This biography skims the life and times of Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, a bluestocking of some influence during the reign of Napoleon III, her cousin and onetime fiance. Chronicled here are Mathilde's severe, prideful childhood in the household of Napoleon's younger brother, the scapegrace Jerome, ex-""King of Westphalia""; her miserable marriage to a syphilitic playboy; her domesticated love affair with the director of the Imperial Museums; and her long career as the most prominent salon-keeper of the Second Empire. At the Rue de Courcelles gathered such lights of the day as Sainte-Beuve, Flaubert, Gautier, Renan, and the Goncourts to enjoy garlicky feasts and salty gossip in a liberal atmosphere protected by one close to the Emperor. In later years, her roof also sheltered Bizet, Proust, and Pasteur. The biographer ably reconstructs these scenes from letters and memoirs, without exaggerating the virtues or denying the faults of her headstrong; intellectually limited and sometimes silly subject. Specialists will recognize a competent grasp of late 19th century literary life; general readers, at whom this is aimed, will perhaps be confused by a lack of historical background in a story covering eighty-two years (1820-1902), two revolutions, and six different regimes. For fanciers of bygone bels esprits, an untaxing waltz of the litterateurs.