A Grand Love

The Last Great Dance on Earth

What’s it about?
The Last Great Dance on Earth is the third of three novels about Empress Josephine. This book remains a very intimate portrait of her and her family, their loves and lives. But it’s probably the grandest part of her story. She’s fully in the palace, living the life of an empress, haunted by what happened to Marie Antoinette. Her continuing inability to get pregnant with Napoleon’s heir (likely because of her imprisonment during the Revolution) leads to their eventual divorce, where she moves to a country house (still a small palace). Napoleon is shown to continue to love her – wikipedia even states that “he had married a womb” (of his second wife). Little mention is made of Napoleon’s love affairs. I suppose it is the French myth that a man can remain married to one woman while having sex with many; a woman must remain loyal to her husband. To be fair, the first book does address this point – Josephine learns that this is what is expected of a good French wife. This volume chronicles her downfall – the complications of life at court, his family’s continuing jealousy and scheming, and her eventual death at her home in suburban Paris.

Why should you read it?
Because the three books together make up one story. There is no drop-off in quality from book to book and they really do read as one whole, split into three to make them manageable. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that the publisher releases them all as a single volume some day. They are a lovely portrait of life in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France.

Intimacy and Grandness

Tales of Passion Tales of Woe

What’s it about?
Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe is the second of three books about Empress Josephine, of Napoleon & Josephine fame. The three books make up one seamless story of Josephine’s entire life; this volume covers the time she marries Napoleon until just after he is crowned Emperor of France. It’s a surprisingly intimate look at their lives, given the sweep of events that lead Napoleon from a capable general to Emperor of France. We learn about their passion for each other as well as the petty jealousies of the Buonaparte family. Though, I suppose, when an empire is at stake, can the jealousy really be petty? It sure reads like it, though.

Why should you read it?
Because all three books are a good overview of what the French Revolution must have looked like, at least a little bit, from the inside. Not to mention that Josephine is an awfully likable character. You feel for her dread of telling her children she’s remarried, her pain at not being able to get pregnant again, her growing love for her husband. It’s a pleasant historical fiction about a very famous woman.

A lesson in graciousness

The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.

What’s it about?
The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B is the first book in a trilogy that encompasses Empress Josephine’s entire life. This particular volume is about her childhood, first marriage, and life during the French Revolution. It’s told from her point of view – her diaries in fact, and the occasional letter. I knew little about her going into the series: I didn’t know she was from Martinique or that she’d been married before Napoleon. Josephine – called Rose in this volume – is charming and gracious and constantly fighting to help individuals, both her family and people she barely knows.

Why should you read it?
Rose is so sweet and charming and gracious, that she will naturally infect you. It’s also an intimate look into the French Revolution, which is so often treated¬†grandly. It’s a big subject, so that’s understandable. But this book shows the human side of it. What was it like to live during such interesting times? Josephine will get swept into those grand events, but this volume is immediate and human. Which is probably why it was a bestseller when it came out.