Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire

Written by Flora Fraser
Review by Eva Ulett

The Bonaparte clan depicted in Flora Fraser’s biography could rival any reality TV family for scandal. Pauline Bonaparte is thought to have indulged in excessive sexual activity that adversely affected her health. Amid many lovers Pauline married twice. In her adolescence, she first married Victor Emmanuel Leclerc. She respected General Leclerc, behaving with courage during the uprising in Haiti where Leclerc was the French commander in chief. Pauline’s second husband, Prince Camillo Borghese, fared less well in her esteem. Yet it was the Roman prince who sheltered Pauline in her last days.

Pauline reserved her fiercest loyalty for her brother Napoleon, with whom she is thought to have carried on an intimate relationship. A cartoon showing Pauline and her brother in bed is one of twelve illustrations contained in the book. Respecting the relationship of Napoleon and Pauline author Fraser concludes, “it seems inevitable, given the strong sex drive for which Pauline and Napoleon were both renowned… that they should have experimented sexually together.” [p. 144] Pauline Bonaparte is a richly detailed biography revealing the life of the Emperor of France’s notorious sister and a time in history not unlike our own, in which celebrity and prestige held the utmost interest.