But for the fact that she went to get her brother out of jail….
Bernardine Eugénie Désirée Clary, a wealthy silk merchant’s daughter, would not have met young impoverished Napoleon Bonaparte and how different her life might have been. Enchanted by the young officer, she invites him and his brother Joseph to her home – where Joseph finds himself attracted to her sister Julie and her very generous dowry. Still too young to wed at fourteen, she and Napoleon are engaged, but the older Joséphine de Beauharnais has something to say about that. Although heartbroken, Désirée recovers and eventually marries French General Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, although he spends much of their marriage away from Paris in service to the now Emperor of France. Eventually Bernadotte is nominated to become Crown Prince of Sweden, and subsequently King with Désirée as its reluctant Queen.
Written in diary format from Désirée’s POV, her story give the reader an inside glimpse at the young Napoleon and his family, through his opulent days as Emperor lavishing gifts and titles on his family, on to his final defeat at Waterloo. As interesting as much of this history was, I found myself snoozing off at times as the author lost me with a too busy cast of characters, too many of which were always called “your royal highness” and nothing else that I had a hard time following who was who. Worse yet, the diary format really painted the author into quite a corner and she had a hard time getting herself out of it at times – frankly she fell out of that corner on more than one occasion. Writing in your diary and you quote verbatim a long long letter from your son? I don’t think so. If you’re a big fan of anything and everything Napoleonic and want to read more I’d go for it, but definitely not for a first time reader of this period in France’s history. 3/5 stars.