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Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empireby Flora Fraser
Synopses & Reviews
Dinner at Marseille, 1796
The story of Pauline Bonaparte, legendary beauty and seductress, begins, appropriately, with a meeting of three men. At dinner in the port of Marseille in the south of France were her elder brother General Napoleon Bonaparte, her fiancéeacute;, Citizen Stanislas Fréron, and her future husband, Adjutant General Victor Emmanuel Leclerc. According to the Gregorian calendar it was March 22, 1796. But that annual register had been suppressed, and, according to the Revolutionary calendar, which the national government had instituted with effect from September 1792, the day was 2 Germinal, Year Four.
We have no record of what Pauline Bonaparte herself was doing on that day in Marseille. Fifteen years old, with her widowed mother, Letizia, and others of her siblings she had been an inhabitant of the south of France since dramatic events had caused them to flee their native Corsica. The island was in the throes of a struggle for independence backed in its early stages by members of the Bonaparte family. Latterly Napoleon and his brothers had supported the French Revolution, an adherence that had brought them into conflict with Corsican patriots. The family had settled first at Toulon and then in Marseille in 1793.
Nor indeed until shortly before this dinner do we have much reliable information about Pauline's individual life. Her birth on October 20, 1780-she was the sixth of eight children-was recorded by her father, Charles, in his livre de raison, or commonplace book, which survives him. (He died when she was four.) The date of her baptism the next day in the small cathedral of Ajaccio in Corsica-Archdeacon Luciano Bonaparte, her great-uncle, stood godfather—is recorded in that town's archives. She was christened Maria Paola, and as she grew up was known as Paoletta. With the later fame of her brother Napoleon eclipsing all interest in the stories of his siblings, Pauline's childhood in the Maison Bonaparte in the harbor town of Ajaccio is distinguished by only a few mentions in the correspondence and anecdotes his admirers have so avidly collected.
When she was eleven, in 1792, Napoleon, aged twenty-two, sent her a fashion plate. Writing in the same month about her elder sister, Elisa, who had been educated far from Corsica at Madame de Maintenon's convent school of Saint-Cyr, and doubting the overeducated girl’s chances in marriage, Napoleon mused that she was much less knowing than Paoletta. Both references, at once telling of Napoleon's affection for Pauline, of her love of finery, and of her mischievous character, might seem invented did they not come from reputable sources. Years later, while in exile on Elba, the emperor remembered that he and his sister had been caught mimicking their crippled grandmother, who was bent . . . like an old fairy, and that Letizia punished Pauline rather than him-it being easier to pull up skirts than undo breeches.” If true, the story testifies to the harsh justice that the Bonapartes' mother meted out as well as to the taste this brother and sister displayed all their lives for unkind fun.
In the absence of other details about Pauline, these slivers of family life must represent her childhood years, her squabbles and games with elder brother Louis and younger siblings Maria Annunziata (always known as Caroline) and Jéeacute;rôocirc;me. More generally her
The author of Beloved Emma examines the life and times of Napoleon's favorite sister, Pauline Bonaparte Borghese, a woman renowned at the turn of the nineteenth century as one of Europe's most beautiful women, who shocked the continent with her scandalous love affairs, opulent lifestyle, and lifelong fidelity to her brother. 30,000 first printing.
From acclaimed biographer Flora Fraser, the brilliant life of Napoleon's favorite sister, with color photos, paintings, and illustrations.
Considered by many in Europe to be the mostbeautiful woman at the turn of the nineteenth century, Pauline Bonaparte Borghese shocked the continent with the boldness of her love affairs, her opulent wardrobe and jewels, her decision to pose nearly nude for Canova'ssculpture, and her rumored incestuous relationship with her brother, the Emperor Napoleon--the only man to whom she was loyal. When Napoleon was exiled to Elba, Pauline was the only sibling to follow him there, and after the final defeat at Waterloo she begged to join him at Saint Helena.
In Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire, Flora Fraser casts new light on the Napoleonic era andcrafts a dynamic, vivid portrait of a mesmerizing woman.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
About the Author
Flora Fraser is the author of Beloved Emma: The Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton; The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline; and Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III. She lives in London with her husband and three children.
Table of Contents
Family tree — Dinner at Marseille, 1796 — Garrison bride, 1797-1798 — Madame Leclerc in Paris, 1798-1799 — Sister to the First Consul, 1800-1802 — Expedition to Haiti, 1802 — Pestilential climate, 1802-1803 — Union with a Roman prince, 1803 — Bitter summer, 1804 — The Borgheses at war, 1804-1807 — Messalina of the Empire, 1807 — Southern belle, 1807-1808 — Agent for divorce, 1808-1812 — Survival, 1812-1814 — Diamonds on the battlefield, 1814-1815 — Plots and plans, 1815-1821 — "Great remains of beauty," 1821-1825.
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