The Rose Of Martinque: A Life of Napoleon’s Josephine

rose-martinique-life-napoleons-josephine-andrea-stuartThis evocative biography by Andrea Stuart tells the extraordinary story of Josephine Bonaparte. One of the most potent icons of European female sexuality, Josephine has largely been reduced to an empty cipher, the butt of one of the oldest jokes around. Her life has been portrayed almost entirely in connection with Napoleon, but that relationship was only a tiny fraction of the life she led as a Caribbean woman in the salons of 18th-century Paris. Sharing with her subject a Caribbean background, Andrea Stuart offers an insight into the world which Josephine left as a plump schoolgirl for Paris and marriage to her cousin Viscount Alexandre Beauharnais. Expecting an exotic Creole bride, Beauharnais set about a radical transformation and the dowdy teenager soon became a sophisticated sensual beauty, the darling of the pre-revolutionary salons. As the revolution reached its endgame, Josephine, now widowed with two small children, met her Emperor and the rest, as they say, is history.

Review – The Rose Of Martinque: A Life of Napoleon’s Josephine

“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 Napoléon reflected the dynamics and frustrations of his own marriage seems quite convincing in this context.” –Publishers Weekly

Praise for The Rose Of Martinque: A Life of Napoleon’s Josephine

“Stuart tells her story well, expertly weaving in the necessary political and historical events.” — Antonia Fraser, Sunday Times

“This biography shines primarily as social history, providing rich portraits of pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary Paris.” — Michele Roberts, Independent

“What makes this book such a good read is the extraordinary story, well told.” — Jessica Mann in Literary Review, September 2003

“By setting Josephine in her Caribbean context… Andrea Stuart has provided genuinely new insights.”  — Kathryn Hughes in Mail on Sunday, October 2003

“This was an enjoyable, well-researched book; I didn’t want to reach the end.” — Edwina Currie in New Statesman


Leave a Reply