Becoming Josephine

Written by Heather Webb
Review by Arleigh Johnson

Before she was Napoleon Bonaparte’s empress, Rose de Beauharnais was a young bride desperately trying to exchange her Creole upbringing for the sophisticated lifestyle of a privileged Parisian lady. Her arranged marriage to Alexandre de Beauharnais was not the love story she’d craved. Two children are born of the match, but soon after Rose finds herself struggling to live while her husband is supposedly working on his military career. Alongside her personal struggles, France is quickly descending into revolt.

Saving loved ones from the violent mobs, decaying prisons and the horrifying guillotine becomes Rose’s purpose, until she herself faces the same dreadful fate. Owing to the death of Robespierre, Rose survives the Reign of Terror and begins piecing her life back together. She fortunately befriends the newest society belle, as well as the men who were to be the backbone of the government before Napoleon steps in. Rose’s introduction to the man who has been described as her greatest love is well-detailed; however, the course of their marriage in the final pages is scant.

As a love story, this novel doesn’t offer a satisfying narrative. Rose’s first marriage was made of convenience though ended with a warm-hearted camaraderie. Her marriage to Napoleon should have been either the climax or a satiating ending; however, it falls short. We are left with a long-suffering protagonist who has little to look forward to other than a title and a mansion.

While the writing style is vivid and elegant, the timeline seems to be a problem. Three decades are squeezed into the pages, with the larger portion Rose’s early years. This would work well if this story focused on the events that transformed Rose into Josephine. A severely abridged version of her second marriage may leave readers feeling deflated by the final scenes.