JOSEPHINE by Andre Castelot


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A woman of lace and gauze, made for love...."" So Napoleon described his first Empress, Josephine, but the French author of this lengthy biography (in excellent English translation by Denise Folliot) protrays her as a woman of considerably sterner stuff. Writing of her languorous charm, her seductive voice, her eyelashes (""The most beautiful in the world""), the author, a historian of the period, tells also of her decayed teeth, her iron endurance under a surface of assumed delicacy, her ""astronomical"" debts and extravagances, her extremely sketchy morals, and her notorious speculations in the sales of cardboard boots and broken-down horses to Napoleon's armies. Narrowly escaping the Terror which claimed the life of her first husband, Josephine (so named by Napoleon) in 1796 married the then almost unknown officer, six years her junior, who adored her. At first blatantly unfaithful to him, Josephine became devoted, and wept when the formidable Bonaparte family urged him to divorce her since she could not bear him an heir. In 1809, announcing ""I am marrying a womb,"" Napoleon did at last divorce her to marry the nineteen-year-old Marie-Louise of Austria. Josephine retired to her charming house, Malmaison, where she died in 1814, at fifty-three still lovely and seductive; Napoleon never forgot her. This is Josephine's book. Well documented, somewhat hysterical in style, it tells little of Napoleon's victories except as they affected her, but reveals a great deal about her friends, lovers, gowns, thoughts, extravagances and pet dogs. A picture of a great courtesan (a word the author does not use) which will delight devotees of popular biography. Mossiter's Napoleon and Josephine is still the better book.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1967
ISBN: 4871878538
Publisher: Harper & Row