The Secret Life of Josephine ~ Carolly Erickson

I almost exclusively read historical fiction novels set in a variety of countries and time periods, however I have never read a story based on the life of Napoleon or his first wife Josephine, until this novel. Honestly, I didn’t know a lot about Josephine before this novel, and I have to say that I honestly wasn’t too interested in reading about Napoleon . . . but this novel has changed my mind completely. I have yet again fallen in love with another character of Erickson’s. I love her portrayal of Josephine as a saucy, promiscuous, pain in the butt character that I couldn’t sympathize with but still, I found myself intrigued with her.

The story begins with 15-year old Josephine (who was then known as Rose or Yeyette) on the island of Martinique where she falls in love for the first time with the handsome naval officer Scipion de Roure and soon after we are introduced to a stranger who captivates Josephine’s heart. Yeyette is then forced to leave her beloved Martinique and go to France where she would be married to her cousin Alexandre Beauharnais, with whom she would have two children, Eugene and Hortense. Unhappy in their union, Alexandre and Yeyette separate and eventually divorce. The French revolution is in full swing and both Alexandre and Yeyette are taken prisoners and wait to be executed. While in prison Yeyette spends her days with many men in hopes of becoming pregnant to avoid being executed, including her ex-husband. Alexandre is eventually be headed by Madame la Guillotine while Yeyette escapes with her life. After her time in prison, Yeyette continues her promiscuous lifestyle, excited to still be alive and living her life the way she wants. During this time she meets a young general, general Bonaparte who falls hopelessly in love with her. Even though her heart belongs to another man, the stranger from Martinique, she reluctantly agrees to marry him, which leads to her being crowned Empress of France. Their marriage is an unhappy one, neither party remain faithful and eventually ends in divorce.


There are a lot of embellishments in this story with a lot of emphasis on the “fiction” in historical fiction; however it had all of the standard elements of a suspenseful, passionate and exciting novel. Arranged marriages, mistresses and lovers, politics, intrigue, war ... all elements of a great historical novel. There were some issues with Josephine however; at times I found her to be extremely annoying and whiny, especially after she found out that Napoleon had taken a mistress when she had had a lover for years. I also don’t understand why she would care so much considering that she never really loved him. I also found her encounter with the “stranger” on Martinique very hard to believe. There were definitely some parts of the novel that I questioned why they were included and what their point really was. I have to say that the historical aspects were very well researched and very well written.

I found this book in the bargain bin at my local bookstore for 2$. I contemplated it for a while and finally decided that it might be an interesting read and for 2$ I really couldn’t go wrong. I am so happy that it turned out to be a worthwhile read that has opened me up to a new time period and a new set of characters. 

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