage to Gerda, the mutual joy they both have in finding new love away from each other, the change in aristocratic attitudes towards sexuality and gender identity and the breakthroughs in science and medicine that makes today’s gender-reassignment surgeries possible.
Ebershoff’s novel is a joy to read, I am well aware that parts of this book are fictional and it's not the true story told from the mouths of those who lived it; you can buy Lili’s autobiography compiled from her diary notes, it’s called “Man Into Woman: The First Sex Change” if you want to read her personal account too, but there is more than enough true substance here to let you fully appreciate this incredible story.
I got this book as a gift but you can buy it online in a used condition for £6 and Lili’s own book I've only seen online for about £30.
If gender identity, intersex people, or sexuality is something you’re interested in learning more about, or it’s something that is personal to you then I highly recommend The Danish Girl if you haven’t read it already, it is a truly special read.