IMPERIAL CHARADE: A Biography of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress EugÉnie by Alyn Brodsky

IMPERIAL CHARADE: A Biography of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress EugÉnie

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Napoleon III and EugÉnie are ""naturals"" for popular biography if only because their marriage was such a complete mismatch. Not only was Napoleon 18 years older than his Empress, but EugÉnie was sexually frigid while her husband was a man of lusty temperament. Then, when Napoleon's health began to fail, EugÉnie exerted a decidedly incompetent influence upon affairs: Napoleon's subtlety and his supposed willingness to liberalize the Empire were negated by EugÉnie's ignorant, prejudiced, reactionary values. Behind the failure of the last French emperor stood his beautiful and rigid wife. All of this is amply described in Alyn Brodsky's Imperial Charade, which, although it sheds no new light on a story authoritatively treated by Harold Kurtz in The Empress EugÉnie (1964), is quite a readable entertainment. In addition to the larger political and social events of the period, Brodsky (author of Madame Lynch and Friend) gives a decent picture of social life at the Imperial Court, where the elaborate ceremonials are likened to a ""platoon of mannequins come miraculously to life."" In seeking to find the psychological basis for EugÉnie's frigidity and contempt for men in her relationship with her father, the author carefully presents his conclusion merely as a hypothesis. Brodsky's only fault is a weakness for grandiose statements. Of Bonapartism he writes: ""like all religions, its popularity derived less from its theology, than from the richness of its martyrology."" Nonetheless, for one unacquainted with the tale, Brodsky's book could be a useful introduction.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1978
Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill