Becoming Josephine is based on the true story of Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife, Josephine. Born Rose Tascher, she survived divorce, war, and prison before becoming Josephine. Tell us more about your historical heroine, Heather.
Rose Tascher’s life before Napoleon was fascinating and rich, and it seemed a shame that such an intriguing woman should be defined only by her status as the wife of a ruler—particularly since I believe she made Napoleon’s success (if that’s what one should call it) possible in many ways. With his rageful tantrums and ego-driven agenda, I believe he would have crashed much sooner if Josephine had not smoothed things over with domestic ministers and foreign diplomats. Though whether or not that’s a good thing is questionable, I can say her choices were primarily made out of love for her family and the good of her people. The Empress truly wished her people well and gave generously throughout her life without expectation—even to her enemies. What’s not to love about a humble, yet beautiful woman who helped her fellow man? As for her faults, they endeared her to me all the more. After the years I’ve spent with her in my head, I feel as if she is a friend.
Share with us a bit about your research process.
I researched for about eight months before I wrote a single word, and then I continued to research in dribs and drabs throughout the entire writing process. I tried to take a comprehensive approach—biographies of important characters, histories of the Revolution as well as those of Martinique, Napoleon’s reprinted letters, and documentaries. I studied art and literature movements from this period, china patterns, fashion, weapons. I could go on. Researchitis is a disease we historical fiction writers suffer from.
What in your opinion was Josephine’s biggest defect?
This is tough. I could argue that being a spendthrift (it was practically an addiction) led Josephine to make decisions about sleeping around to secure her station … but I think her biggest fault was taking so many men that she did not love. You give away a piece of yourself, your soul, each time you take on a new lover. I’m sure there are those who would disagree, but especially in Josephine’s case, I think, her promiscuity not only caused her grief, but it sparked a downward spiral in her relationship with Napoleon. (Though in the long run, I believe he would have wrecked it anyway. He was so power-hungry and domineering. It would have only been a matter of time before he took other women.)
What two words would you use to describe Josephine?
Cunning: Josephine had many men. She was attractive, certainly, but not exactly a beautiful woman. But she knew how to work it! She was famous for her Creole accent and swaying hips, saying precisely the right thing at the right time. She seemed to know what made people tick and how to soothe their ill spirits or bolster their confidence. And it wasn’t just men who responded to her, women adored her as well.
Brave: Josephine faced slave rebellion, the September massacres, losing several friends and a husband to the murderous tyrants of the Revolution. She was imprisoned and nearly died. She graced the halls of some of the most famous palaces in the world and was even compared to a queen—a very precarious title after such tremendous bloodshed and unrest. It’s one thing to “face” all of those horrors and pressures, it’s another to rise above the filth and hate and become a beloved icon. The woman was tremendous.
If there was one thing of hers you could own, what would it be?
Her Tarot deck, without a doubt. I have my own cards and a gorgeous hand-carved box that my husband made for them. What I would give to place hers inside it!
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