A Borghese descendant tells the story of his relative Pauline, Napoleon’s sister, “a butterfly, a tease, a party girl,” whose looks are immortalized in a famous Canova sculpture.
Neither flattering nor psychologically probing, Prince Lorenzo’s portrait of his ancestor depicts a selfish beauty with a willful nature, a high libido and little regard for respectability. After her first husband dies in the West Indies, Pauline returns to France with her son Dermide and is introduced in 1803 to Italian Prince Camillo Borghese who, despite doubts about her suitability as a wife, marries her anyway. Their relationship is tempestuous, as Pauline takes lovers partly to feed a cycle of jealousy and passionate reconciliation. But circumstances change when Dermide dies of a fever. With Napoleon crowned emperor and Camillo a general in the army away fighting, Pauline’s love life causes scandal, even cartoons in the newspapers, and Camillo distances himself from her. An attempt at reconciliation involving Pauline’s faithful young cousin Sophie is a failure and exposes the imperial princess’s heedless, manipulative nature. Legally separated, Pauline and Camillo lead parallel lives, and Pauline follows Napoleon to Elba. But after Waterloo, her brother’s death and her diagnosis of cancer, Pauline is reunited with her husband and dies knowing that she is loved.
A readable, racy romp devoted to an unappealing heroine.