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Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of…
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Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

by Carol Berkin

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Being born and raised in Maryland, this book gave great insight into our local "celebrity" Betsy Patterson Bonaparte. Very interesting tale of her marriage and annulment from Napoleon's younger brother. Also, her relationship with her father, son and various luminaries of the day. Even though the book is set in days past, Betsy shares a very contemporary outlook on life. Read this in one weekend! Highly recommend for anyone interested in Baltimore and American history. ( )
  DebRuth | Apr 27, 2014 |
Before reading this biography of Betsy Patterson Bonaparte I didn’t realize Napoleon Bonaparte had a Baltimore connection, but it’s a fascinating story, well told in this book, that encompasses both European and early American history and culture. Betsy met Napoleon’s younger brother Jérôme in 1803 while he was in Maryland avoiding military service and the two teenagers fell in love and married within that year, against the wishes of their families and governments. Betsy’s strict controlling father did not trust the aristocratically unemployed foreigner, but Betsy was eager to escape the limiting and prosaic social strictures she felt awaited her if she was forced into a more conventional match. Because Betsy and Jérôme were courting during the unsettled period while Americans debated whether to choose sides or remain neutral in the conflict between France and Britain their romance became a political event monitored closely on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the early days of their marriage Betsy and Jérôme enjoyed mingling with the major political players of Washington, where Betsy scandalized party goers with her risqué French fashions, but their happy days did not last long. Napoleon wanted to further his empire building ambitions by arranging a royal marriage for Jérôme, so when the young couple arrived in Europe Napoleon declared their marriage annulled. Unable to stand up to his older brother Jérôme abandoned Betsy, then pregnant with their child, and married the highly titled but much less scintillating Princess Catherine Fredericka Sophia Dorothea of Württemberg to become the king of Westphalia.

Betsy still managed to live a fascinating and intellectually rich life, spending as much time as possible in the great cities and salons of Europe where she was welcomed by luminaries that included Madame de Staël, Madame Récamier, and the goddaughter of Voltaire Marquise de Villette. She taught herself to be a shrewd manager of what fortune she had to support her chosen lifestyle and had high expectations for her son’s future, goals he unfortunately for her did not share. Author and history professor Carol Berkin treats Betsy with sympathetic but clear eyed respect by not downplaying her shortcomings. For me one of the most interesting aspects of this very readable book is the way it highlights the evolving differences between European and American cultures. ( )
  Jaylia3 | Feb 25, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307592782, Hardcover)

From the award-winning historian: the remarkable life of "the most beautiful woman of nineteenth-century Baltimore," whose marriage in 1803 to Jérome Bonaparte, the youngest brother of Napoleon, became inextricably bound to the diplomatic and political nineteenth-century histories of the United States, France, and England. From the author of Revolutionary Mothers ("Incisive, thoughtful, spiced with vivid anecdotes. Don't miss it."-Thomas Fleming) and Civil War Wives ("Utterly fresh…Sensitive, poignant, thoroughly fascinating."-Jay Winik).

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. Jérome ended the marriage and was made king of Westphalia; Betsy fled to England, and gave birth to her son and only child, Jérome's namesake.

Berkin writes how this naïve, 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:33 -0400)

The remarkable life of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, renowned as the most beautiful woman of nineteenth-century Baltimore, whose marriage in 1803 to Jérôme Bonaparte, the youngest brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, became inextricably bound to the diplomatic and political histories of the United States, France, and England.… (more)

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