Venus of Empire

2 May 2010

I finished my copy of Venus of Empire this weekend and, as promised, have hastened here to give my thoughts. I’ve already talked at length about the whole incest debacle, and there is more of that in the rest of the book, with aggrieved chambermaids and English propaganda given as the sources for such scurrilious tales of scandal and debauchery. You would think that such sources would be treated with the contempt that they deserve but alas not.

The rest of the book was good and a very entertaining read but I couldn’t help feeling like there was something missing, something really important that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was as I read the final page that it came to me: I had just read a book that chronicled the life and times of Pauline Bonaparte, following at often exhausting length her travels between France and Italy and her involvements with various lovers, however at the very end, I felt like I barely knew her at all, as if in the midst of all the words, Pauline’s own personality had been obliterated.

The few details that I did manage to glean, were a complete reversal of the somewhat unfavourable opinion that I had previously held about Pauline Bonaparte – as a fellow hypochondriac, I was fully appreciative of her intense preoccupation with her health, which led to many visits to doctors and innumerable weeks spent languishing at spas all over Europe.

I ultimately took away the impression of a faithless social butterfly, who disliked most of her family but remained loyal until the very end to her brother Napoleon or at least as faithful as she was capable of being. On one hand we are told that she called all English people ‘butchers’ and resolved never to receive them any more and a couple of pages later, she was flirting with the Duke of Devonshire, son of the fascinating Georgiana, who fell under her spell.

This wasn’t a bad book, but it could have been much better and I often found myself wishing that Flora Fraser’s mother, Lady Antonia Fraser had tackled the subject matter instead. As a light read about the life and loves of a notorious wicked lady of the Napoleonic period, it was certainly good for passing a few hours but if you are looking for a sumptuous, enthralling biography about one of the biggest and most fascinating personalities of the Empire, you probably won’t find it here.

Curiously, Antonia Fraser is supposed to be currently working on a book about Elizabeth I, however all the details about it seem to have vanished from Amazon over the last few months, which is a shame.

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