Jamaican-born author Stuart (Showgirls) believes that her understanding of Caribbean heritage makes her especially well equipped to profile Napoleon's famous consort, who was born Rose de Tasher on a sugar plantation in the French colony of Martinique. The future Empress Josephine came to Paris as an unsophisticated 16-year-old intended in marriage to nobleman and legendary philanderer Alexandre de Beauharnais. Using diaries and letters, Stuart re-creates Josephine's story in painstaking detail. She sensitively explains how Josephine's seemingly glamorous life was really marked by a series of difficult adjustments: facing life as an immigrant outsider, emerging from a failed marriage, raising two children alone, and suffering the infidelities of two husbands. Stuart also describes Josephine's daily routine; seeks to uncover her political views, especially on race and slavery; and, most important, demonstrates how she adapted to the many challenges she faced. While removing herself from historiographical debates, Stuart does try to make sense of Josephine's reputation "for easy morals and gold digging," admitting that she was a passionate and sensual woman who used her charms to survive. Hence, she emerges as a startlingly modern woman. This engrossing, well-researched biography should interest general readers fascinated by the romance of the Napoleonic period.-Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Born in Martinique, her name was Rose when she arrived in France at age 15 to marry her first husband, a handsome man-about-court who quickly neglected his disappointingly provincial wife. Rose matured and built alliances in unlikely places, including the convent where her husband forced her to retire and the prison where she spent the last months of the French Revolution. It was after this period and her husband's execution that she became one of Paris's great hostesses and attracted the attention of an awkward but rising military hero named Napoleon Bonaparte. Stuart (Showgirls) captures the tentativeness of their first years of marriage, when letters of the often-absent, sexually inexperienced Napoleon raged with jealousy while Rose, whom he renamed Josephine, continued to have the affairs common in her social circle. Sources provide a challenge to the biographer, who must wade through material written much later when writers were fully aware of the importance of the actors and scenes they described. The twin dangers of contemporary romanticization and criticism haunt Stuart's text, yet the shifting sands of identity they create seem appropriate, for Rose and Napoleon were both remaking themselves. The almost pathological ways they complemented each other remain painfully clear as Stuart traces the denouements of their lives. It was hardly a happy marriage, and Stuart's argument that the emperor's harsh treatment of women in the Code Napol?on reflected the dynamics and frustrations of his own marriage seems quite convincing in this context. 16 pages of color illus. not seen by PW. Agent, David Godwin. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
"[Stuart] makes the story exciting and touching.... What makes this book such a good read is the extraordinary story, well told, of Josephine's own life during fascinating, frightening times, in the company of famous contemporaries and admirers."