JOSEPHINE by Hubert Cole


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Relatively little has been written about Josephine, the obscure Creole girl from Martinique and Empress of France. The last biography, Charles Kunstler's The Private Life of the Empress Josephine (McKay-1957) was not as intimate as the title suggested. Hubert Cole traces minutely the complicated family histories on both sides, documenting Josephine's life with letters and contemporary sources, and he ventures some specific guesses. Born in Martinique of an impoverished, aristocratic family, Josephine was ambitious and entered into a haphazardly prearranged marriage with Alexander de Beauharnais who subsequently found her provincial and dull and deserted her. She won, according to Cole, a legal separation, survived the Revolution, became Barras' mistress in the post-Terror Paris, and finally married Napoleon who had fallen passionately in love with her. This version, minimizing Beauharnais' sorry role, is too meticulously detailed to be in doubt. Later Josephine assumed a secondary role to Napoleon's campaigns and mistresses: she became little more than the glittering symbol of a brief Empire, but remained deeply in love with Napoleon who divorced her to marry an Austrian princess who could bear him a son. . . . Mr. Cole is sympathetic with her throughout: she emerges as generous, graceful, kind and long-suffering, although some of the facts given suggest she may have been more complex. An interesting, rather than emotionally appealing, portrait against a turbulent era.

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1962
Publisher: Viking