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Becoming Josephine

Becoming Josephine

Becoming Josephine
By
Heather WEBB

Publisher: Plume/Penguin
Pub. Date: Dec 31, 2013
ISBN: 978-0142180655
Pages:  320

Genre:
Historical fiction
Source:
Received
from the author for a
virtual book tour on France Book Tours

Goodreads

Purchasing links:

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

     Books on Francehf-reading-challenge-2013 New Authors 2013

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

Rating system

“To understand my future, I must revisit my past”,

says Josephine Bonaparte in 1814. She just read in a letter that her husband Napoleon has been arrested. And so under the skilled pen of Heather Webb,  she leads the reader back all along her life, starting with the young Rose in Martinique in 1779. You have probably heard about the major periods of her life, so I assume the following is not giving away any spoilers.

Rose Tascher de la Pagerie (1763-1814) has quite a character already as a teenager, and is full of independence, and romantic dreams and ideas:

“I had no intention of leading a life like Maman’s. I would escape to France, to the adventure of Paris and the grand curt life of Papa’s tales. The elegant gowns and intrigue, the handsome men. And love without bounds.”
p.3

“I’ll will marry for love or not at all.”
p.5

And indeed, she is sent to France to marry Alexandre, son of a marquis. However, what she first sees of France is a bit more complex than the reality she had imagined:

“For every fashionable boulevard, a pocket of hovels sprawled. I looked past the women and children moaning for bread. Guilt flooded, intense and unsettling. If only I could help them. But nothing could be done, so I pretended not to see them.
p.19

The romantic life she dreamed for herself no longer seems part of the plan either. Her husband basically ignores her and goes away for months at a time for some military campaigns, or with a lover or another. She has to struggle to make the ends meet and to keep custody of her son. Little by little, she gets to know people in higher levels of society, and tries to compensate her loneliness with spending the money… she does not have.

She goes back to visit Martinique to visit her ailing father, and escapes in extremis by boat from the slave rebellion. Things are not better in France, with the French Revolution and afterwards La Terreur in Paris. After Alexandre is arrested for his political activities, she is arrested in turn and imprisoned in the dreadful prison of Les Carmes. Released in 1794, and helped by lovers, she starts a business in military supplies.

More riots are organized, this time to reinstall Royalists. They are stopped by an obscure general: Bonaparte. When they meet for the first time, her reaction is ambivalent, like for many people meeting with him:

“My smile froze on my face. Unkempt and arrogant. What a man! Such a combination would not endear him to the exalted company he sought, not for long.”
p.173

But he proposes one day, and she accepts. She’s 31 when they marry. Wanting to keep her independence, she feels overwhelmed by the way he expresses his extreme feelings to her, even writing to her daily when he is away in military campaigns.

“The man who guts the Austrian army writes me poetry. A rather odd juxtaposition, don’t you think? Sometimes I question his sanity.”
p.196

She accompanies him sometimes, or is entrusted some political duties at home, when he realizes she has business and strategy skills, and some power over men…
We follow Napoleon to his ascent to power and in his relationship with women: with Josephine and his lovers and, until he decides to divorce her because she can’t give him an heir.
Humiliated, she goes back to live by herself at Malmaison, a property around Paris she had bought years before, alone but actually relieved maybe to be independent again.

***

Becoming Josephine is definitely one of the best historical novels I have read recently.

I enjoyed a lot how the author describes the richness and complexity of the main characters:
Rose/Josephine, with her dreams of love and independence at the same time; her loneliness and desire to be left alone; her desire for simplicity sometimes and her need to buy things; her love for her children but her hesitancy to reveal to them her relationship with Napoleon, even her marriage to him!; how she eventually felt a stranger in her home in Martinique; how she experienced the ebb and flow of wealth and poverty all along her life, depending on her relationship with men who pretended to love her for a while, including both her husbands.
Napoleon, with his attractive and repulsive traits, his love and anger, his madness, his inflated ego, his jealousy and generosity; how he gradually ascended to power from nothing; and how he treated Josephine, loving her to worship sometimes, yet keeping mistresses and divorcing her when she was not adequate enough for his need of hegemony –having an heir.

I liked a lot how the beginning of their relationship is described, how Josephine is both repulsed and attracted; and how she starts loving him more and more.

There’s also a lot about France‘s love for Josephine, although she was hated all along by Napoleon’s own family.

I didn’t know much at all about Josephine’s former life in Martinique and with her first husband, so the novel was also interesting for me at that level.

Heather Webb did a fantastic job on the descriptions of the society of the time, from the poorest people to the highest salons; and on the historical and political background, both in Martinique and in France.
The ceremony of the double coronation is very well rendered.
There’s an awesome scene on pp.255-258: they now live at Les Tuileries in Paris, but she can’t sleep, because she feels surrounded by the ghosts of all those who died there at the beginning of the French Revolution.
More often than not, we forget that the islands like La Martinique were very instrumental to revolutionary ideas. This is very well described here. To read more about it, see The Black Count, Tom Reiss’ fantastic nonfiction on the real Count of Monte Cristo.

Aside from her adroitness and manipulation of men, I did not know Josephine was so well versed in business and that she had a military supplies business for a while.

Just a couple of minor things surprised me:
– how suddenly she found herself back among the rich, with parties and lots of men, just after being released from prison. But because of her former status, I guess this would make sense, just as she was able to sleep with a General in a prison cell!
– no fireflies in France at the time? (p.218) I enjoyed them a lot when I was a child, but maybe this is another rather recent result of climate evolution.

This is a very intense novel, as intense as its hero and heroine. A superb portrait of a feisty woman, who managed to survive through pain and difficulties of all kinds, always financially dependent on men, but independent at heart.

All historical fiction lovers need to read this book!

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

Rose Tascher sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris to trade her Creole black magic culture for love and adventure. She arrives exultant to follow her dreams of attending Court with Alexandre, her elegant aristocrat and soldier husband. But Alexandre dashes her hopes and abandons her amid the tumult of the French Revolution. Through her savoir faire, Rose secures her footing in high society, reveling in handsome men and glitzy balls—until the heads of her friends begin to roll.
After narrowly escaping death in the blood-drenched cells of Les Carmes prison, she reinvents herself as Josephine, a socialite of status and power. Yet her youth is fading, and Josephine must choose between a precarious independence and the love of an awkward suitor. Little does she know, he would become the most powerful man of his century- Napoleon Bonaparte.
BECOMING JOSEPHINE is a novel of one woman’s journey to find eternal love and stability, and ultimately to find herself. [provided by the author]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather WebbHeather Webb grew up a military brat and naturally became obsessed with travel, culture, and languages. She put her degrees to good use teaching high school French for nearly a decade before turning to full time novel writing and freelance editing. Her debut, BECOMING JOSEPHINE was released December 31, 2013 from Plume/Penguin.

When not writing, Heather flexes her foodie skills or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.
She loves to chitchat on Twitter with new reader friends or writers (@msheatherwebb) or via her blog, Between the Sheets (www.Heatherwebb.net/blog). Stop on by!

AND NOW FOR A CHANCE TO WIN THIS BOOK !

  Good luck!

Notes:

* If you have problems entering the giveaway for this book, please send me an email before midnight on 1/15 at ehc16e {at] yahoo [dot) com. Include in it:

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* when you enter a giveaway, I keep your email address only until a winner has been chosen and has confirmed. After that, I delete the form where your answers were stored during the duration of the giveaway. If you win and you email me your mailing address, I delete this email and its information as soon as I have mailed you the book.

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ON THE BONAPARTE FAMILY?

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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this book for free from  the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.

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