Rose of Martinique: A Life of Napoleon's Josephine

Rose of Martinique: A Life of Napoleon's Josephine

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by Andrea Stuart

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One of the most remarkable women of the modern era, Josephine Bonaparte was born Rose de Tasher on her family's sugar plantation in Martinique. She embodied all the characteristics of a true Creole-sensuality, vivacity, and willfulness. Using diaries and letters, Andrea Stuart expertly re-creates Josephine's whirlwind of a life, which began with an isolated

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One of the most remarkable women of the modern era, Josephine Bonaparte was born Rose de Tasher on her family's sugar plantation in Martinique. She embodied all the characteristics of a true Creole-sensuality, vivacity, and willfulness. Using diaries and letters, Andrea Stuart expertly re-creates Josephine's whirlwind of a life, which began with an isolated Caribbean childhood and led to a marriage that would usher her onto the world stage and crown her empress of France.
Josephine managed to be in the forefront of every important episode of her era's turbulent history: from the rise of the West Indian slave plantations that bankrolled Europe's rapid economic development, to the decaying of the ancien régime, to the French Revolution itself, from which she barely escaped the guillotine.
Rescued from near starvation, she grew to epitomize the wild decadence of post-revolutionary Paris. It was there that Josephine first caught the eye of Napoleon Bonaparte. A true partner to Napoleon, she was equal parts political adviser, hostess par excellence, confidante, and passionate lover. In this captivating biography, Stuart brings her so utterly to life that we finally understand why Napoleon's last word before dying was the name he had given her: Josephine.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Born in Martinique, her name was Rose when she arrived in France at age 15 to marry her first husband, a handsome man-about-court who quickly neglected his disappointingly provincial wife. Rose matured and built alliances in unlikely places, including the convent where her husband forced her to retire and the prison where she spent the last months of the French Revolution. It was after this period and her husband's execution that she became one of Paris's great hostesses and attracted the attention of an awkward but rising military hero named Napoleon Bonaparte. Stuart (Showgirls) captures the tentativeness of their first years of marriage, when letters of the often-absent, sexually inexperienced Napoleon raged with jealousy while Rose, whom he renamed Josephine, continued to have the affairs common in her social circle. Sources provide a challenge to the biographer, who must wade through material written much later when writers were fully aware of the importance of the actors and scenes they described. The twin dangers of contemporary romanticization and criticism haunt Stuart's text, yet the shifting sands of identity they create seem appropriate, for Rose and Napoleon were both remaking themselves. The almost pathological ways they complemented each other remain painfully clear as Stuart traces the denouements of their lives. It was hardly a happy marriage, and Stuart's argument that the emperor's harsh treatment of women in the Code Napol on reflected the dynamics and frustrations of his own marriage seems quite convincing in this context. 16 pages of color illus. not seen by PW. Agent, David Godwin. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Jamaican-born author Stuart (Showgirls) believes that her understanding of Caribbean heritage makes her especially well equipped to profile Napoleon's famous consort, who was born Rose de Tasher on a sugar plantation in the French colony of Martinique. The future Empress Josephine came to Paris as an unsophisticated 16-year-old intended in marriage to nobleman and legendary philanderer Alexandre de Beauharnais. Using diaries and letters, Stuart re-creates Josephine's story in painstaking detail. She sensitively explains how Josephine's seemingly glamorous life was really marked by a series of difficult adjustments: facing life as an immigrant outsider, emerging from a failed marriage, raising two children alone, and suffering the infidelities of two husbands. Stuart also describes Josephine's daily routine; seeks to uncover her political views, especially on race and slavery; and, most important, demonstrates how she adapted to the many challenges she faced. While removing herself from historiographical debates, Stuart does try to make sense of Josephine's reputation "for easy morals and gold digging," admitting that she was a passionate and sensual woman who used her charms to survive. Hence, she emerges as a startlingly modern woman. This engrossing, well-researched biography should interest general readers fascinated by the romance of the Napoleonic period.-Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sometimes florid but engaging life of Napoleon's true love, a woman ill served by circumstances. Marie-Josephe-Rose-Claire des Vergers de Tascher de la Pagarie was born on a plantation in Martinique, "a complicated place during a tumultuous time," a voluptuous island that had just narrowly escaped becoming a British possession: "In a treaty concluded with Britain in 1763, when presented with the choice of holding on to Canada . . . or to the commercially and strategically important 'sugar islands' . . . the French chose the latter," writes Critical Quarterly fiction editor Stuart (Showgirls, not reviewed). The French decision was fateful, for it kept Martiniquaise society well within Paris's orbit; thus it was that young Rose came to France, "plump, provincial, and adolescent," intended for the nobleman Alexandre de Beauharnais, whom students of French literature remember as the model for Valmont in Laclos's Dangerous Liaisons. It wasn't a happy marriage, writes Stuart, but it brought Rose into the best circles of aristocratic Paris, a dangerous place to be in revolutionary times-"it is hard to imagine that she escaped the profound disturbances which beset her contemporaries, many of whom reported a litany of psychological and physical disorders including nightmares, sleeplessness, anxiety and depression," Stuart writes-but a good place to be noticed. Notice her Napoleon Bonaparte, himself an island-born outsider, did, and Stuart writes lucidly of their seemingly improbable romance, improbable, perhaps, because the young woman whom Napoleon would call Josephine had become a beauty, whereas Napoleon was a "small, sickly man" who was, a contemporary said, "given to inappropriate outburstsof laughter which did little to endear him to others." Romance became partnership, and Stuart credits Rose/Josephine for her enlightened influence over the dictator, who famously divorced her while in exile on Elba for her inability to produce an heir to the throne. Unfailingly interesting: a sturdy life of a woman often overlooked in the vast library of Napoleonic studies. Agent: David Godwin

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Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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6.06(w) x 9.04(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Rose of Martinique

A Life of Napoleon's Josephine
By Andrea Stuart

Grove Atlantic, Inc.

ISBN: 0-8021-1770-8

Chapter One

The ceremony took place at the once glamorous H�tel de Mondragon. A room on the second floor had been allocated for civil marriages. There was still some evidence here of the hotel's former glory: a marble fireplace, large gilt mirrors and the delicate Louis XV paneling, but the room, like the rest of the building, was sorely neglected. As Josephine recalled years later, the dingy, crudely furnished room was lit by a single, half-hearted candle flickering in a tin sconce.

The bride, wearing a white muslin gown with a tricolor sash and an enameled medallion engraved with the words "To Destiny," given to her by Bonaparte, arrived to all this decaying splendor punctually at eight o'clock on the evening of 9 March 1796. Barras, one of Napoleon's witnesses, arrived shortly after. But there was no sign of the groom. The minutes turned into hours. There was nowhere comfortable to sit; and with increasing ill-temper the weary registrar finally went to bed, leaving the ceremony to one of his underlings who hobbled about gamely on his wooden leg. Finally, at almost ten o'clock, Napoleon bounded up the marble staircase accompanied by his aide. Carried away with his plans for Italy, he had lost track of the time. This would set the tone for their entire relationship. No matter how great Napoleon professed his love to be, it would always come second to his military ambition.


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