Since completing high school history, few of us have managed to keep straight the details of the French Revolution. Beyond suggestions of eating cake and the effectiveness of the guillotine, this sordid time period has remained--for many--somewhat obscure. Now, through the novel The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B., not only do we learn of the many differences between Robespierre and Rousseau, but we gain insight into the marriage of one of history's greatest political couples: Napoleon and Josephine.
Standing beside the charismatic Napoleon, Josephine's own importance and fascinating history have often been overshadowed. In a fictionalized account of Josephine's diaries and her correspondence, author Sandra Gulland has shed light on Josephine's pre-Napoleon life. This, the first of three books about Josephine, covers her childhood in Martinique, her first marriage, the birth of her children, her life during the revolution, and her marriage to Napoleon.
A poor Creole outsider as well as a rising socialite, Josephine experienced both the horrors of imprisonment and the privilege of connections. Utilizing these different perspectives, Gulland takes special care to bring forth the reality of life in late 18th-century France. Though she can only theorize on Josephine's emotions and desires, Gulland's talented writing and the restrained use of footnotes keep the reader properly informed on pertinent details, whether they be obscure political events or voodoo beliefs. While professional historians may bristle at the artistic license Gulland employs, most readers will find her novel a satisfying and engaging introduction to this dramatic period. --Nancy R.E. O'Brien [via]