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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Josephine: A Life of the Empress by Carolly Erickson

Title: Josephine: A Life of the Empress

Author: Carolly Erickson

First Published: 1998

No. of Pages: 349

Synopsis (from B&N): "In 1804, when Josephine Bonaparte knelt before her husband, Napoleon, to receive the imperial diadem, few in the vast crowd of onlookers were aware of the dark secrets hidden behind the imperial fa├žade. To her subjects, she appeared to vet hew most favored woman in France: alluring, wealthy, and with the devoted love of a remarkable husband who was the conqueror of Europe. In actuality, Josephine's life was far darker, for her celebrated allure was fading, her wealth was compromised by massive debt, and her marriage was corroded by infidelity and abuse.

Josephine's life story was as turbulent as the age—an era of revolution and social upheaval, of the guillotine, and of frenzied hedonism. With telling psychological depth and compelling literary grace, Carolly Erickson brings the complex, charming, ever-resilient Josephine to life in this memorable portrait, one that carries the reader along every twist and turn of the empress's often thorny path, from the sensual richness of her childhood in the tropics to her final lonely days at Malmaison."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: This was an extremely interesting biography. Somewhere I got the idea that Napoleon and Josephine were one of history's great love affairs -- boy, did this book change that outlook. I suppose there was probably some love there, but overall their relationship appears to have been highly dysfunctional. He was abusive and domineering, she became destructively emotional and dependent to the point of clinginess, plus she had the in-laws from hell -- not the kind of the marriage to which a sane person would aspire. And you can't even blame it on self-interest, as Napoleon was essentially a nobody when she married him. But despite this, she still maintained many good points. She was always loving and devoted to her children, kind and generous to anyone who needed help, and gracious to all, whether highborn or common.

The style of the book is engaging and highly readable; you almost feel like you're reading an engrossing novel. The wealth of endnotes indicate that the author did her research homework, but she presents it with a light touch. An excellent choice for biography lovers or those interested in 18th and 19th century European history.

Challenges: 999 ("Biographies"); A to Z (author "E"); It's Good to Be Queen; Nonfiction 5; Spring Reading Thing; Support Your Local Library

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