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She did not have a lover or a husband who loved her, and she spent much of her time as Empress being treated badly by her husband. In fact, she lived an unhappy adult life for many years, and her story is sad and a bit depressing. She never regained the happiness and gay abandon of her youth, and at a time when she should have been enjoying her power and position, she really only wanted to escape the palace and spend time with her children and grandchildren. She is not a pathetic figure, but she is certainly sad, and that shows in the haunted look in some of the portraits the author chose to include in the book. She ended up living alone, unhappy, and in poor health, after Napoleon divorced her for a younger woman who could give him royal blood and an heir to the throne, which he of course lost and then retook.
It is not surprising that this strong and vital woman resorted to staying with a dictatorial and judgmental husband, because there was little choice for women in those times. She had few options to support herself, and certainly not in the style that she had become accustomed to. She would have to take another lover, and at her age, in her mid-forties, she would have difficulty finding a man to support her. The author makes it clear throughout the book that Josephine was no "beauty," and she often mentions her black teeth, which she desperately attempted to hide, so her prospects in love were no longer a viable means of support. Thus, she had to rely on Napoleon for everything, and because of that, she was reduced from being a vibrant and interesting woman into a dependent and very unhappy Empress. Finally, she simply becomes a dependent old woman, who must beg the Senate for continued monetary support after her husband is exiled, and she seems like a pathetic figure who will never regain her former status. In truth, she will not, and she lives the rest of her days alone and unhealthy.
The author's presentation of her research is both interesting and arresting. She writes the story as if it were a novel, which gives the reader a chance to learn more about an historic figure in a much more readable and enjoyable way. She presents the characters in great detail, and by using letters, journals, and memoirs, she often includes their own words to indicate what they were thinking and feeling at the time. She also gives vivid details of the cities and locations where the action of this book takes place, so the reader gets a feeling for the surroundings and life at the time. In general, this is a very good account of Josephine's life and rise to power, and it gives a more intimate look into her thoughts, her lovers, and her own motivations. It is an interesting book, and yes, I believe it is objective and to the point. The author certainly does not promote Josephine as a saint. Far from it. She shows her as strong-willed, power-hungry, and extremely selfish at times. And yet, there is something likable about her, and perhaps that is why the author chose to write about her. She is an engaging and complex figure, and her life is filled with ups and downs. Her life has many aspects of a good novel, and by writing this book almost as if it is a novel, the author makes it more engaging and informative at the same time.
However, it seems, from her notes, that many of the situations she places the family in are more conjecture, on her part, rather than founded in concrete facts. For example, in the opening chapter she places the family in a wind-house to weather a terrible storm. She writes, "No trees were left standing. The two-story plantation house, with its wide veranda and its straggle of outbuildings, had vanished, along with the rose garden and the wide courtyard with its fine avenue of tamarisks" (Erickson 5). However, in the notes section, she writes that all of this, including the description of the house, is conjecture based on her research into the family, although she finds the practice of sheltering in a wind-house "customary," and it is "reasonable conjecture" to believe the family lived in the sugar refinery after the storm because their house was completely destroyed (Erickson 352). All of this may be true, and it is clear the author has done a great deal of research in writing this book. However, to begin it with conjecture seems to say there will be a great deal more of that in the pages to come, and that makes the reader immediately question just what they are reading.
It is clear from the Notes section of the book that the author did do quite a bit of research. Many of her sources were primary sources, such as original letters and memoirs from many of the principals in this story. However, the Bibliography is rather limited, and it seems as though more original source docs, directly from the Bonapartes themselves, might have been helpful. Perhaps those documents no longer exist, although the author does quote some of their letters to each other and others. She admits that many of these documents are lost (which certainly is not her fault), but it would have been more conclusive if the author included more research documents, even if they were secondary sources, to help back up her primary sources and give the reader more of a sense of the character's real words and actions. It is too bad that Josephine did not keep a journal, for that would have fleshed out many areas where the author seemed to have filled in gaps in information, which led to the conjecture mentioned above.
This book is a good history of one of the most well-known women of all time. Josephine enjoyed many years of happiness, but underneath her Empress facade, there was great sadness and it seems a great deal of bitterness. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in women's or French history, and I would keep it on my bookshelf if I was deeply interested in those topics. I believe the author's research could have been better, but the book still paints a very believable portrait of this troubled woman. It is well written and engaging, and it seems that even people who are not as interested in history, but enjoy a good story, would enjoy this work. Josephine's life seems as if it would make an engaging film, because there are so many twists and turns to it.
In conclusion, this story of Empress Josephine's life is extremely satisfying and a bit disappointing at the same time. The richly detailed characters and settings make the reader feel as if they are right there, experiencing everything Josephine experienced during her life. The reader can almost feel the jubilant highs and disappointing lows that followed Josephine throughout her life. However, the author's tendency to add romantic or imagined details to fill out areas where she could find no concrete research is a bit disturbing. It calls into question the authenticity of the entire book, and makes the reader constantly question of what they are reading is true or conjecture. It is a well-written book, but this lack of concrete facts is its major downfall, and…[continue]
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