6 Fascinating Things I Learned About Empress Josephine from Heather Webb’s BECOMING JOSEPHINE

Bring out the virtual confetti and glasses of champagne—today Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb is officially out in the world!!!

477px-Josephine_by_AppianiI could gush all week about the many reasons I loved this book (and trust me, we will) but instead I will pay it the highest compliment I can think of when it comes to fiction: Becoming Josephine transported me to another world and made characters I’d briefly known through history come alive in ways that made me truly care for them. I feel like I made a new friend in Josephine, and I came away with a new understanding and appreciation for who she was and all she endured. The story is rich in detail and insights into Josephine’s life. Here are just a few of them:

1. She wasn’t born an empress. Or Josephine. Okay, part of this may sound obvious, but I’ve always thought of Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife as this larger-than-life, scandalous figure, and always as an Empress. My history lessons never taught me about all the lives she lived before she even met Napoleon. They never mentioned that she wasn’t born in France, but in Martinique, or that she went by the name Rose, or that she’d first been married to a French nobleman with whom she had two. She truly did become Josephine, and her transformation from a naive young wife to a loving, fearless mother to a surprisingly independent and sexually liberated woman to a powerful but generous Empress is a fascinating journey to follow in Becoming Josephine.

2. She was legally separated from her husband at a time when I didn’t realize women had this option. I won’t say much more, because I don’t want to give away spoilers. But I found myself equally immersed in her life with Alexandre, her first husband, and her marriage to Napoleon. Heather makes each relationship come alive in all its beautiful complexities.

3. She was a dog person. Oh, Fortuné! This little pug stole Josephine’s heart, and he returned the favor with some surprising heroics. Read more about him in yesterday’s post by Lori, and remember as you read Becoming Josephine that he really did what Heather wrote he did!

4. She was a survivor. Slave rebellions in Martinique. Months spent in prison, days away from being executed during the French Revolution. Poverty and heartbreak and a (ahem) difficult husband. Josephine’s life was full of challenges but she managed to come out of them stronger.

5. Ooh la la…she had many lovers. Need I say more?

6. When she married Napoleon, Josephine was 32 and he was 26. She was considered “older.” It was quite the scandal, but Napoleon didn’t seem to mind. He was absolutely, head-over-heels madly in love with her (you should read the letters he wrote her…they make cameos in Becoming Josephine).

Did you previously know any of these anecdotes about Josephine’s life? Which one most piques your interest?

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at nataliasylvester.com

11 thoughts on “6 Fascinating Things I Learned About Empress Josephine from Heather Webb’s BECOMING JOSEPHINE

  1. Great tidbits to share, Natalia! :) Another “fun” fact is in one summer at Malmaison, she ordered 35 hats made that added to her 1 million franc debt (before Napoleon paid it all).

    • Omg. Compulsive shopper, much? ;)

      Oh, Josephine! Quite the character—I can definitely see why you were so drawn to her.

  2. I love that she arrived in Paris as a Creole girl named “Rose.” That was definitely news to me. It’s no wonder she loved roses so much when she was older — getting back to her roots!

  3. I loved all these parts too!

    Josephine’s pug, Fortune, was a particular favorite of mine. I’m an animal lover, so a well-written animal enhances a book immeasurably for me.

    Like you, I didn’t know much about Josephine before I started reading Heather’s book — and like you, I fell in love with the complex woman Heather revealed in the pages.

  4. Looking forward to reading this one.
    I read somewhere that she had ‘bad teeth’ and was ashamed to smile with her lips open – I found that fascinating. No cosmetic dentistry back then, I guess.

    • Yes! I read that somewhere as well. And despite that, she was desired by so many. So interesting to read about past standards of beauty versus our modern insistence on seeming perfection.

  5. I think it’s cool that you have done so much research. So much of my writing comes from first person anecdotal reports, and it reminds me how important it is to learn about NEW things, people, places, etc. Honestly, your book seems super cool and I will look forward to reading it also! (Forget if I mentioned that I’m knee deep into the second Outlander book which is set in France. The rituals of the King Louis are so intriguing. What different times for sure.)

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