JOSEPHINE by Carolly Erickson


A Life of the Empress
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An intimate, richly detailed, and candid portrait of the dramatic life and times of Napoleon’s wife, Empress Josephine. Erickson (Bonnie Prince Charlie, 1989, etc.), with well-received books on the Tudor monarchs and Queen Victoria, has herself become the queen of royals” biographers. But queenship isn—t always foreordained. The aristocratic (yet not high-born) Josephine Tasher de la Pagerie, for example, made her way to the top of Parisian society despite being born to a failed plantation owner in the colony of Martinique. Her biographer shows how this rough and sultry island background well served Josephine, molding her into a durable survivor. For all her power, grace, and charm, the empress emerges, too, as someone to pity. This woman who used men once wrote in a letter, “I will behave like the victim I am.” And while a reader might sympathize with Josephine’s circumstances—e.g., her barrenness and her struggles with her aristocratic heritage amid revolution—Erickson also unveils damning dismissals of the woman by some of those within and outside the Bonaparte clan who considered her “venal, calculating,” and worse. Perhaps Josephine’s flirtation with the swarthy, moody general of the republic was for her but a career move, with adultery an essential social institution that she could not ever give up, not even as an empress. Erickson’s writing, sometimes dominated by details of the era’s fashion and lavish imperial finery, is strongest when depicting the murderous frenzy of revolutionary times. The author’s academic background in history helps to give weight and depth to her portrayal of a tumultuous period. The many notes and works cited attest to Erickson’s exhaustive research. Moreover, her scholarly insights combine superbly with a mastery of period manners more often found in the best historical fiction. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20001-3
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999


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