From the award-winning historian and author of Revolutionary Mothers (“Incisive, thoughtful, spiced with vivid anecdotes. Don’t miss it.”—Thomas Fleming) and Civil War Wives (“Utterly fresh . . . Sensitive, poignant, thoroughly fascinating.”—Jay Winik), here is the remarkable life of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, renowned as the most beautiful woman of nineteenth-century Baltimore, whose marriage in 1803 to Jérôme Bonaparte, the youngest brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, became inextricably bound to the diplomatic and political histories of the United States, France, and England.
In Wondrous Beauty, Carol Berkin tells the story of this audacious, outsized life. We see how the news of the union infuriated Napoleon and resulted in his banning the then pregnant Betsy Bonaparte from disembarking in any European port, offering his brother the threat of remaining married to that “American girl” and forfeiting all wealth and power—or renouncing her, marrying a woman of Napoleon’s choice, and reaping the benefits.
Jérôme ended the marriage posthaste and was made king of Westphalia; Betsy fled to England, gave birth to her son and only child, Jérôme’s namesake, and was embraced by the English press, who boasted that their nation had opened its arms to the cruelly abandoned young wife.
Berkin writes that this naïve, headstrong American girl returned to Baltimore a wiser, independent woman, refusing to seek social redemption or a return to obscurity through a quiet marriage to a member of Baltimore’s merchant class. Instead she was courted by many, indifferent to all, and initiated a dangerous game of politics—a battle for a pension from Napoleon—which she won: her pension from the French government arrived each month until Napoleon’s exile.
Using Betsy Bonaparte’s extensive letters, the author makes clear that the “belle of Baltimore” disdained America’s obsession with moneymaking, its growing ethos of democracy, and its rigid gender roles that confined women to the parlor and the nursery; that she sought instead a European society where women created salons devoted to intellectual life—where she was embraced by many who took into their confidence, such as Madame de Staël, Madame Récamier, the aging Marquise de Villette (goddaughter of Voltaire), among others—and where aristocracy, based on birth and breeding rather than commerce, dominated society.
Wondrous Beauty is a riveting portrait of a woman torn between two worlds, unable to find peace in either—one a provincial, convention-bound new America; the other a sophisticated, extravagant Old World Europe that embraced freedoms, a Europe ultimately swallowed up by decadence and idleness.
A stunning revelation of an extraordinary age.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Carol Berkin received her A.B. from Barnard College and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. She taught at Baruch College from 1972 to 2008 and has taught at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York since 1983. She is currently Baruch Presidential Professor of History. Berkin is the author of Civil War Wives, Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Loyalist, and First Generations: Women in Colonial America, and numerous articles and reviews. She lives in New York City and Guilford, Connecticut.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Baltimore's Bonaparte This review is from: Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte (Hardcover) I love memoirs and biographraphies of significant American women - of which Carol Berkin is a venerable expert. Her previous works include "Revolutionary Mothers" and "Civil War Wives." With a name like Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, I knew this woman would be more than just a relation of Napoleon. When I saw this book at the airport I was intrigued to learn what made "Betsy" such a celebrity. There are several aspects of this book that resonated with me. Berkin's treatment of revealing Betsy's character honors her strengths and weaknesses as a diplomat, businesswoman, and "wondrous beauty." To build on who she was, I found her significant relationships with men, from her father, son, and of course Napoleon's younger brother fascinatng. Its crazy to think that the conflict between France and Britain would sour her marriage to Prince Jerome Bonaparte so. This is a great quick read that illuminates American history that I highly suggest!