Book Talk: The tale of Napoleon's second wife

Thu Nov 15, 2012 11:45am EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Marie-Louise is 18 years old in 1809, the cherished daughter of the Austrian king, when she is forced to make a horrible choice - leave her nation to become Napoleon Bonaparte's second wife, or see France attack her country.

So begins "The Second Empress" by Michelle Moran, her fifth novel and the latest in a collection of tales about strong women throughout history, from ancient Egypt's Nefertiti to Cleopatra and Madame Tussaud.

Moran, who is currently working on a book about an Indian warrior queen, spoke with Reuters about Napoleon, his second wife, and why she likes to write about history.

Q: What got the book going?

A: "Each of my books has been inspired by actually either seeing the place where my characters live, or seeing something that was important to them. So for my first book, 'Nefertiti,' it was seeing her iconic bust in Berlin. For my third book, 'Cleopatra's Daughter,' it was when I was doing an underwater dive in Alexandria. This one is a lot less glamorous. I was standing in Fontainebleu, just outside of Paris. It was there that they showed us Marie-Louise's bedroom. I had never really thought about Marie-Louise, she was an 18-year-old girl from Austria and she took the place of (first wife) Josephine. Josephine was really, really well liked by the public at that time. She was considered his good luck charm, and it was only less than 25 years before that another Austrian - Marie Antoinette - had come over to marry a French king. So she was also filling (her great aunt) Marie Antoinette's shoes, in some ways, and that didn't end too well for her great aunt.

"I thought what would it be like to arrive in a country that had beheaded your great aunt, only 25 years later. Many of the people who were involved in that are still living. You're this man's second wife, the church did not recognize his divorce to Josephine so he was considered a bigamist. This was really shocking to her - she was really religious. He had recently conquered her mother's country of Austria, he had humiliated the country and her father, and he didn't give her a choice. He wanted her because of her blood line. In fact, the marriage was made without even asking her permission."

Q: What did you do to get yourself into her head?

A: "The book is actually told by three points of view. One is a Haitian chamberlain, and it was much more difficult to get into his head because I'm not Haitian, I'm not really religious, and writing from the male point of view is much harder. He was desperately in love with Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon's sister, who was wildly outrageous - and she was the second narrator. The third narrator is Marie-Louise. To really try and get into their heads, I tried to read anything that was available, many first hand accounts of people who had actually met them."   Continued...

La Regente pearl, the fifth largest pearl known to exist, is seen before its auction at a preview at Christie's auctioneers in London, October 11, 2005. The pearl, originally from the French crown jewels and a gift from Emperor Napoleon I to his second wife Marie-Louise in 1811, is expected to fetch 300,000-480,000 pounds ($500,000 - $800,000) at auction in Geneva in November. REUTERS/Stephen Hird