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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Love for an island is the sternest passion: pulsing beyond the blood, through roots and loam, it overflows the boundary of bedrooms, and courses past the fragile walls of homes ...
AT THE HEART OF A glittering archipelago that encircles the waist of the Americas lies the birthplace of Empress Josephine. Today the island of Martinique is a bustling French département. It is as much a part of France, theoretically, as Loir-et-Cher or the Pas de Calais, except that it is thousands of miles away from the mother country, set in the turquoise of the Caribbean Sea. The human mosaic that is its populace tells a complex story of slavery and settlement. The racial melange of its people derives from Africans and Amerindians, white planters and indentured Indians who replaced slaves in the cane fields, as well as Chinese and Syrian merchants.
The island's geography is as variegated as its people. Shaped like one of the exotic butterflies that so abundantly populate its foliage, Martinique is a voluptuous island, its rolling hills interspersed by verdant valleys. Mangoes and pineapples flourish here without any human encouragement. Bananas grow upwards, swollen and yellowing towards the sun, and fat green breadfruits cling heavily to the trees. In the north, dense lush forests are decorated with ferns and orchids. This luxuriant herbage is counterpointed in the south by vegetation typical of any dry zone: cactus and brush. Indeed, Martinique is like two islands in one. The side bordering the Atlantic is steep and subject to a heavy surf. The other coastline, which is fringed by the Caribbean Sea, is as smooth as an azure rug.
Martinique has a lurid, swashbuckling history. Enticed by tales of an island populated 'entirely by women', Christopher Columbus dropped anchor in 'Matinino' in 1502. By then the island's original population, an Amerindian tribe called the Arawaks, had been massacred by the more warlike Caribs. The latter coexisted relatively peaceably with the first trickle of Europeans. Western arrivistes could be divided roughly into two categories, the desperate and the damned: people fleeing from justice, soldiers fed up with fighting, sailors who came and never left. All the newcomers were dismayed to discover that this particular paradise was prodigiously populated with snakes.
The French officially claimed the island in the 1630s and the colonial race began in earnest. Intoxicated by the promise of the New World and the fabulous wealth to be found there, settlers came from far afield: from France mainly, but also from England, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and later Italy. Adventurers with titles of nobility newly bought or forged, and younger sons hoping to earn the fortunes they could not inherit, joined the recidivists, vagabonds, beggars and prostitutes that the French authorities sent to the island as engagés to work out their prison terms in exchange for their freedom. These new migrants were dreamers and gamblers all, flush with hope, dazzled by the possibility of reinventing their lives.
But the islands were lawless. Pirates and privateers, with their histories of murder, violence and shipwrecks, dominated both the commercial and military lives of the colonies. Clad in their signature garb of leather waistcoat and gold hooped earrings and wielding well-honed machetes, this international cast of reprobates terrorized the daily life of the region and indelibly wrote themselves into the Caribbean's colourful mythology. These were the golden days of piracy, the most unpredictable and dangerous of times. The 'brotherhood of the coast' counted amongst its members men like the Englishman Bonnet, who claimed that he had taken to the sea to escape a nagging wife, and the French nobleman De Grammont, who killed his sister's seducer in a duel; they fought alongside the likes of Monbars (the 'Exterminator'), and the 'Emperor of Buccaneers', Sir Henry Morgan.
By the eighteenth century Martinique's flourishing trades, legal and illegal, had turned it into a thriving colony. The Caribs had been almost totally exterminated. Slavery, introduced more than a hundred years earlier, had been stepped up in order to meet the demand for sugar, the 'white gold' that had enriched Caribbean islands beyond all expectation. Martinique's geographical position as gateway to both South and North America guaranteed its military importance and gained it the nickname the 'pearl of the Antilles'. Its two largest cities, Saint-Pierre and Fort-Royal, were the most cosmopolitan in Les Isles du Vent – the Windward Islands – a playground and meeting place for traders, travellers and military men alike. It was no wonder that, in a treaty concluded with Britain in 1763, when presented with the choice between holding on to Canada (which Voltaire famously dismissed as 'a few acres of snow') or to the commercially and strategically important 'sugar islands' including Martinique, Santo Domingo and Guadeloupe, the French chose the latter.
Josephine's family story is intricately woven into the tapestry of Martinique's history. Pierre Bélain d'Esnambuc, the founder of French power in the Antilles, who had taken possession of the island on behalf of Louis XIII in 1635, was one of her ancestors. She was also a descendant of Guillaume d'Orange, a courageous and audacious leader, who was responsible for protecting the colonials from Carib aggression in 1640 and who played a crucial role in defending Martinique during the Dutch Navy's attempt to take the island in 1674. Six generations on, a descendant of both these men – Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sannois, daughter of a prosperous plantation dynasty – married Joseph-Gaspard de Tascher de La Pagerie.
The marriage was not one that her father, Joseph-François des Vergers de Sannois, would have regarded as a social coup. The groom's father, Gaspard-Joseph, had arrived on the island in 1726 with nothing but his certificate of nobility to commend him. His pedigree was impressive enough: his ancestors included a Tascher who had endowed a monastery in 1142 and another who had been a crusader in 1190. But Gaspard himself was made of less impressive stuff and he didn't particularly prosper in Martinique. Despite a promising marriage to a plantation heiress, he had not been able to consolidate his position and ended up working as steward on a number of plantations, living off the good will of his powerful connections. His reputation on the island was so poor – in spite of his constant boasting about his noble descent – that the father of one of his daughters' suitors hesitated to agree to marriage because of 'the loose living of her father and the public disorder of his affair's.'
Des Vergers de Sannois père had an equally noble pedigree, the bulk of the family originating in Brest, but his roots on the island were considerably longer than those of the Tascher family, as long as the history of settlement itself. He was a true Creole, the name given to those of European descent born in the colonies. (The slaves called them bekés, an Ibo word which, derived from the phrase 'whites found under the leaves', had derogatory connotations of low or illegitimate birth.) The Sannois family had numerous plantations scattered throughout the region; their holdings on Martinique alone were worth 60,000 livres, in addition to which they had substantial cash savings. As the putative head of one of the oldest and most renowned families on the island, he was a grand blanc, one of the elite caste of plantation dynasties who intermarried and interrelated, dominating island life through their virtually unimpeded power. (The petits blancs, many of them the poor white descendants of engagés, worked largely as sailors, petty administrators and tradesmen.)
Were it not for the dangerously advanced age of Rose-Claire, M. de Sannois would probably never have considered the union. But at twenty-five she was – by the terms of the island nobility – virtually unmarriageable. No doubt Rose-Claire, who had never left her small island, was seduced by the young Joseph-Gaspard de Tascher de La Pagerie, with his easy manner and veneer of sophistication acquired during his five years at the French court, where he had been a page to dauphiness MarieJosèphe de Saxe. But her father was not. Still, the young man had a good military reputation; he had become the first lieutenant in the coastal artillery on his return to Martinique and had distinguished himself in the military skirmishes of the island. This was small consolation for the Sannois family, but against the fear of remaining without an heir her reluctant parents agreed to the marriage.
The couple's first child was born in Martinique on 23 June 1763 and five weeks later the robust baby girl was christened at the tiny white church in Trois-Îlets where her parents had married two years earlier. The Capuchin friar who conducted the service wrote in his records, 'Today, 27 July 1763, I baptized a little girl aged five weeks, born of the legitimate marriage of Messire Joseph-Gaspard de Tascher and Madame Rose-Claire des Vergers de Sannois'. The child was put forward for baptism by her maternal grandfather and her paternal grandmother. Her given name was Marie-Josèphe-Rose de Tascher de La Pagerie. After the ceremony, which had been attended by a large gathering of family and friends, Rose – or little Yeyette, as she had been dubbed by her mulatto nurse, Marion – was, as tradition demanded, taken on a tour of neighbouring plantations where she was feted, kissed and complimented, and numerous items were added to her layette.
After the celebrations the little girl returned to the extraordinary place where she had been born. The plantation, or as it is called l'Habitation de la Pagerie, now a museum, is situated in the southwest of Martinique in the tiny hamlet of Trois-Îlets, which takes its name from the three miniature islands that adorn its bay. Until it was hit by a hurricane, the town's vista was dominated by the small white church in which little Rose was christened. To the west of Trois-Îlets lies the plantation, nestling on a little plateau in the middle of a slim, funnel-shaped gorge. Its setting, wrote one observer, seems a 'haven of peace'.
Known in the area as 'Little Guinea', after the African origin of most of its slaves, L'Habitation de La Pagerie was and is a place of exceptional natural beauty. It is not difficult to understand the passionate attachment Rose's family had for it. They felt that they had literally carved their new life out of the wilderness. In order to subdue this land and claim it, they had waged an unceasing war against nature. Almost as quickly as her ancestors cut and cleared, burnt and built, the vigorous vegetation of the island went about sabotaging their work; splitting walls, dislodging stones and destroying foundations. Every inch of the plantation's five hundred hectares represented a victory to Rose's family, a monument to their will, a symbol of their tenacious ability to prevail in the most impossible of circumstances.
The 'great house' at La Pagerie was a relatively modest affair. As was the tradition, it was built on slightly raised land so that the planter could keep a continuous eye on his investment. It was a simple, one-storey building, white and wooden and airy, covered with tiles and perched on a foundation of large squared stones. Inside the house was equipped with an eclectic mixture of traditional French furniture and pieces constructed in the Americas. The rooms were scented by blossoms cultivated on the property: tuberoses, jasmine, immortelles. Around three sides of the house ranged a glacis, a type of covered veranda with slatted railings which the young Rose spent much time peering through.
Immediately surrounding the house was a neat shady garden, dominated by large tamarind, mango and frangipani trees, their flowers and foliage almost obscuring the house. To the extreme right and left were the outbuildings, including the kitchen which served the great house. A hedge of hibiscus, roses, immortelles and acacias surrounded the entire domestic compound. It is easy to imagine Rose as a little baby being walked by her nurse up and down 'palm alley', which extended to the right of the house. This honour guard of gigantic palm trees rose like Roman columns on either side of the road, their verdant fronds interlaced to make a giant canopy; it remained one of her favourite places.
As the months passed, Yeyette's plump little legs carried her furtheraround her family's plantation. The true majesty of La Pagerie was not its architecture but its land. It was set in a valley dramatic with slopes and gullies and giant ceiba trees, about which Josephine often reminisced. The voluptuous hills were interspersed with green pastures and savannahs and field after field of green sugar cane. Here on rolling grassy land cows and sheep endlessly grazed. The sugar cane rippled continuously in the breeze, creating a song that never ceased, and enclosed the factory and the dwelling houses 'like a sea'. Visible through the gaps in the foliage was the iridescent blue of the Caribbean water.
The area was originally cultivated by the Caribs, so by the time Rose's family settled there it was already richly endowed with fruits and vegetables. On the slopes of the hills grew a mixture of coffee, cocoa, cotton and cassava, while the abrupt and precipitous mountain sides were covered to the summits with luxuriant hardwood forests. At the edges of the plantation, always threatening to encroach, was the dreamscape of the rainforest. Here tangled vines and serpentine lianas concealed ravines and hung their garlands around anarchic vegetation. Sustaining all of this was the river La Pagerie, which ran like a vital artery through the body of the property. Sometimes sluggish and noxious, sometimes meandering and sweet tasting, at other times dangerous and swift with unpredictable currents, it is really numerous rivers rolled into one; today it is known as 'the River with Five Names'.
Viewed from the summit of the hills of Lamentin, L'Habitation de La Pagerie is even more spectacular. The plantation is bordered on three sides by a range of hills that spread out, gradually losing their green to the misty blue of the sky. The highest peak, Carbet, is wrapped in a headdress of vapour. On the fourth side the property slopes down to the bay of Trois-Îlets. From this vantage point the funnel-shaped valley is reminiscent of some giant natural amphitheatre. Every slope and gully is cloaked in foliage. The air is fresh with salt, sweet with the scent of tropical flowers. The sense of peace is absolute. It is no wonder that Rose, buffered between hills and sea, felt so safe here. Her family's land stretched as far as the eye could see; to a young girl it must have seemed like the entire world.
In the days of Rose's youth La Pagerie was indeed a world, an enclave complete unto itself. Like most plantations it was a self-sufficient community, as self-contained as any small town, sustained largely by what was grown on the property and by the hunting and fishing yielded from its own lands. It had its own carpenters and ironmongers, its own flour mill and sawmill and a tiny hospital. While the cane crop provided the backbone of the plantation's economy, La Pagerie also sold the small amounts of coffee, indigo and cotton cultivated on its slopes. It even produced its own honey and polish, much sought after in the district, derived from the large colony of bees that thrived amongst its myriad varieties of vegetation.
The La Pagerie family ruled like despots, absolute monarchs of all they surveyed, and little Rose was brought up with the privileges of any royal heir. She was surrounded by loving relatives and courtiers, including her mother and father, her grandparents de Sannois, her aunt, nicknamed Rosette, and her sisters, Catherine-Désireé, born 11 December 1764, and the youngest girl, Marie-Françoise (known as Manette), born in early September 1766. She was watched over by her much loved nurse, Marion, and her young helpers, Geneviève and Mauriciette, who bathed and dressed her, pampered and cosseted her. Brought up amidst slaves who were exclusively occupied with fulfilling her every desire, Rose was typical of many Creole children, who were often characterized as 'excessively capricious'. By her own admission it was a 'spoilt childhood'. From a very early age she was blessed by a sense that she was loved and appreciated and beautiful. Despite this she managed to remain a sweet-natured child of enormously appealing appearance. With her large, amber eyes and luminous complexion, little Yeyette was a delicious sight. Her chestnut hair, meticulously curled, glistened golden in the island's bright sunshine. Her skin, burnished by the sun, glowed. The 'pretty Creole', as her neighbours called her, had an irresistible charm even in her infancy. Everyone adored her, particularly her usually stern grandfather.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Rose of Martinique"
Copyright © 2003 Andrea Stuart.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
|List of Illustrations||ix|
|4||Alexandre in Martinique||64|
|7||Return of the Native||89|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am a high school student and i had to read this book for my research project. The novel The Rose of Martinique is a book i would not normally find myself reading. I feel it was an interesting book, however, i did not like certain things. The beginning of the story dragged on and it was very difficult to understand. I had to reread the first chapter a couple of times to finally understand what i was reading and what the author was trying to explain. The chapters after that were much easier to understand and to comprehend. Something else i did not like was how the author went into to many details in some parts and that is what made it a bit more confusing and it was hard for me to keep up.What surprised me was that Josephine Bonaparte's life was much more interesting than i anticipated. Reading about her struggles and her whole love life with Napoleon and their whole story was what kept me reading the book. I firmly believe this book gave a lot of background information on anything that had to do with Josephine. I learned about her family background such as what kind of a family she came from, all the fortune in her and their importance. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to find Josephine's full life story. However i would not recommend it to anyone looking for an easy read.
I am a high school student and I had to read this book for a research paper. The author, Andrea Stuart, goes very into depth of Josephine life and while reading the book, it was a little challenging because of how much history and backstory that was told. Although I would’ve preferred the backstory be less, it made the outcomes make a lot more sense. Stuart showcases Josephine’s life in such a beautiful way, and it was very interesting to learn about her family’s life, also her ancestry. I truly liked how Stuart included the romantic love letters Napoleon sent Josephine when he left Paris to lead the French Army into Italy during the French Revolution, and overall, the book was a very interesting read and I enjoyed finding out more about Josephine’s life and how she fulfilled her reign as Empress of France.
I am a high school student and I read this book for a research project. I found this historical novel to contain relevant facts along with telling the fascinating love story of Napoleon and Josephine. The first ten chapters did however supply almost too many facts on the struggling married life of Alexandre and Josephine. My favorite part of the book were the letters between Josephine and Napoleon because it provided insight on the love they shared. Some sections in the book I found to lack some details, for instance, the book briefly mentions Napoleon's heir to the throne, requiring me to do outside research. Overall this novel was an interesting read. You do not have to know too much about history to enjoy this book, it has something for everyone including an epic love story with it's scandals and affairs along with a satisfying ending.
I am high school student and I had to read this book for my research project. The Rose of Martinique is book I would have never chosen to read. I have never be a fan of any type of historic novels and I though in order to get my research project done I would have to drag myself to finish reading this book. But that wasn't the case at all. I found myself getting really into the book and not being able to put it down. Although the beginning of the book drags on I found it really informative and helpful in my research project. I would highly recommend this book to anyone doing any type of research of Joséphine Bonaparte. If you choose this book for recreational reading I would just like to say that it does going into very small detail about other characters and events that don't really pertain to the events going on in Joséphines life which can sometimes be confusing. Overall it was a very informative book and I enjoyed it.
I am a high school student and i had to read this book for my research project. I normally don't like books that are lengthy and that have to do with historical events. However, i found myself not being able to put the book down when i started reading it. This book pulls you in once you actually start to read it. However, there are some things that i didn't like about this book and made it harder to comprehend and read. The beginning of the story was confusing and dragged on. For example, The character Josephine is referred to as "Rose" until she marries Napoleon. I also had to reread some chapters because they seemed to drag on. However, as i read more and more i read into the book, the story started to pull together and i found the beginning chapters very helpful and relevant to the book and its outcome. On a good note, i really appreciated how the author provided in-depth information about what was not only going on in Josephine's life, but also what was going on in the country from all different aspects in that time period. I also love how the author took time and out of their way to put extensive details about everything. It was to a point where i could actually picture in my mind how something was or how someone felt like, especially the main character, Josephine. What startled me however, was Josephine Bonaparte's life. I did not expect it to be interesting or to be able to actually want me to keep reading the book. When I got to the later years of her life,especially when she met Napoleon, was when i got pulled into book. I found it amazing reading about her struggles and how she managed to overcome them and use the criticism she received to build herself up into a strong woman. The most interesting thing about the book though, was her love life. It was full of love and lust. The turbulent relationship between Josephine and Napoleon's really amused me.Even though starting the book was a pain to read, it was a pleasure finishing it because it became easy and enjoyable to read. I believe that this book really gave me a good perspective about her life as well as accurate information about events in that time period which helped understand why she made some decisions. There is a lot of background in this book, not only about the main character herself, but also other characters. Overall, i really enjoyed reading this book and found it a little depressing when i finished. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to know about Josephine and her life. I particularly would recommend this book to anyone who needs research because this book gives a lot of detail. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who has little patience on trying to comprehend a book or who might skip over the first chapters because the whole book would be confusing.
I am a high school student and i had to read this book for my research project. I normally don't like books that are lengthy and that have to do with historical events. However, i found myself not being able to put the book down when i started reading it. This book pulls you in once you actually start to read it. However, there are some things that i didn't like about this book and made it harder to comprehend and read. The beginning of the story was confusing and dragged on. For example, The character Josephine is referred to as "Rose" until she marries Napoleon. I also had to reread some chapters because they seemed to drag on. However, as i read more and more i read into the book, the story started to pull together and i found the beginning chapters very helpful and relevant to the book and its outcome. On a good note, i really appreciated how the author provided in-depth information about what was not only going on in Josephine's life, but also what was going on in the country from all different aspects in that time period. I also love how the author took time and out of their way to put extensive details about everything. It was to a point where i could actually picture in my mind how something was or how someone felt like, especially the main character, Josephine. What startled me however, was Josephine Bonaparte's life. I did not expect it to be interesting or to be able to actually want me to keep reading the book. When I got to the later years of her life, especially when she met Napoleon, was when i got pulled into book. I found it amazing reading about her struggles and how she managed to overcome them and use the criticism she received to build herself up into a strong woman. The most interesting thing about the book though, was her love life. It was full of love and lust. The turbulent relationship between Josephine and Napoleon's really amused me.Even though starting the book was a pain to read, it was a pleasure finishing it because it became easy and enjoyable to read. I believe that this book really gave me a good perspective about her life as well as accurate information about events in that time period which helped understand why she made some decisions. There is a lot of background in this book, not only about the main character herself, but also other characters. Overall, i really enjoyed reading this book and found it a little depressing when i finished. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to know about Josephine and her life. I particularly would recommend this book to anyone who needs research because this book gives a lot of detail. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who has little patience on trying to comprehend a book or who might skip over the first chapters because the whole book would be confusing.