It was the most important night of Josephine’s life.
This book would not have made it to my bookshelf at all had I not been working as a steward at the Bath Literature Festival. I am not a big reader of historical biographies but when author Kate Williams gave a talk on her new title it was so passionately and knowledgeably given that I was so drawn to finding out more about the unique life of Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie that I asked for the book for my birthday. It has, admittedly, taken me a while to read the book but, now I have, I found it to be a fascinating, informative and entertaining read, one that took me by surprise.
Josephine is an accessible book that focuses on the rise and fall of the woman who was to become the Empress of France. Williams’ writing style is authoritative yet informal and demonstrates her hours of research within simple, perfectly structured sentences. As entrancing as a good fiction novel, Josephine transports you back to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France to follow the life of one ordinary girl from Martinique who went on to become a national sensation.
The decadence, resilience and pure dumb luck of Josephine’s life is astonishing – she determinedly travels from Martinique, survives her first husband, escapes the guillotine, becomes one of the It girls of French society, collects many lovers and admirers and eventually marries Napoleon Bonaparte, helping him to cement his place forever in history. The woman lived a life and a half!
The whole book is riveting but it is the turbulent and passionate relationship between Napoleon and Josephine that creates the particularly addictive narrative. Interspersed with source material, Williams effortlessly depicts the depth of obsession and connection between these two ambitious survivors of French society. Napoleon is like a man possessed throughout the chase of his Martinique girl and Josephine knows just how to get what she wants from her paranoid and insecure husband. Their over-the-top declarations of love and petty, juvenile behaviour contradicts the expectation of these two supposedly-sophisticated adults and it’s amazing how indulged they become as their power grows.
Josephine is a captivating read that offers great insight to the world of the French court, the Revolution and empire and how one remarkable woman was able to survive and thrive during turbulent times.