Welcome to Highlighting History, where I take a historical figure or time period that has captured my attention recently and discuss fiction and non-fiction written on the subject. I thought this week would be a good week to turn our attentions to France and Josephine Bonaparte. (My apologies for putting this up a day late)
Josephine Bonaparte was actually born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie in 1763 in the French colony of Martinique. In 1779 she and her father went to France; two months later she was married to Alexandre de Beauharnais after fulfilling a betrothal arranged by her aunt. By all accounts, the marriage was unhappy. The couple had two children together before Alexandre was killed during the French Revolution.
Following the death of her husband in 1794, Josephine was mistress to a variety of high profile men in France, including the young general, Napoleon Bonaparte. They married in March 1796, and it was he who began calling her Josephine (she had previously been known as Rose). Shortly after their marriage, she began an affair with Hippolyte Charles. Napoleon was angered by this, and began his own series of affairs. Though she is not reported to have had any further affairs, his continued throughout their marriage.
Though their marriage was damaged by their affairs, it was not affairs that ended the marriage. When it became clear that Josephine was no longer able to have children, Napoleon asked her for a divorce so that he could marry someone who could provide him with an heir. She complied, and their marriage ended amicably in early 1810. Josephine lived the remainder of her life at Malmaison, until she died of pneumonia in 1814.
In fiction, Josephine is perhaps a bit under-utilized. My interest was piqued by a very brief reference to her in Lauren Willig’s The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. However, Sandra Gulland has written a trilogy of novels about Napoleon’s empress. The first is The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.. It is followed by Tales Of Passion, Tales Of Woe and The Last Great Dance on Earth. I haven’t yet read these novels, but they’re on my list of books to read sooner rather than later (of course, considering my TBR is, at current count, over 400 books, sooner may be later after all).
Another novel on the life of Josephine Bonaparte is The Emperor’s Lady: A Novel Based on the Life of the Empress Josephine by F. W. Kenyon. It is out of print, but is available on Amazon Marketplace, and it looks like quite a number of libraries still carry it.
Perhaps the least well-regarded of fictional accounts of Josephine is Carolly Erickson’s novel The Secret Life of Josephine: Napoleon’s Bird of Paradise. While I don’t always trust reviews posted on Amazon, the reaction on Library Thing seems to be lukewarm as well.
There are several biographies on the subject of Josephine as well. Carolly Erickson’s Josephine: A Life of the Empress has received a variety of reviews, and it is noted that her style of writing reads more like a novel than a biography (and it appears some of her basic historical facts are incorrect). It is almost rather ironic, then, that her novel on the subject has received such poor reviews.
Eleanor Delorme has written a comprehensive biography of Josephine, Josephine: Napoleon’s Incomparable Empress, but perhaps the most respected biography of her is The Rose of Martinique: A Life of Napoleon’s Josephine by Andrea Stuart. In particular, reviews point to the fact that this biography is extremely well-researched. And I love well-researched biographies and historical works, so this is going on my personal to-read list as well.
Thanks for taking a few minutes to learn about Josephine Bonaparte with me. I’d love to know if you can recommend any other books, or if there is a specific subject you’re interested in learning more about!
(Image of Josephine Bonaparte is taken from a Google images search; I claim no ownership or rights to it)