Nina Epton tells the remarkable story of the life of Marie-Josephe-Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, the woman who Napoleon renamed Josephine and who ruled with him as Empress of France. In Josephine: The Empress and her Children [ISBN 0-393-07500-] Nina Epton presents a brilliantly written, carefully researched depiction of the life of Marie-Josephe-Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, the woman who was later renamed Josephine, and who we know as Empress of France. Her father's family was originally from Orleans, but migrated to Martinique, where Marie-Josephe-Rose was born on June 23, 1763. Her family was Creole. She was known by her family as Marie-Rose. Her father, Joseph-Gaspard Tascher de la Pagerie, owned a sugar plantation. During her early years the family was quite wealthy but, after a hurricane destroyed their plantation in 1766, they struggled financially. A good marriage would be beneficial, so her father's sister, Edmee, arranged the marriage of Marie-Rose's younger sister, the twelve-year-old Catherine-Desiree, to Alexandre de Beauharnais, the son of Edmee's lover. Since Catherine died before leaving for France for the wedding, Marie-Rose replaced her sister, going to France for the wedding accompanied by her father. She was seasick for most of the journey.
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Alexandre was also anxious to marry because he would inherit an annual income of 40,000 livres from his mother's properties only on his marriage.
Marie-Rose and Alexandre were married on December 13, 1779 in Paris. While Alexandre was captivated by the sweetness, beauty and charm of his 16-year-old bride, he was horrified by her ignorance. Since he was particularly interested in the education of women he “…made up his mind to improve her education and ‘make up by his zeal for the neglect of her first sixteen years.'” However, theories “…did not interest her, nor did books. She was a child of tropical nature, intuitive, warm and, no doubt---at that time naïve.” She was also jealous and possessive. These characteristics made their marriage less than successful, especially since Alexandre was accustomed to doing as he pleased and had no intention of giving up his “…charming mistress, Laure de Longpre, who was about to bear him a son…”
Despite their differences, Marie-Rose and Alexandre had two children, Eugene-Rose, born on September 3, 1781, [“…destined to become Viceroy of Italy and to have three of his children on royal thrones (those of Sweden, Portugal and Brazil)”] and Hortense-Eugenie, born on April 10, 1783 [“…destined to become the Queen of Holland and the mother of the future Emperor Napoleon III”].
The situation between husband and wife became decidedly worse and, at age 21, Marie-Rose was separated from Alexandre.
During the Reign of Terror, both Alexandre and Marie-Rose were imprisoned; Alexandre was sentenced to death and guillotined on July 23, 1794; Josephine was released five days later, following the execution of Robespierre.
As a widow, Marie-Rose had several affairs before becoming Napoleon's mistress in 1795. Since he preferred that she to be called Josephine, that was her name from then on. Napoleon proposed marriage in January of 1796. To the horror of his family, who did not approve of the fact that she was six years older than he, and was a widow with two children, they were married on March 9, 1796.
Although Napoleon was frequently away on military campaigns he wrote to her often, with tender admissions of love. However, she was not a good correspondent, and answered his letters infrequently. Also, even at the beginning of their marriage, she began to have affairs. He found out about them, and threatened divorce. Only because of her tears, and the pleading of her children, was he dissuaded. He, too, was unfaithful, although he did not think this to be as serious as her affairs. Josephine, was also extremely extravagant although, in addition to clothes and jewels for herself, she paid for the upkeep and schooling of the children of several of her friends and servants. Napoleon complained that she did not have to support so many people, but Josephine did not listen.
Finally, her extreme extravagance, the pleas of his family, and the lack of an heir [although she had two children with Alexandre, and Napoleon had illegitimate children, no children were born to their union] Napoleon divorced Josephine in January 1810.
Following the divorce [which is commemorated in the painting by H.F. Shopin, The Divorce of Napoleon and Josephine], Josephine spent most of her time at her estate at Chateau de Malmaison at Rueil near Paris. Over the years she spent large sums of money on both the interior and exterior decoration. Her gardens, with exotic foreign trees and flowers, were well known. Her favorite plant was the rose; her rose-garden was known throughout the country. Napoleon continued to pay her expenses after the divorce.
Josephine died at La Malmaison on May 29, 1814.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked the story because it was very well researched, brilliantly written, and told many aspects of Josephine's life and character that I had not known before.
Best scene in story:
In my favorite scene, it is the beginning of September, 1804; Napoleon has been chosen Emperor but has not yet been crowned. Napoleon and Josephine are visiting Aix-la-Chapelle. They visit the cathedral and are shown the relics of Charlemagne. “…Josephine was even offered Charlemagne's arm, which she tactfully declined, saying that she ‘did not wish to deprive Aix-la-Chapelle of so precious a memorial, especially when she had the arm of a man as great as Charlemagne to support her'.” Napoleon was, of course, pleased.
Opinion about the main character:
I like Josephine because of her kindness and compassion, her devotion to her family, her interest in helping the poor, and her interest in gardening and the environment