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Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte [Kindle Edition]

Carol Berkin
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $27.95
Kindle Price: $13.99
You Save: $13.96 (50%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

From the award-winning historian and author of Revolutionary Mothers (“Incisive, thoughtful, spiced with vivid anecdotes. Don’t miss it.”—Thomas  Fleming) and Civil War Wives (“Utterly fresh . . . Sensitive, poignant, thoroughly fascinating.”—Jay Winik), here is the remarkable life of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, renowned as the most beautiful woman of nineteenth-century Baltimore, whose marriage in 1803 to Jérôme Bonaparte, the youngest brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, became inextricably bound to the diplomatic and political histories of the United States, France, and England.

In Wondrous Beauty, Carol Berkin tells the story of this audacious, outsized life. We see how the news of the union infuriated Napoleon and resulted in his banning the then ­pregnant Betsy Bonaparte from disembarking in any European port, offering his brother the threat of remaining married to that “American girl” and forfeiting all wealth and power—or renouncing her, marrying a woman of Napoleon’s choice, and reaping the benefits.

Jérôme ended the marriage posthaste and was made king of Westphalia; Betsy fled to England, gave birth to her son and only child, Jérôme’s namesake, and was embraced by the English press, who boasted that their nation had opened its arms to the cruelly abandoned young wife.

Berkin writes that this naïve, headstrong American girl returned to Baltimore a wiser, independent woman, refusing to seek social redemption or a return to obscurity through a quiet marriage to a member of Baltimore’s merchant class. Instead she was courted by many, indifferent to all, and initiated a dangerous game of politics—a battle for a pension from Napoleon—which she won: her pension from the French government arrived each month until Napoleon’s exile.

Using Betsy Bonaparte’s extensive letters, the author makes clear that the “belle of Baltimore” disdained America’s obsession with moneymaking, its growing ethos of democracy, and its rigid gender roles that confined women to the parlor and the nursery; that she sought instead a European society where women created salons devoted to intellectual life—where she was embraced by many who took into their confidence, such as Madame de Staël, Madame Récamier, the aging Marquise de Villette (goddaughter of Voltaire), among others—and  where aristocracy, based on birth and breeding rather than commerce, dominated society.                                   
             
Wondrous Beauty is a riveting portrait of a woman torn between two worlds, unable to find peace in either—one a provincial, convention-bound new America; the other a sophisticated, extravagant Old World Europe that embraced freedoms, a Europe ultimately swallowed up by decadence and idleness.
A stunning revelation of an extraordinary age.


From the Hardcover edition.


Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Renowned Baltimore beauty Elizabeth Patterson, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, scandalized elites on both sides of the Atlantic in 1803 when she married Jerome Bonaparte, the youngest brother of Napoléon. Her father objected, and Napoléon later annulled the marriage and banned Betsy from the family and France, but neither man could stop the headstrong young woman from pressing her rights, whatever it cost the U.S. in diplomatic controversy. Bored with life in Baltimore and defiant of her controlling father and the limited expectations of women at the time, Betsy spent much of her life in Europe, courted for her beauty, intelligence, and tragic circumstances. An outcast of a famously outcast family, once Napoléon was exiled, she never remarried and carried the cachet of the Bonaparte name, spending decades arguing for her son’s and grandson’s right of succession. Despite her scorn for the American preoccupation with moneymaking, Betsy amassed a fortune of her own when she was denied the fortunes of her father and the Bonapartes. Berkin renders a fascinating portrait of a determined woman who defied convention. --Vanessa Bush

Review

“Betsy Bonaparte, the beguiling belle of early Washington, disappears from most histories after she takes the fledgling capitol by storm.  Carol Berkin tells us the rest of the surprising and fascinating story of the American girl whose rejection both by her Baltimore merchant father and by the European royalty she married into caused Betsy Bonaparte to become one of the few ‘self made women’ of the 19th Century. “ 
-Cokie Roberts, author of Founding Mothers and Ladies of Liberty
 
Carol Berkin’s Wondrous Beauty reads like a fascinating novel, with a heroine whose intriguing life and trans-Atlantic travels practically defy belief.  Betsy Bonaparte emerges as a complex, charming, and brilliant woman, courageous enough to defy her brother-in-law—the French emperor—astute enough to increase the value of her Maryland estate to more than one million dollars, and determined enough to sue the state in the Supreme Court. Berkin provides her trademark combination of meticulous research, original ideas, and elegant prose.
-Douglas R. Egerton, author of The Wars of Reconstruction
 
“A meticulously researched, accessible and fascinating account of a young, headstrong but naive beauty who led an extraordinary life first as a young bride, then an abandoned wife, a mother and finally a fiercely independent, entrepreneurial nineteenth century woman. Berkin brilliantly combines storytelling and scholarship, anecdotes and insights in this vividly written biography.”
-Barbara Winslow, author of Shirley Chisholm and Sylvia Pankhurst
 
“A wonderful story of a woman who managed to achieve independence and leave her mark on a world not quite ready for her.”
                                                -Kirkus

Product Details

  • File Size: 2449 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (February 11, 2014)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00EMXBE6A
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #205,039 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
(20)
4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Baltimore's Bonaparte February 26, 2014
Format:Hardcover
I love memoirs and biographraphies of significant American women - of which Carol Berkin is a venerable expert. Her previous works include "Revolutionary Mothers" and "Civil War Wives." I have not read those yet, but I have valued the genre since reading the memoirs of Mabel Dodge Lujan and Adelaide Ovington (An Aviator's Wife). With a name like Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, I knew this woman would be more than just a relation of Napoleon. When I saw this book at the airport I was intrigued to learn what made "Betsy" such a celebrity.

There are several aspects of this book that resonated with me. Berkin's treatment of revealing Betsy's character honors her strengths and weaknesses as a diplomat, businesswoman, and "wondrous beauty." To build on who she was, I found her significant relationships with men, from her father, son, and of course Napoleon's younger brother fascinatng. Its crazy to think that the conflict between France and Britain would sour her marriage to Prince Jerome Bonaparte so.

This is a great quick read that illuminates American history that I highly suggest!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Mrs. Bonaparte of Baltimore February 25, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Before reading this biography of Betsy Patterson Bonaparte I didn't realize Napoleon Bonaparte had a Baltimore connection, but it's a fascinating story, well told here, that encompasses both European and early American history and culture. Betsy met Napoleon's younger brother Jérôme in 1803 while he was in Maryland avoiding military service and the two teenagers fell in love and married within that year, against the wishes of their families and governments. Betsy's strict controlling father did not trust the aristocratically unemployed foreigner, but Betsy was eager to escape the limiting and prosaic social strictures she felt awaited her if she was forced into a more conventional match. Because Betsy and Jérôme were courting during the unsettled period while Americans debated whether to choose sides or remain neutral in the conflict between France and Britain their romance became a political event monitored closely on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the early days of their marriage Betsy and Jérôme enjoyed mingling with the major political players of Washington, where Betsy scandalized party goers with her risqué French fashions, but their happy days did not last long. Napoleon wanted to further his empire building ambitions by arranging a royal marriage for Jérôme, so when the young couple arrived in Europe Napoleon declared their marriage annulled. Unable to stand up to his older brother Jérôme abandoned Betsy, then pregnant with their child, and married the highly titled but much less scintillating Princess Catherine Fredericka Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg to become the king of Westphalia.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Professor Berkin has brought to life yet another interesting woman from American history. Highly recommended for anyone with the least bit of interest in the history of our nation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An uncommon American life March 4, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Wondrous Beauty is a delightful biography of a fascinating woman, an insightful excursion into 19th century American and European history, and an important addition to women's history. Besides the meticulous research one expects from an accomplished historian, the book offers strong characters, lively narrative, family feuds (including Napoleon and his colorful relatives) and transatlantic plot lines. The most demanding readers of historical novels will be enthralled. More importantly, Betsy Patterson Bonaparte's long life provides a rare critical perspective on the society and culture of the new American nation. Infatuated with European sophistication, headstrong in marrying Napoleon's louche youngest brother against her father's wishes, undaunted and eventually frustrated in her quest for carving out a place for herself and her son in European society in spite of Napoleon's strenuous opposition and her young husband's desertion, she remained estranged from both her wealthy father in Baltimore and her country's bourgeois values and relegation of women to domesticity. Yet boring Baltimore not Europe became her final home. The instructive irony of her long life is that in failing as an expat she succeeded in being an American success, a self-made wealthy woman who persisted in engaging life on her own terms, overweening fathers and Napoleonic emperors be damned.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Story February 16, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
This book caught my eye in the biography section of the book store. I knew very little about Napoleon's American relatives until I visited the Maryland Historical Museum in Baltimore a couple of years ago. A docent gave me a brief account of the Patterson family and Betsy Patterson who had a short lived marriage to Napoleon's brother Jerome before Napoleon effectively ended the union while Betsy was pregnant with her only child.
This is a fascinating story that blends european history with the fledgling U.S. and sees this tale through the United States' emergence as a world power. While Betsy Patterson seemingly is often recalled as a sympathetic figure, this book takes a more realistic approach and puts an accurate spin on Betsy who really wasn't a victim at all. A woman with a spine of steel, she was a savvy business woman who was in almost total control and was more than a bit of a snob as well.
Carol Berkin has assembled an interesting and extremely readable story that presents an accurate and detailed view of the Bonaparte family and its connection to a prominent Baltimore family. Much like Wallis Warfield Simpson, a fellow Baltimore resident who would have her own tenuous connection to royalty as the Duchess of Windsor, this is a fascinating story that was waiting to be conveyed to a contemporary audience.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Meh
I was disappointed with this biography. There was a lot of filler and not the detail I expected. There were many things and people that were glossed over and not expounded on. Read more
Published 6 days ago by AnniePA
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fantastic Book!!
Published 20 days ago by Mary Harris
4.0 out of 5 stars Also a good education as to the relationship between the French and...
Much more interesting than I would have at first thought (this was a my book club's choice, not mine) and I was rather enthralled with Elizabeth. Read more
Published 1 month ago by irish lass
3.0 out of 5 stars shallow individual
I found Elizabeth Patterson to be a vain and self-centered woman with little to contribute to society. There have to be more interesting women in history to write about.
Published 1 month ago by Christine
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
love this story will read it soon.
Published 1 month ago by P. Lowe
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Story
I did enjoy this Historical Novel. I had trouble relating to her admiration of Napoleon. I guess I had too many biases against him from all my History lessons in school. Read more
Published 2 months ago by The Gardener
4.0 out of 5 stars An independant woman
I found the book interesting and well researched. I especially liked the earlier section about life in Baltimore at the beginning of the 19th century. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Dorit Paul
5.0 out of 5 stars Read!!!!
Fascinating fun historic easy read . A woman with ambition style and mega brains( stubborn too!). She was a piece of work and I was sad to finish this book it was do good.
Published 3 months ago by Wyleigh
3.0 out of 5 stars Another "Royal" Family Deals with a Baltimore Belle
This was a fun read in that the local setting was so familiar to a Baltimorean. I had always known about Elizabeth Patterson because of my interest in Napoleon but had never read... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Kathleen F. Randall
5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Wonderous Biography
This wonderful historical biography of a little-known connection of the United States with the family of Napoleon Bonaparte reads as easily as a romance novel while being... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Stan McKenzie
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