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The Secret Life of Josephine: Napoleon's Bird of Paradise Hardcover – September 4, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (September 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031236735X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312367350
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,564,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Erickson's third foray into what she calls, in a note to the reader, "historical entertainment" (following The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette and The Last Wife of Henry the VIII) presents a compelling if occasionally fanciful first-person account of Napoleon's legendary first wife. As a child, the future Empress of France was known as Rose Tascher, a girl of "good breeding but no money" on the island of Martinique. At 15, Rose departs Martinique for Paris and an unhappy arranged marriage to Vicomte Alexandre de Beauharnais. Several years after their divorce, Rose encounters the "rather odd-looking, dark little officer" who will rechristen her Josephine and eventually make her his reluctant empress. As Madame Bonaparte, Josephine's public life and private life alike are filled with controversy as she copes with the scrutiny of the public eye, the ire of Bonaparte's family, and Bonaparte himself, whose feelings for her range from codependency to contempt. As he often did in life, Bonaparte upstages the other characters whenever he appears on the page, and his interactions with Josephine are among the most captivating scenes here. Josephine, however, emerges a dynamic and complicated heroine, and holds her own before and after her short-lived marriage to Bonaparte. While Josphine's Gone With the Wind-esque escape from her family plantation during Martinique's civil war and an implausible episode at the tale's climax may rankle sticklers, Erickson has deft hand with psychological portraiture and historical detail. She strips away the romantic idealism with which the empress's life is often distorted.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.



The Last Wife Of Henry VIII


"Entertaining."--USA Today


"[Erickson] offers a good view of the intrigue and scheming in the court of Henry VIII. Descriptions of court and country life are well done and enrich the story."--Library Journal



The Hidden Diary Of Marie Antoinette


"Writers of historical fiction must tread a fine line between loving one's protagonists while telling the truth about them. Carolly Erickson has executed this balancing act with the same scorching wit and greatheartedness that has always illuminated her biographies. The old 'let them eat cake' myth has once and forever been exploded, yet the author resists the temptation to sentimentalize or simplify the maddeningly complex character of Marie Antoinette.”--Robin Maxwell, author of The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn and To the Tower Born


“Carolly Erickson turns cold fact to hot fiction in her first historical novel.”--India Edghill, author of Queenmaker and Wisdom's Daughter


 "A fascinating first novel . . . This intimate look at a misunderstood woman by the author of a biography on the same subject is highly recommended."--Library Journal (starred review)

More About the Author

Carolly Erickson is the bestselling author of many distinguished works of nonfiction and a series of historical entertainments, blending fact and invention. She lives in Hawaii.

Customer Reviews

The dialogue is appalling, the characters one-dimensional, and the plot ludicrous.
I am far from completing this book and I'm not sure if I'll be able to force myself to finish it.
Alex Perkins
I'm sorry to say this is the worst historical fiction novel that I have read by Ms. Erickson.
YA Librarian

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By YA Librarian on May 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I will agree with the other reviewers who said this book had a lot of sex in it. In fact it seemed like the book should have been entitled the Secret Sex life of Josephine. Personally, I didn't mind all the sex in the book, but the overall plot, and lack of interesting characters is what doomed this book for me.

I thought the character of Josephine was a little flat. I didn't feel sorry about her situation, though I did feel sorry about her horrible teeth. The Josephine in the novel had no spark, and was dull.

Napoleon seemed whiney, nervous and not what I pictured him to be. Maybe this is how he was in real life? I am unsure. But, if readers are expecting a strong Napoleon this is not the story for them.

The writing was decent enough, but the characters made this book dull. So much more could have been done with it. I'm sorry to say this is the worst historical fiction novel that I have read by Ms. Erickson.

Pass on this one, or loan it from your public library.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By a_marguerite on June 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book has little to no relationship with historical fact, except that it appears Erickson once-upon-a-time read a general life-and-times biography of Josephine and decided that the characters were too complex, the time period too interesting and the mentions of Josephine's love affairs weren't explicit and boring enough.

Thus, this travesty of a novel was vomited forth into hardback.

I cannot begin to say how truly awful this book was. I hated it. I hated every historical inaccuracy, I hated every character Erickson introduced and I hated the fact that an intelligent, politically astute, clever woman was reduced to Miss Look-Who-I-Slept-With (which is apparently most of Europe). There was so much more to Josephine than the fact that she had sex! Unfortunately, Erickson either doesn't believe so, or feels that a complex emotional, spiritual and/or intellectual inner life makes for boring reading. Ditto with historical fact. Who cares how Napoleon's Grande Armee, the largest military force Europe had ever seen, met with disaster in Russia if there isn't sex involved?

And then, there is her godawful Napoleon. This is a man who is still revered as a hero, who inspired the poorest, worst-supplied army in Europe to capture Italy from the supposedly unbeatable Austrian forces, who created an entire legal system, who seized control of France when he was only thirty and whose army was so devoted they turned on Louis XVIII to support Napoleon at Waterloo. You'd be surprised by that if your only knowledge of the Napoleonic era came from this awful excuse for historical fiction. Napoleon is truly hateful and amazingly stupid.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By K. Knight on June 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I have read the other two historical fiction books by Carolly Erickson, and found them entertaining. I was very much anticipating this latest book on Josephine B., because I found her to be intriguing and had read the Sandra Gulland trilogy. For me, after reading that trilogy, this book was almost painful to read. I never connected with Josephine, which is the whole point of writing novels in first person, in my opinion. Also, I found the history sketchy at best-- going to Russia to follow Bonaparte? You have got to be kidding me. Josephine was not only difficult to like, but she was also a bit of a hussy-- the entire book shows her with a million different lovers. I realize that Josephine was more than likely no prude, but the book makes her out to be a prostitute.

If you enjoyed Sandra G's trilogy about Josephine, don't pick up this book. It is not well researched, lacks an endearing protagonist, and belongs in the erotic literature section of the bookstore.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jaquelyn Longbons-baughman on December 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I understand that Erikson is trying only to write a novel...However, I thought that her story skewed to far from the actual events of Josephine's life. The real story has enough drama and interest to be written as a novel. Erikson's story is too off base. Also, if you are pro-Napoleon, this would not be the book for you. Sandra Gulland writes a more accurate description, but, remember, Gulland's series are also novels, too. Gulland's accounts are highly researched and gives Josephine a better reputation. If you are really interested in the topic, do your own research on authoritative resources. Leave Erikson's book to the "pure fiction" realm.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sharama on September 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In her "A Note to the Reader" the author does mention that she isn't going for historical accuracy here. In the same note she makes references (Hippolyte Charles, etc.) to show she has done some research, and goes on to explain that the intent of this book is "historical entertainment" and not to create a "historical novel"

Having said that (user sighs) I appreciate the idea, but really disliked the implementation... it just didn't "do" it for me. Like many readers, I had to force myself to finish it. (And I only managed *that* by constantly repeating, "Any resemblance between the fictional characters depicted herein and any real persons living or deceased who bear the same names is totally accidental.")

Josephine, as mentioned in previous reviews, is an uninteresting, unsympathetic character. What *anyone* sees in her is hard to tell. (Oh, wait, she does mention having large breasts; that must be it ;-) After a couple of chapters I hit the point of not caring what happened to her... not a good start. Napoleon (believe it or not) fares even worse. He hates her early on, and loathes her by the end (and since the story is told from her point of view, one starts to wonder what she did -and didn't bother reporting to her reader- that made him feel that way). *He* is basically smelly, neurotic, sadistic, cruel, homicidal, and easily lead by the woman he can't stand the sight of. She's boring beyond words. The Perfect Couple.

(I suppose that someone who loves romance novels, and either isn't too familiar with the era and its famous characters or isn't bothered by Extreme Deviations might enjoy this book. And I use "might" loosely.)

If you absolutely have to read this, go to your local library.
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