The Secret Life of Josephine

Written by Carolly Erickson
Review by Diane Scott Lewis

Lovely Rose of Martinique is sent to pre-revolutionary France to marry Viscount Alexandre de Beauharnais, but her arrogant new husband neglects her to spend time with his mistress. Rose gives him two children and finds happiness with a lover. After the revolution tears Paris apart, Rose is imprisoned for being an aristocrat’s wife. Alexandre is guillotined, but Rose is spared. Caught up in the debauched life after the Terror, she is now an influential man’s mistress. Through him she meets a rising young general who begs to marry her.

To secure the future of her children, Rose marries General Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte renames her Josephine and leaves to command the army in Italy; Josephine continues with her lovers. When Bonaparte discovers her infidelity, he takes a mistress and treats her with cruelty. Josephine is contacted by a spy network that convinces her to stop Bonaparte before he destroys France.

Erickson admits freely that this is a work of fiction blended with fact. Josephine has a lover who pops up in almost comic fashion everywhere she travels. The author goes out of her way to make Napoleon repulsive. She imbues Josephine with the same loathing, so their marriage never makes sense on any level. Still, the novel is a beautifully written, guilty pleasure.