Rose of Martinique

Stuart, Andrea. The Rose of Martinique: a Life of Napoleon’s Josephine. New York: Grove Press, 2003.

Mrs. Bonaparte was born Marie-Josephe-Rose de Tascher de La Paerie on June 23, 1763 on the Caribbean island of Martinique (hence, the title of the book). Andrea Stuart feels a connection to Mrs. Bonaparte because of “personal identification” (p xi). Having grown up on the island of Martinique, Stuart is able to set the stage for us with wonderfully lush descriptions. She is able to tap into the beauty of the landscape because she experienced for herself. This commonality allows the reader an accurate portrait of Rose’s childhood home. That personal connection slips away when Rose is 15 and marries for the first time. She is sent to Paris where cultures and feminine expectations are completely different. Rose’s new husband sets up to educate Rose in the art of sophistication, a la Pygmalion style. But, when Rose does not rise to the challenge and cannot meet her husband’s unreasonable expectations, she is banished to a convent. Subsequently, Rose, mother of two, is separated by the age of 21 and the marriage has all but ended. Of course, Rose finds marriage again (notice I didn’t say love). Almost like the wolves of Washington, marriage is a partnership of business, while love is reserved for lovers. From here on out, Rose is Josephine.
I could go on and on about Stuart’s attention to detail. It’s obvious the woman did her homework. She refers to other biographies written about Mrs. Bonaparte and seems particularly interested in correcting the misconceptions about Josephine’s sexuality and relationships with other women. All in all, I found the writing fascinating.

Quote that stuck with me, “Brutality was an intrinsic part of plantation life and no child, however privileged or protected, could escape it ugliness or its savagery” (p 13).

Reason read: Mrs. Bonaparte was born in June.

Author fact: Stuart’s first book was Showgirls. Not what you think.

Book trivia: The Rose of Martinique includes beautiful illustrations.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Complex Napoleon” (p 55).

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