#CBR11 Bingo: True Story
Their love was legendary, their ambition flagrant and unashamed. Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife, Josephine, came to power during one of the most turbulent periods in the history of France. The story of the Corsican soldier’s incredible rise has been well documented. Now, in this spellbinding, luminous account, Kate Williams draws back the curtain on the woman who beguiled him: her humble origins, her exorbitant appetites, and the tragic turn of events that led to her undoing.
Born Marie-Josèphe-Rose de Tascher de La Pagerie on the Caribbean island of Martinique, the woman Napoleon would later call Josephine was the ultimate survivor. She endured a loveless marriage to a French aristocrat—executed during the Reign of Terror—then barely escaped the guillotine blade herself. Her near-death experience only fueled Josephine’s ambition and heightened her determination to find a man who could finance and sustain her. Though no classic beauty, she quickly developed a reputation as one of the most desirable women on the continent.
In 1795, she met Napoleon. The attraction was mutual, immediate, and intense. Theirs was an often-tumultuous union, roiled by their pursuit of other lovers but intensely focused on power and success. Josephine was Napoleon’s perfect consort and the object of national fascination. Together they conquered Europe. Their extravagance was unprecedented, even by the standards of Versailles. But she could not produce an heir. Sexual obsession brought them together, but cold biological truth tore them apart.
I knew virtually nothing about Josephine Bonaparte before I read this book. I had no idea she was born in the Caribbean. I didn’t know that she had been married and had a son and a daughter before she ever married Napoleon. I didn’t know how unhappy her first marriage was, or how she had to keep adapting and changing everything about herself to survive the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.
The woman who became known for her style and wit throughout Europe started out as illiterate, provincial and clumsy, but abandoned by her first husband, spent a lot of the time on her hands educating herself and learning how to be entertaining and pleasing, to both men and women. Once her husband died, the only way she was going to be able to support herself and her children was by acquiring a wealthy protector and she made sure she was a desirable mistress for increasingly more powerful men.
Napoleon Bonaparte was not a particularly impressive general by the time he first met the woman he would call Josephine, but unlike most women, who seemed utterly repulsed by him, she actually seemed interested in him when they conversed and listened intently and treated him well, so he became utterly obsessed with her. Did you know that before he became a successful general, Napoleon wanted to write romantic novels? Yup, Napoleon Bonaparte, the man who conquered most of Europe and took multiple battles to fully defeat – his early career was spent writing romance. I certainly had not expected to learn that.
Full review on my blog.