I love France #43: Book review: Désirée


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Annemarie SELINKO

Narrated by Nicole QUINN

25:58 hours


Published in 1951
Audiobook published by Blue Barn Productions (???) in 2012
Audiobook received via Audiobook Jukebox

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

     Books on France    hf-reading-challenge-2013

New Authors 2013 2013 Audio Book Challenge


rating system

I know Désirée has been criticized as being a bit too romantically distanced from historical facts.

However, I was actually impressed, and once again I thought it would have been a great assignment to have to read this historical novel to accompany the numerous classes we had on Napoléon in the French cursus.

Indeed, through Désirée’s memories and journal, the format of the novel, you meet Napoléon I from the days he is totally destitute and unknown, to his rise and glory, to his military failures and death.

Désirée (Bernardine Eugénie Désirée Clary; 8 November 1777 – 17 December 1860) was his fiancée, whom he left to marry Joséphine. But her sister ended up marrying his brother, so both families remained connected, and the journals make sense.

Désirée met and married another man in the army, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. She was from the middle class, the daughter of a renowned silk merchant in Marseille. Her family was eagerly supporting the ideas and values of the French Revolution.

Thus had she to go through some deep change of mind when her husband ended up being elected as the new King of Sweden and Norway. Even more so in reality than in the book it seems, this was indeed a tough fate for Désirée, especially in a foreign country, so much colder than Marseille or Paris. Being a queen stuck in the court etiquette was not too much to her liking, and she stayed away as much as she could.

I really enjoyed listening to this almost family saga, with so many famous historical characters, and seeing how the socioeconomic values of the time were viewed and experienced by these families.

After having listened to the book, I did a bit of research, and I was stunned to discover that the current King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf is actually a direct descendant of the Bernadotte family!

If you love French history, you need to read this book.


I thought Nicole QUINN had the perfect voice for that type of book, with very distinct accents and tones of voice for the characters, depending on their social background. I think for instance Joséphine’s voice, both despising and cajoling, will stick with me, and I bet that was close to her real voice! She was also excellent at rendering male voices.


The stunning, massively bestselling story of Napoleon’s first fiancé.
First published in 1951, this riveting true-life tale comes to life in diary form, giving readers an inside glimpse at the young Napoleon and his family. Désirée is enchanted by the young officer, and he asks her to marry him. But he must leave for Paris, where he meets his eventual wife Josephine. A heartbroken Désirée is unsure she’ll ever find anyone again. A love story, but so much more, Désirée is the tale of a simple merchant’s daughter who ends up with a kind of royalty she never expected: an unforgettable story just waiting to be reborn.[Goodreads]



Annemarie Selinko (September 1, 1914 – July 28, 1986) was an Austrian novelist who wrote a number of best-selling books in German from the 1930s through the 1950s. Although she had been based in Germany, in 1939 at the start of World War II she took refuge in Denmark with her Danish husband, but then in 1943, they again became refugees, this time to Sweden.

Many of her novels have been adapted into movies and all have been translated into numerous languages. Her last work Désirée (1951) was about Désirée Clary, one of Napoleon’s lovers and, later, a queen of Sweden. It has been translated into 25 languages and in 1956 was turned into a movie with Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons. It is dedicated to her sister Liselotte, who was murdered by the Nazis.


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7 thoughts on “I love France #43: Book review: Désirée

  1. Pingback: 2013 – Books on France challenge – My list | Words And Peace

  2. Pingback: Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2013 | Words And Peace

  3. Pingback: New Authors Reading Challenge 2013 | Words And Peace

  4. Pingback: 2013 Audio book challenge | Words And Peace

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  6. I always felt so sorry for Desiree, since Napoleon dumped her and thought well she still got to be a queen. Now on the internet, I read more about her life and then didn’t feel so sorry for her, since it seems she never really gave her new country and position a chance. But then maybe she just could not get over Napoleon dumping her. Then I see all the jewels, that she had and are still worn today and I think foolish woman! Maybe you could have been a good queen if you tried! How could you learn the language of your new country, if you never stayed in it! No wonder your subjects talked behind your back!


    • Yes I think she always felt a stranger, which makes sense. By the way, when I read this book I was fascinated to discover that the current royal family of Sweden is still direct descendant of the Bernadotte family!


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