Desiree: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love

Desiree: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love

by Annemarie Selinko


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"An epic love story...irresistible reading."
-Chicago Tribune

To be young, in France, and in love: fourteen year old Desiree can't believe her good fortune. Her fiance, a dashing and ambitious Napoleon Bonaparte, is poised for battlefield success, and no longer will she be just a French merchant's daughter. She could not have known the twisting path her role in history would take, nearly breaking her vibrant heart but sweeping her to a life rich in passion and desire.

A love story, but so much more, Désirée explores the landscape of a young heart torn in two, giving readers a compelling true story of an ordinary girl whose unlikely brush with history leads to a throne no one would have expected.

An epic bestseller that has earned both critical acclaim and mass adoration, Désirée is at once a novel of the rise and fall of empires, the blush and fade of love, and the heart and soul of a woman.

"This is a fascinating panorama, from the blood-and-sawdust reek of Robespierre's guillotine to the final collapse of the Hundred Days."
-New York Times

What Readers Are Saying

"An absolutely marvelous story about a courageous woman in a difficult time who made difficult choices... one of the best books I have ever read."

"Désirée seems to come alive when I read, and I become her. This book is so romantic, so colorful and full of adventure."

"This book has meant so much to so many women."

"History has never before been as human as it is here, told through the pages of Désirée's (fictitious) diary."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402244025
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 10/01/2010
Pages: 608
Product dimensions: 7.44(w) x 11.80(h) x 1.28(d)

About the Author

Annemarie Selinko was born in Vienna in 1914. She was a successful journalist and novelist. In 1938 she moved to Copenhagen, and subsequently lived in Stockholm, Paris and London, before returning to Copenhagen. She died in Copenhagen in 1986.

Read an Excerpt

Marseilles, at the beginning of Germinal, Year II (The end of March, 1794, by Mama's old-fashioned reckoning)

A woman can usually get what she wants from a man if she has a well-developed figure. So I've decided to stuff four handkerchiefs into the front of my dress tomorrow; then I shall look really grown up. Actually I am grown up already, but nobody else knows that, and I don't altogether look it.

Last November I was fourteen, and Papa gave me this lovely diary for my birthday. It's a shame to spoil these beautiful white pages with writing. There's a little lock at the side of the diary, and I can lock it up. Even my sister Julie won't know what I put in it. It was my last present from dear Papa. My father was the silk merchant François Clary, of Marseilles; he died two months ago, of congestion of the lungs.

"What shall I write in that book?" I asked in perplexity when I saw it on the table among my presents. Papa smiled and kissed me on the forehead. "The story of Citizeness Bernardine Eugénie Désirée Clary," he said, and suddenly he looked sad.

I am starting my future history tonight, because I'm so excited I can't get to sleep. So I slid softly out of bed, and I only hope Julie, over there, won't be awakened by the flickering of the candle. She'd make a frightful scene. The reason why I'm excited is that tomorrow I'm going with my sister-in- law Suzanne to see Deputy Albitte and ask him to release Etienne.

Etienne is my brother, and his life is in danger. Two days ago the police suddenly came to arrest him. Such things do happen these days; it's only five years since the great Revolution, and people say it's not over yet. Anyhow, lots of people are guillotined every day in the Town Hall square, and it's not safe to be related to aristocrats. Fortunately, we haven't any fine folk among our relatives. Papa made his own way, and he built up Grandpa's little business into one of the biggest silk firms in Marseilles. Papa was very glad about the Revolution, though just before it he had been appointed a Purveyor to the Court and had sent some blue silk velvet to the Queen. Etienne says the velvet was never paid for. Papa almost cried when he read to us the first broadside giving the Rights of Man. Etienne has been running the business since Papa died. When Etienne was arrested, Marie, our cook, who used to be my nurse, said quietly to me, "Eugénie, I hear that Albitte is coming to town. Your sister-in-law must go to see him and try to get Citizen Etienne Clary set free." Marie always knows what's going on in town.

At supper we were all very dismal. Two places at the table were empty-Papa's chair next to Mama and Etienne's next to Suzanne. Mama won't let anyone use Papa's chair. I kept thinking of Albitte and crumbling my bread into little balls. That annoyed Julie. She is only four years older, but she wants to mother me all the time and it makes me wild. "Eugénie," she said, "it's bad manners to crumble your bread."

I stopped making bread balls and said, "Albitte is in town."

The others took no notice. They never do when I say anything. So I said it again. "Albitte is in town."

At that Mama said, "Who is Albitte, Eugénie?"

Suzanne was not listening, she was sobbing into her soup.

"Albitte," I said, proud of my knowledge, "is the Jacobin Deputy for Marseilles. He is staying a week and will be in the Town Hall every day. And tomorrow Suzanne must go to see him; she must ask him why Etienne has been arrested, and insist that it must be a misunderstanding."

"But," Suzanne sobbed, looking at me, "he wouldn't receive me!"

"I think-I think it might be better," said Mama doubtfully, "for Suzanne to ask our lawyer to see Albitte."

Sometimes my family make me sick. Mama won't have a jar of marmalade made at home unless she can give it a stir. And yet she will leave a matter of life and death to our silly old lawyer. I expect many grown-ups are like that.

"We must see Albitte ourselves," I said, "and Suzanne, as Etienne's wife, is the one who should go. If you're scared, Suzanne, I'll go, and I'll ask Albitte to release my big brother."

"Don't you dare go to the Town Hall!" said Mama at once. Then she went on with her soup.

"Mama, I think..."

"I do not wish to discuss the matter further," said Mama, and Suzanne began sobbing into her soup again.

After supper I went upstairs to see whether Persson had got back. You see, in the evening I give Persson French lessons. He has the sweetest old horse-face imaginable. He's terribly tall and thin, and he's the only fair-haired man I know. That's because he is a Swede. Heaven only knows where Sweden is-somewhere up by the North Pole, I think. Persson showed me once on the map, but I forget where. Persson's papa has a silk business in Stockholm, and the business is somehow connected with ours here. So Persson came to Marseilles for a year to be an assistant in Papa's business. Everyone says you can only learn the silk trade in Marseilles. So one day Persson came to our house. At first we couldn't make out a word of what he said. He declared that he was talking French, but it didn't sound like French at all. Mama got a room ready for him on the top floor, and said that in these unsettled times it was better for Persson to live with us.

I found Persson had come in; really he is such a respectable young man, and we sat down in the parlour. Usually he reads to me from the newspapers, and I correct his pronunciation. And once more, as so often, I got out the old broadside about the Rights of Man that Papa had brought home, and then Persson and I listened to each other reciting it, because we wanted to learn it all by heart. Persson's old horse-face grew quite solemn, and he said he envied me because I belonged to the nation that had presented these great thoughts to the world. "Liberty, Equality, and the Sovereignty of the People," he declaimed, sitting next to me.

Then he said, "Much blood has been shed to establish these new laws, so much innocent blood. And it must not have been shed in vain, mademoiselle."

Of course, Persson is a foreigner, and he always calls Mama "Mme Clary," and me "Mlle Eugénie," though that is forbidden; we are both just "Citizeness Clary."

Suddenly Julie came into the room. "Would you come for a moment, Eugénie?" she said, and took me to Suzanne's room.

Suzanne was sitting hunched up on the sofa, sipping port wine. Port is supposed to be strengthening, but I am never given a glass, because young girls do not need strengthening, Mama says. Mama was sitting next to Suzanne, and I could see that she was trying to look energetic. When she does that, she looks more frail and helpless than ever; she hunches up her narrow shoulders, and her face looks very small under the little widow's cap she has worn for two months. My poor mama reminds you much more of an orphan child than a widow.

"We have decided," said Mama, "that tomorrow Suzanne will try to see Deputy Albitte. And," Mama added, clearing her throat, "you are to go with her, Eugénie!"

"I am afraid to go alone, among all the crowds of people," Suzanne murmured. I could see that the wine had not strengthened her, only made her drowsy. And I wondered why I was to go with her, and not Julie.

"Suzanne has made this decision for Etienne's sake," said Mama, "and it will be a comfort to her, my dear child, to know that you are with her."

"Of course you must keep your mouth shut, and let Suzanne do the talking," Julie hastened to add.

I was glad that Suzanne was going to see Albitte. That was the best thing to do, the only thing, in my opinion. But they were treating me, as usual, like a child, so I said nothing.

"Tomorrow will be a very trying day for us all," said Mama, getting up. "So we must go to bed soon."

Table of Contents

Part One
The Daughter of a Silk Merchant of Marseilles

Marseilles, at the beginning of Germinal, Year II
(The end of March, 1794, by Mama's old-fashioned reckoning) 3
Twenty-four hours later 10
Marseilles, at the beginning of Prairial
(The lovely month of May, says Mama, is almost over) 28
Marseilles, middle of Thermidor
(Beginning of August, Mama says) 46
Marseilles, end of Fructidor
(Middle of September) 58
Paris, twelve months later-Fructidor, Year III 68
Paris, twenty-four hours-no, an eternity-later 76
Marseilles, three weeks later 89
Rome, three days after Christmas in the Year V
(Here in Italy they still use the pre-Revolutionary calendar: December 27, 1797) 92
Paris, end of Germinal, Year VI
(Except in our Republic, where everyone calls it April, 1798) 105
Paris, four weeks later 117

Part Two
Marshal Bernadotte's Lady

Sceaux, near Paris, autumn of Year VI (1798) 129
Sceaux, near Paris, New Year's Eve
(The last year of the eighteenth century begins) 142
Sceaux, near Paris, 17 Messidor, Year VII
(To Mama, probably July 4, 1799) 151
Sceaux, near Paris, a week later 152
Paris, 18 Brumaire of the Year VII
(In other countries: November 9, 1799 Our Republic has a new Constitution) 164
Paris, March 21, 1804
(Only the Magistrates stick to the Republican calendar, and write today: 1 Germinal of the Year XII) 178
Paris, May 20, 1804
(1 Prairial of the Year XII) 197
Paris, 9 Frimaire of the Year XII
(By the Church calendar: November 30, 1804) 207
Paris, at night after Napoleon's coronation
December 2, 1804 217
Paris, two weeks after the Emperor's coronation 233
In a stagecoach between Hanover in Germany and Paris,
September, 1805
(The Emperor has forbidden our Republican calendar My late mama would be pleased-she never could get used to it) 244
Paris, June 4, 1806 256
Summer, 1807, in a travelling coach somewhere in Europe 261
In our new home in the rue d'Anjou in Paris July, 1809 275
Villa la Grange, near Paris Autumn, 1809 284
Paris, December 16, 1809 292
Paris, end of June, 1810 303

Part Three
Our Lady of Peace

Paris, September, 1810 311
Paris, September 30, 1810 338
Helsingör in Denmark, the night of December 21 to
December 22, 1810 342
Hälsingborg, December 22, 1810
(Today I arrived in Sweden) 347
In the Royal Palace, Stockholm
End of the interminable winter of 1811 351
Castle Drottningholm in Sweden
Beginning of June, 1811 362
Paris, January 1, 1812 369
Paris, April, 1812 378
Paris, middle of September, 1812 382
Paris, two weeks later 389
Paris, December 16, 1812 394
Paris, December 19, 1812 402
Paris, end of January, 1813 411
Paris, February, 1813 415
Paris, beginning of April, 1813 421
Paris, summer, 1813 428
Paris, November, 1813 432
Paris, last week in March, 1814 442
Paris, March 30, 1814 446
Paris, March 31, 1814 454
Paris, April, 1814 456
Paris, middle of April, 1814 477
Paris, early May, 1814 491
Paris, Whitmonday, May 30, 1814
Late in the evening 498
Paris, late autumn, 1814 504
Paris, March 5, 1815 510
Paris, March 20, 1815 515
Paris, June 18, 1815 518
Paris, June 23, 1815 522
Paris, during the night of June 29—30, 1815 525

Part Four
The Queen of Sweden

Paris, February, 1818 543
Paris, June, 1821 549
In a hotel room in Aix-la-Chapelle, June, 1822 552
In the Royal Palace, Stockholm
Spring, 1823 561
Drottningholm Castle in Sweden
August 16, 1823 566
Royal Palace in Stockholm
February, 1829 570
Royal Palace in Stockholm
May, 1829 575
My coronation day (August 21, 1829) 582
Author's Note 589
Reading Group Guide 591
About the Author 595

Customer Reviews

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Desiree 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is the basically factual story of a merchant's daughter who, after being scorned by Napoleon in favor of Josephine, goes on to marry one of Napoleon's generals, Bernadotte, who actually becomes the King of Sweden. My great-grandmother told me this story years before I read the book.
LauraFabiani More than 1 year ago
Désirée is an epic and sweeping historical novel written as the diary format of Bernardine Eugénie Désirée Clary, Napoleon's first fiancée. It covers the period from 1794 to 1829 when Napoleon is a young dirt-poor soldier who meets Désirée, the 14 year-old daughter of a silk merchant, to his rise and fall as the Emperor of France and her coronation as the Queen of Sweden and Norway. This book fascinated me. Initially it was slow and sometimes the political and military details were extensive, but overall I loved the story. Halfway through the book, the political intrigue grew and I looked forward to picking up where I left off reading, as the events became more suspenseful, especially during the Hundred Days. Because it is written in the first person, I quickly was attracted to Désirée's voice, her innocence and her eventual transformation. She was sensible, with a head on her shoulders, a quick wit and a sense of humour. I was swept away into her world as I read her intimate thoughts, her desires, her insecurities, her intelligence even as a young girl and on into womanhood. There are many characters in this novel, many of them based on historical figures. We get an insider's view of the Bonaparte family, since Désirée became Napoleon's sister-in-law when her older sister, Julie, married Napoleon's brother, Joseph. Initially, Désirée is devastated when Napoleon marries Josephine, but later she becomes friends with her. The book depicts Napoleon as ambitious and self-centered, fighting for the freedom of the French people more for glory and fame than true love of the cause. From beginning to end, it is clear that Désirée loves her country and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which her father taught her to understand and respect. This theme runs throughout the book and influences Désirée's decisions and actions. The novel covers a lot of history, but the account in never dry. Actually, history is brought alive through the eyes of a woman caught in the middle of it. Sometimes, though, I found there lacked emotion in the accounts, such as when she is reunited with her son and later, her husband. The period of the French Revolution was a time of much political unrest, and I really liked reading the perspective of Désirée, who married Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. He later was adopted by the childless Swedish King Karl XIII and became King of Sweden and Norway and subsequently transferred his family to Sweden. This is where I had a hard time with Desirée's decision to leave Sweden, her husband and young child shortly after she arrives because she felt she was not wanted by the Swedish aristocracy and people. She went back to Paris where she unselfishly helps her family, particularly Julie, who was weak and whiny. Although she and Jean-Baptiste love each other, they accepted this long-distance separation, and remained married and loyal to one another. This book sparked my interest so much that I did extra research on the Internet, and I now want to see the 1954 movie Désirée starring Marlon Brandon and Jean Simmons. If you are a historical fan, this book will not disappoint. Selinko's writing is captivating. You will be drawn to Désirée, a commoner who was a part of the life of Napoleon, helped establish the Bernadotte dynasty in Sweden and ruled as Queen without forgetting her humble beginnings.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Desiree is an interesting book. It is written in the style of a journal from Desiree's point of view. Her journal describes her life from her teenage years to her old age. She takes you on a ride through her engagement to Napoleon Bonaparte, her attempted suicide because of the broken engagement, and her hasty marriage to another young general. Desiree exploits the gossip and politics of the age of Napoleon. I loved the historical insight and added fiction. Although it is long you will quickly be drawn in and won't come out until you read the last page.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My latest purchase is great! I have always loved the movie "Desiree", however hadn't read the book. As always, the book contains much more material and deviates somewhat from the movie, I love getting the whole story. Fascinating!
gl More than 1 year ago
I expected Desiree to be another wonderful escape into historical fiction with a complicated plot, historical characters, much romance and drama and found it to be even better than I'd expected. Selinko does introduce Desiree to Bethoven, the leaders of the French Revolution, the Jacobines, Robispeare, Talleyrand. Desiree approaches them as ordinary people, regular citizens, albeit more powerful than most. Reading Desiree's impressions of them, we see these characters from the point of view of an ordinary woman, one who isn't interested in power but is painfully aware of what effects that powerful people have on the lives of everyone around them. The relationship between Desiree and Napoleon is based on far more than their early romance. Through Napoleon's special relationship with Desiree, we imagine how he might have been with a loyal friend that knew him when he had no money, few contacts, but great confidence and ambition. In the early years, Desiree and her prosperous middleclass family helped the Bonapartes. When Desiree's sister Julie married Napoleon's brother, her dowry and their business provided the Bonapartes with resources that helped Bonaparte rise in politics and the army. I particularly enjoyed the way that Selinko captured the unique and powerful link that we share with old friends and the way that she showed this in the relationship between Desiree and Napoleon. Though Napoleon and Desiree were secretly engaged, this was an early love. Napoleon was subsequent married to Josephine and Desiree married Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, another general in the French army. Bernadotte was loyal to the Republic and faced considerable trials because of his refusal to bow to Napoleon's wishes. His independence, integrity and superb tactical skills result in unexpected recognition and responsibility for Bernadotte. But his professional successes take a toll Desiree. Desiree, Jean Baptiste and their son make sacrifices for the countries that they love and their very humanity makes this story even more remarkable and moving. I thoroughly enjoyed Désirée: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love and would recommend it to anyone fond of historical fiction or the Napoleonic period or looking for an engaging and moving read. ISBN-10: 1402244029 - Paperback Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark; Reprint edition (October 1, 2010), 608 pages. Review copy provided by the publisher.
bridget3420 More than 1 year ago
I'm a sucker for a good love story but I also like for there to be some substance when it comes to the plot. Desiree is pure perfection! The writing is amazing and the characters will tug at your heart. It's a really great story!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing. A friend's mother found it and gave it to me because my name is Desiree. I'm sorry to say that it took me 2 years to start reading it, but am trying to figure out why. I have now read this book twice and plan on reading it again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is one of my all time favorites and it's not just because it is exciting, adventurous and has a true heroin that we would all love to be like. It is because I was named after this book and I am lucky enough to have a copy of the first publication.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book! I'm not quite finished with it, but I don't want it to end! The writing is done so wonderfully, the reader never wants to put it down. I love that it's based on historical facts.
celticlady53 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Desiree by AnneMarie Selinko is a re-released novel from Sourcebooks about Bernardine Eugénie Désirée Clary, a Frenchwoman who was engaged to Napoleon Bonaparte. Desiree was the daughter of a silk merchant who became Queen of Sweden and Norway. The story is told by Desiree and follows the lives of the Clary and Bonaparte familys. It depicts Napoleon's rise and ultimate fall as Emperor of France.After Napoleon breaks off the engagement to marry Josephine de Beauharnais. Desiree marries Jean Baptiste Bernadotte and they have one child, Oscar. Desiree had not desire to be involved in politics, but due to her relationship with Bonaparte, she ended up being the go between and messenger between her husband and Napoleon. As her husband rises up the ranks, she is perfectly happy to have a simple life. That all changes when her husband is adopted by the King of Sweden as the king has no heirs. In 1810 Desiree goes to the Swedish court but feels that she is not treated well and returns to Paris. In 1818 her husband becomes King of Sweden but Desiree does not go to Sweden until 1823, when she goes with her daughter-in-law and at her own request is crowned Queen in 1829. I had not read a lot about Napoleon and the Napoleonic Wars and I did enjoy this book. This is a story based on the history of France in the 1800's. A great story about a very courageous woman of her time.
iubookgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Originally published in 1951, Annemarie Selinko's epic story of love, loss and war withstands the test of time. Through the eyes of Bernardine Eugénie Désirée Clary, the reader is transported through history from the French Revolution's Reign of Terror to the aftermath of Napoleon's rule. Désirée's fictitious diary is heartfelt and charts her course from a humble citizeness of the French Republic to the greatest heights.I'm not sure my words can do this book justice. Désirée's story brought me to tears on several occasions with its raw emotion. She endures profound heartbreak both personally and as an observer of her country's pain yet is never defeated. You will root for Désirée and be completely captivated by her story. We readers are indebted to Sourcebooks for bringing this book back into print. Désirée is a beautiful and triumphant piece of historical fiction. I urge you to read it whether you are a fan of this genre or not.
blodeuedd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was just enchanting, I was a little worried at first since it was published in the 50's but this latest version does not differ from books today. It was just like a historical novel should be like.Desiree Clary was the daughter of a Silk Merchant from Marseille, and when she was 14 she met the poverished Napoleon Bonaparte. Her sister married his brother, and that was sure a catch since these two girls had a great dowry. Napoleon asked Desiree to marry him and that would take place when she turned 16. But sadly before that he went to Paris where he meet the enigmatic and beautiful, and older, Josephine. Desiree would later meet Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte whom she would marry. By then totally mixed up in the Bonaparte family and Napoleon's need for more. Later the Swedish asked Bernadotte to become crown prince of Sweden. And so this simple merchant daughter from France become a real queen.I do not need to say that this book was filled with history. Napoleon's struggle to the top, him becoming emperor and making all his siblings kings and queens. The years of wars, with the German states, Russia, and so on. And in the middle of all this stood Desiree. First as a relative to the family and then as a wife to one of the most known Generals in France, all of Europe. It was fascinating to see history unfold around her as she wrote in her diary and telling how it all was. I always did wonder. Napoleon and her, did they really never have an affair? This book makes it as she was deeply in love with her husband, who never strayed on her, and him only taking a mistress later on cos it was expected. But then I googled and read there was one maybe, and another man whose mistress she seems to have been. I am glad that was left out, because doing that this whole book is one romantic fantasy.Desiree herself, well, she never gave Sweden a chance. Sure it's colder, and she was not a princess, but I felt she should have stayed cos of her son. Instead she left for France.Other than the romance, there is the history, wars and political intrigues. This book never has a dull moment. It was very hard to put down in the end, even if it was really long. The author has of course taken artistic freedom but she stays true to the big picture.One other thing, I have sure not read a book in a long while that mentions Finland so much, of course I enjoy that. The Swedes really wanted us back and hoped Bernadotte could go to war and conquer Finland back, alas no.Final thoughts: A story about a fascinating woman who lived in an interesting period of time.
Lindaosier on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had so much fun reading this book. It is about a young girl Desiree who lives in france during the period of time after the french revolution. she meets napoleon when he is poor and nothing and falls in love. Although they dont end up together they remain in eachothers lives and greatly impact eachothers. Napoleon become a great leader and Desiree becomes the queen of sweden. This was very relatable even though it takes place hundreds of years ago. It shows you that young girls are always go through the same funny and cute experiences.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book in high school and have never forgotten the beauty and enchantment I felt during and after reading it. It was the most intriguing love story ever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bookworm1951 More than 1 year ago
A Historical Fiction Classic. The author expertly integrates historical fact with fiction and romance. I read this book many years ago. I found it just as wonderful the second time around. A great story about first love, coming of age and how life experiences help weave the tapestry of life. Anyone interested in French history, Napoleon or romance will enjoy this book. Highly Recommend. Originally published in 1953.
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Kacy_L More than 1 year ago
I read this book as a teenager and enjoyed it, but now that I know a lot more about the world, and politics, I found it to be truly outstanding. It was one of the most engaging books I have read recently. I would like to know even more about the history of many of the characters.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read it many times since it was published. And still enjoy reading it, a definate favorite!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago