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The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's…

The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court (edition 2012)

by Michelle Moran

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184None66,179 (3.71)18
Title:The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court
Authors:Michelle Moran
Info:Crown (2012), Hardcover, 320 páginas
Collections:Your library
Tags:Historical fiction, Napoleon, Marie Louise

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The Second Empress by Michelle Moran



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Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
I actually rated this a 4.5

Funny thing...I don't remember ever reading a novel set during Napoleon's reign yet here we are in the third week of January and I've already read two this year! Whereas The Secret of the Pink Carnation was more of a romance/spy novel set in the height of Napoleon & Josephine's reign, The Second Empress is straight historical fiction and covers the last years of Napoleon's control over his empire. I'm not sure why but up to now, I've never really had much interest in this time period (maybe because as an American history student I was always focused more on what was happen in America at the time). I am most definitely interested now!

I received this novel as an advance readers copy from the goodreads "first read" program but was unable to get to it until now. I am very happy that I was able to make time for it as I really enjoyed it. Moran provides a perfect amount of historical detail without getting to "teachy". Moran tells the story in three voices: Pauline, Marie-Louise, and Paul. We get the insider's view from Napoleon's sister, Pauline. Then we get the outsider's viewpoint from the second empress, Marie-Louise. And finally we get the commoner's viewpoint from Pauline's chamberlain, Paul Moreau. The use of these three voices gives the reader a more complete understanding of life in Napoleon's court.

I found the novel to be both enjoyable and educational as I knew little about this time period. Moran used many primary sources in the development of this novel. I was surprised to find that many of the more shocking storylines were indeed based on fact. You know how they say "truth is stranger than fiction"? That is most definitely true with the Bonapartes!

After having read The Second Empress, I am now fascinated with the life of Marie-Louise. Moran paints her as a sympathetic character doing her duty as a royal daughter and wife. Information that I've found online, shows a slightly different story. I am sure the truth is somewhere in between. ( )
  jsamaha | Mar 14, 2014 |
I thought this book would be interesting because I honestly didn't remember much I had learned about Napoleon in school except he was short and grumpy. The Second Empress by Michelle Moran does include the basic history of Napoleon and his two wives. The novel is separated into chapters in which one of three characters narrate. I don't like books written this way because I ALWAYS get confused about who is "speaking" at the time. I muddled through that and found the book an enjoyable read. ( )
  NCRainstorm | Mar 5, 2014 |
Knowing very little about Napoleon's later years, I was uncertain if Moran's fictional work would mislead or guide me in this historical time period. I was happily surprised by her use of primary source documents (primarily letters) to draw me into the life of his 18 year old Austrian-born wife, Marie-Louise.

The oddities of relationships between Napoleon, Marie-Louise, his sister Pauline, his previous wife, Josephine and even the story of Paul Moreau, were all new to me. At times, I wasn't sure how much was true vs fiction. Napoleon is depicted as cold-hearted, tempermental and disparaging of women; all well-supported by documents and texts.

I fell into the world of 18th century France and admire Moran's ability to take me there. Worth reading and I plan to locate more of her historical fiction to add to my BTR pile! ( )
  nandrews | Apr 4, 2013 |
One of the first reviews I posted on A Fantastical Librarian was for Michelle Moran's Cleopatra's Daughter, which I loved. I had planned to get all her other works, but you know how it goes; I have a wish list a mile long and only a limited budget to buy books. However, when I saw The Second Empress, which was about Napoleon's womenfolk, I was really excited and interested. I've always had an interest in Napoleon, both because of his influence on my country – Holland was occupied by the French from 1795 until 1813 – and because I visited The Dome des Invalides, where Napoleon is buried, when I was fourteen and I was fascinated, not just by the opulence of the place, but by the idea that one who had brought so much death and suffering to so many people still would have been revered enough to be honoured like that. I also saw the painting depicting Napoleon's crowning Josephine empress in the Louvre and was gripped by their story. So I was pretty familiar with their history; who I didn't know much about was Marie-Louise, Napoleon's second wife. And with The Second Empress Michelle Moran has definitely remedied this.

Moran tells her story through three separate viewpoints interspersed with letters between Napoleon and Josephine. The three viewpoints consist of Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's younger sister, her chamberlain, Paul Moreau, and Marie-Louise, the second empress herself. Through these we learn not just about Napoleon's almost magnetic charm on the populace and his truly awful temper, but also about his strategic genius and his ruthless ambition. We follow the Bonapartes from 1809, when Napoleon puts Josephine aside for her barrenness and marries Marie-Antoinette's great-niece Marie-Louise, until his final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. They show us the cut-throat politics of the Napoleonic court and how the subtle, under-the-skin machinations of the women is just as deadly as Napoleon's more straightforward go-for-the-throat dealings.

The fact that Moran manages to make all three of our narrators sympathetic is really surprising, since Pauline was a rather disturbed individual, whose greatest ambition is to marry Napoleon in the tradition of the Pharaohs and rule the Empire by his side. Moran evokes pity rather than disgust for her, showing us that she's been broken by her family's past and her treatment after they fled Corsica. In addition, she is implied to be mentally impaired due to the effects of venereal disease and the medicines she takes for this. We see Pauline not just through her own eyes, but through those of the other two as well of course, but mostly through the loving eyes of Paul Moreau. Devoted to Pauline since her time on Haiti as the governor’s wife, he gives a relative outsider's view of the events in the book, one who moves between the three spheres of influence of Napoleon, Pauline and Marie-Louise. I loved his development throughout the novel. He has to let go of so much to come back to who he wants to be and be able to return home.

If not for Marie-Louise, Paul would have been my favourite character in this book. I fell in love with Marie-Louise; Moran's portrayal of her as a strong-minded nineteen-year-old, who sacrifices her future to save her father's rein, as she thinks herself a dutiful daughter, and grows into a self-assured young woman, who manages to keep herself standing in the venal court of the Bonapartes was compelling. Her friendship with Hortense de Beauharnais, Josephine's daughter from her first marriage, was surprising, but touching. Marie-Louise's growth and her composure and quick thinking when Napoleon names her Regent when he goes to war, was amazing. Young as she was, she was a power to be reckoned with.

The one thing I would have liked to see addressed more is how Marie-Louise viewed Josephine. The latter must have been an intimidating figure for her, not just because Napoleon obviously still loved her even if he divorced, but also because she was well-loved by the French and Marie-Louise was seen as an Austrian interloper. For the great-niece of the last Austrian queen, who was beheaded by her subjects, this must have been at least a little frightening. The continuing love between Napoleon and Josephine is showcased in the book through the interspersion of several of their letters throughout the book. It shows the depth of their love and the very real passion between them, even after their divorce. For a young girl like Marie-Louise, this must have been hard, as it must have made her feel even more of an object—Pauline even refers to her as 'the womb'. However, beyond her initial trepidation at having Hortense as Mistress of the Robes, Marie-Louise doesn't really mention anything about it, which was a little puzzling.

Despite my wish for a deeper look at Marie-Louise's feelings about Josephine, The Second Empress was a riveting read, rich in descriptions of the gorgeous Parisian buildings and wonderful characterisations of not only its narrators, but of the secondary characters as well. It's once again convinced me that I need to catch up on this author's backlist as soon as I can. While the events the book follows a grand in scale, the book is an intimate narrative and lets the reader into the characters' minds and hearts and feel for them. If you're interested in the Napoleonic era and aren't as familiar with his court as with his military exploits, this is a good book to get you started. Michelle Moran has once again delivered a delightful novel and I can't wait to see whether her next book, which will be set in India, will be just as engaging as the works I've read so far.

This book was provided for review by the publisher. ( )
  Mieneke | Mar 31, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
If Princess Maria Lucia of Austria doesn’t marry Napoleon Bonaparte, he’ll topple her father from his throne and ruin her family’s future. It’s not even a choice, in her mind, and so she leaves everything she loves behind to become the next Empress of France, in a journey startlingly reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, the beheaded Austrian queen of France. In Napoleon’s court, she meets his sister, Pauline, whose mood swings and affairs are legendary, and her chamberlain Paul, a Haitian who longs to return to his native land but can’t stop loving Pauline. Together they endure one of France’s most turbulent periods.

Michelle Moran has penned some of my favorite historical novels and I love the way she gives a focus to women in history who haven’t really been spotlighted in her last three. Marie-Louise has always existed in the shadow of Napoleon’s great love story with Josephine, his first wife and empress, and it’s lovely that Moran chose to give her a focus with this book. Napoleon’s sister Pauline is better known, but still not usually in the limelight, and Paul is a completely different focus altogether.

Unfortunately, while this premise was good, I actually preferred Marie-Louise to both Paul and Pauline. I felt much more for her as she left her home and her actual lover to marry this man that extorted money from her country and threatened her father. I should have felt more for both Paul and Pauline, but the former didn’t really appeal to me and the latter just seemed out of touch with reality. I kept hoping to get back to Marie-Louise’s story and I rushed through the other chapters so that I could spend more time with her. I can understand how Pauline in particular might appeal to another reader because she really is a character, and I know a lot of the elements here were taken from fact, but I couldn’t really feel for her at all.

Another reason I didn’t really love this one as much as some of Moran’s other books was because I found out that Marie-Louise only met Adam, the lover she leaves in the book when she has to go marry Napoleon, much later on when she’s already a married woman. I felt disappointed by this; it’s such a huge part of the plot in the beginning, when we discover Marie-Louise isn’t an innocent and that everyone knows she loves someone else, that I felt let down to discover it wasn’t really close to the truth. I would have preferred a narrative constructed more around the historical reality, and I think her departure already had the potential to be quite emotional. It isn’t a minor detail, either, like moving a date around, and it just made me feel that the way the historical gaps had been filled in wasn’t believable any more. It was a real shame and I will confess that it left me disappointed. Am I being unfair here? Maybe a little – but I always prefer the gaps in the historical record to be filled in, and an emotional reality imagined, and discovering that the emotional reality simply couldn’t have happened does have an impact on my feelings about the book.

While I still enjoyed actually reading The Second Empress, I’m afraid that I’d recommend one of Moran’s other books first, and to accept that this read might land much more on the fiction side of historical fiction. ( )
  littlebookworm | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Cairo, July 25, 1798. You will see in the newspapers the result of our battles and the conquest of Egypt, where we found resistance enough to add a leaf to the laurels of this army.
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It is 1809, and while the French Revolution is over, the bloodshed in Paris continues under the reign of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Although he has conquered much of Europe and is considered one of the most formidable generals in the world, Napoleon still lacks one important thing -- an heir. Convinced that his faithful wife Josephine will never produce one, he divorces her and begins the search for a new bride. His choice lands on the unwilling Austrian Princess, Marie-Louise, whose great-aunt, Marie Antoinette, suffered a terrible fate at the hands of the French. But once Napoleon makes his intentions known, not even Marie-Louise's father can save her from what is certain to be an unhappy marriage.

After Marie-Louise arrives in France, she is treated to a spectacle beyond anything she could have ever imagined in Austria. From lavish parties that would have made Marie Antoinette blush with shame, to temper tantrums thrown by the Emperor’s spoiled siblings, the French court is wild, juvenile, and extravagant. The worst offender of them all, however, is Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s promiscuous sister who is doing everything she can to encourage Napoleon to divorce his new wife. Her dream is to take the imperial crown for herself--just as the Egyptians did--by marrying her own brother. When Marie-Louise uncovers the relationship that exists between her husband and his sister, she is horrified. Surrounded by duplicitous courtiers and untrustworthy family members, the new Empress finds two unlikely allies at court: Hortense, the beautiful daughter of Joséphine, and Paul, the insightful servant Pauline took away with her after visiting the island of Haiti.

Based entirely on primary resources, The Second Empress recreates Napoleon Bonaparte’s wildly promiscuous court--and the women who tried to control it.
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1809. The French Revolution is over, but the bloodshed in Paris may continue under the rule of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Based entirely on primary resources, this recreation details Napoleon Bonaparte's wildly promiscuous court and the women who tried to tame it.… (more)

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