My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Carolly Erickson has made a career of writing biographies of history’s female royalty. Josephine tells the story of the legendary Josephine Beauharnais Bonaparte. Born of impoverished minor aristocrats who grew sugar cane on island of Martinique, Josephine, then called Rose, grew up far from the grandeur of the Paris of Louis XVI and Maria Antoinette. Her childhood was an indolent one, steeped in the magic of the Caribbean, and her formal education was mediocre at best. When it came time for marriage, the 16 year old Rose journeyed to France to marry Alexandre de Beauharnais, a wealthy cousin. Her early life in Paris, and her terrifying experiences during the bloody years of the Revolution, are vividly portrayed.
But Josephine today is best known as the wife of Napoleon, and their relationship is generally believed to have been one of history’s greatest love stories. Judging by Erickson’s portrayal, it was anything but. It’s true that Napoleon fell deeply in love with her, but at no time did she reciprocate his feelings. Both husband and wife conducted affairs on the side, and by the time he crowned himself emperor, his ardor for Josephine had dwindled, his treatment of her becoming rather cold. Erickson does an admirable job in conveying a sense of her multifaceted personality, and is especially effective when writing about Josephine’s relationship with her two children from her first marriage. Her solitary years at Malmaison are covered, as are her travels in France and in Europe.
Ms. Erickson has a pleasant expository style, skilfully breathing life into facts and events. Biography can be deadly dull, but Josephine is both informative and entertaining.