For once, when I say this will be brief, I sincerely mean it.
After reading "Dancing to the Precipice," a wonderful book that covered both the French Revolution and life under Napoleon, I decided I should read more about the latter period. The first book I stumbled upon was Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire, by Flora Fraser. I had read a pretty good review of it, so thought I'd give it a try.
I can't say I'm sorry I did, because it didn't take that much time to read. I can say, however, that I wish I had chosen something else. There's nothing wrong with Ms. Fraser's organization of the book, or solid research and workmanlike writing. It's just, well, Pauline.
In short, Pauline Bonaparte, one of Napoleon's younger sisters, was a great beauty. She married General Charles Leclerc when she was seventeen, and had a son with him, Dermide. She accompanied Leclerc when he was sent to the island of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) to get the rebellion led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, under control. Leclerc never could put the rebels down completely, and died of yellow fever on the island. Pauline and Dermide returned to France. She soon married Prince Camillo Borghese, an apparently ridiculously handsome man who was also flat out dumb. Early on in their marriage, Dermide died. Pauline never had any more children; it's likely that she contracted an infection while giving birth to Dermide that made it impossible for her to get pregnant.
Pauline probably considered this a lucky break because her main occupation in life was sleeping around. You could call her a sexually empowered woman, or you could call her a slut. I call her boring. Her lovers weren't anyone particularly interesting and it doesn't seem that her affairs led her to any places of importance, or gave her any insight on anything. Her habits were widely known, and probably, fairly or not, exaggerated. There were rumors in Saint-Domingue that she had native lovers, plus lesbian encounters. Then there was a persistent story that she and her brother Napoleon had incestuous relations (Fraser seems to believe this was true). None of which made her anymore interesting to me. She spent most of her life having sex and behaving like a spoiled child. When she was first told that she and Leclerc were going to Saint-Domingue, she complained until someone suggested that she would look very pretty in the summery island fashions. That perked her right up, and that's about how deep she was her entire life.
Pauline spent most of her life lying on sofas or in bed. She demanded to be carried everywhere, and regularly made men and women act as her footstools. I'm not kidding, Fraser's book includes several anecdotes describing how people arrived to visit Pauline and found her using some unfortunate lady-in-waiting's neck as a footstool. She constantly complained about how her titles, homes, jewels, and carriages compared with her sisters' things, always pestering Napoleon to give her something else; the sisters complained right back. At Napoleon's coronation, where Josephine was crowned empress, the three sisters pouted about her having a higher rank than them. They were supposed to carry Josephine's train, but pulled on it instead, making it impossible for her to walk, until Napoleon glared at them and made them behave. Yes, they were all adults in their twenties when they pulled this stunt. The main thing I got out of this book was pity for Napoleon that he was saddled with so many bickering, bratty siblings. If Europe had really wanted to punish him, they would have banished him to Elba and St. Helene's with his extended family. Seriously, if you plan to ascend to any kind of powerful position some day, I recommend you take careful stock of your family first, and if you're not an only child, reconsider your plans.
And that's pretty much all I have to say about this book.