|Awesome pulp fiction cover|
The novel starts strong. It's 1794, France is in the grip of Robespierre's Reign of Terror, and Eugenie Desiree Clary is the fourteen year old daughter of a silk merchant in Marseilles. Through various events, she meets Joseph Buonaparte and his younger brother Napoleon, to whom she becomes engaged. (Joseph Bonaparte marries her older sister Julie.) This part of the novel is pretty good and Napoleon is obviously super sexy. But then he takes off for Paris and dumps Desiree for the soggy Josephine. The novel goes downhill from there and Desiree's character is reduced to little more than a paper doll who happens to witness some of the more dramatic moments in history. Every time Napoleon is about to do something important, he summons Desiree, who seems to be able exploit her status of first love to say things that would get others banished or imprisoned.
|Eugenie Desiree Clary|
One of my literary peeves is when a writer of historic fiction uses a character as a prop from which to display a series of historical events. It is just so dull, although to be fair, the real Desiree did spend a lot of time alone in Paris, while her husband, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, was a major player on the world's stage. He was eventually chosen by the royal family of Sweden to be their crown prince and later, he and Desiree became king and queen of Sweden.
I didn't love this book, but it enhanced my understanding of War and Peace, which I've been slowly reading since long before Christmas. Desiree covers the same time period from a different perspective and provides background for the events in War and Peace. Obviously, I learned about all of this in history but that was a long time ago. Our European history teacher, Sister Marcyanne, had a marvelous knack for teaching history. I still remember her vivid stories about Marat being murdered in the bathtub, and stealthy Russians on skis utterly humiliating the French, but I've forgotten much else.