Imagine sitting across from one of history’s most notorious women and listening to the memories of a life seasoned like none other. Such is the experience of reading Carolly Erickson’s novel The Secret Life of Josephine.
On the island of Martinique she was Rose Tascher. Born into a life wavering on the brink of poverty. When she was old enough, Rose was betrothed to her cousin in Paris to better the situation of her family. It was an unhappy union. Her husband, Alexandre de Beauharnais, was cruel. He made sure she knew exactly what he thought of her and paraded his mistress in front of Rose. But Rose found solace in the station marriage provided her, in the friendships she formed, and in the two children she bore. Then the time came the same social standing she enjoyed nearly saw her beheaded during The Terror. Alexandre had not been so lucky as to escape the guillotine. When The Reign of The Red Lady was over, Rose left her prison as a widow.
Life in Paris became one of wild abandon afterwards. Rules were made up as people went along. Rose found she had a head for business and gave into her ambitious nature. She also threw herself into a life of indulgence. It was then she met “the little Corsican” named Nabuleone Buonaparte. He was taken with Rose and tenaciously set about to win her over. When his aspirations included France he changed their names to sound more French-like. Thus, Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine were born.
The Secret Life of Josephine is an intriguing tale of what might have been. It is not a biography. Erickson’s talent for storytelling causes the book to come alive for the reader. The mesmeric characterization of Josephine and the gripping details of life in that time in history make this a stand out novel.