Biography of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte (1875–1879), who fought against the conventions of her time in “a country that lauded self-interest and self-fulfillment for its men but confinement and sacrifice for their wives.”
Berkin (History/Baruch Coll.; Civil War Wives, 2009, etc.) tells the story of a strong woman who succeeded in spite of herself. The young Baltimore beauty was not only intelligent, but also blessed with a quick wit. She was a good friend of Dolley Madison, who introduced her to the best of Washington society. Brash and dressed in the newest shockingly bare styles out of France without a thought to opinion, she found that Jérome Bonaparte was just what she was looking for. The youngest brother of Napoleon, he did not enjoy the navy and left his post in the Caribbean to see America. Jérome and Elizabeth fell madly in love; after a lengthy fight with her father, the couple married in late 1803. Napoleon was livid and ordered his brother home to France—without that American girl. Elizabeth was banned from entering any port in Europe. Jérome finally succumbed to his brother’s demand, and his return to France in 1805 was the end of the marriage. After Napoleon annulled the marriage, she strove for her son’s legitimacy, first with the emperor himself and eventually with Napoleon III and finally in the courts of France, all to no avail. This story would be that of just another headstrong girl who married badly if it weren’t for her fierce independence. She went to Europe seeking intellectual freedom and an identity, carefully budgeted her scant funds, invested wisely and became one of America’s first self-made women.
A wonderful story of a woman who managed to achieve independence and leave her mark in a world not quite ready for her.