From the award-winning historian: the remarkable life of "the most beautiful woman of 19th-century Baltimore", whose marriage in 1803 to Jérôme Bonaparte, the youngest brother of Napoleon, became inextricably bound to the diplomatic and political 19th-century histories of the United States, France, and England. From the author of Revolutionary Mothers and Civil War Wives. In Wondrous Beauty, Carol Berkin tells the story of this audacious, outsize life: how her romantic, passionate marriage infuriated Napoleon and resulted in his banning the then-pregnant Betsy Bonaparte from disembarking in any European port, demanding that his brother either lose all power and remain married to that "American girl" - or renounce her, marry a woman of Napoleon's choice, and reap the benefits. Jérôme ended the marriage and was made king of Westphalia; Betsy fled to England, and gave birth to her son and only child, Jérôme's namesake. Berkin writes how this naive, headstrong American girl returned to Baltimore a cynical, independent woman, refusing to seek social redemption and return to obscurity through a quiet marriage to a member of Baltimore's merchant class; how she disdained America's obsession with money-making, its growing ethos of democracy, and the rigid gender roles that confined women to the parlor and the nursery, and sought a European society where women created salons devoted to intellectual life and where traditions of aristocracy dominated society; and, we see how as a shrewd investor she transformed a modest pension from the French government into a fortune that rivaled many a (male) financier.
This is an interesting biography of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte (1785-1879). It has been sitting on my “to read pile” for some time.
Elizabeth married the younger brother of Napoleon. His name was Jerome and they had a son together. Napoleon ordered Jerome back to France and annulled the marriage. After Elizabeth was successful in making money by her own investments, she divorced Jerome in Baltimore. Berkin points out that if she stayed married to Jerome the monies would be his; but as a single woman she could control her own money. She never remarried.
The book was well written and meticulously researched. Berkin quoted frequently from letters received by Elizabeth as she had a habit of writing comments in the margins of the letters. Apparently, Elizabeth kept most of the correspondence she received. This habit must make historians happy. Berkin does a good job of painting a picture of life in Baltimore as well as in England and France in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The author also covers the legal rights of women in those years. I enjoyed learning about an American connection to the Bonaparte family. Carol Berkin is the Presidential Professor of History at Baruch College.
The book is almost nine and a half hours. Tara Hugo does an excellent job narrating the book. Hugo is an actress, singer and audiobook narrator.
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