The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte by Ruth Hull Chatlien with Excerpt and Giveaway
Today I have a historic romance, based on the true story of Betsy Bonaparte, a Baltimore girl who dreamed large, and married the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. Follow along with the other stops on this tour, and US/Canada residents can enter to win a paperback copy of the title ! Giveaway will follow after the book information: winner will be notified on 13 March and have 24 hours to enter before another winner is chosen.
I am a huge fan of historic fiction; and the opportunity to read a story about the lesser-known (at least to me) Bonaparte and his wife was too good to pass up.
Elizabeth Patterson was a merchant’s daughter, and far from being the typical woman of her time; she is ambitious and determined, wanting her life to be a European adventure, full of the sophistication and elegance that this image intimates.
Throughout the story, Betsy is highlighted as she charms presidents and princes, surprising for she could have been obviously grasping for position, yet her charm and intelligence seem to bring many to her side. Jerome Bonaparte was not someone I was particularly familiar with, yet their relationship was obviously one of love.
Throughout the story historical details and information are placed with unerring accuracy to present visual and factual information for readers, enriching the feel, bringing the reader into the age with social conventions, dress, and decoration. Secondary characters are dropped into the text with stories that intertwine with the events of the day, or the characters in equal measure, presenting a solid view of the time with tidbits of information that will spur further investigation.
Ruth Hull Chatlien writes with a deft hand, while the timeline may be set by history, the story flows smoothly from one event to another, including one character or another and gives readers a story to enjoy as they find new perspective on characters that have been lost to history. Emotionally impacting, even as the historical events of the day are seamlessly woven through the plot, this is a story that will keep you intrigued and engaged.
As a clever girl in stodgy, mercantile Baltimore, Betsy Patterson dreams of a marriage that will transport her to cultured Europe. When she falls in love with and marries Jerome Bonaparte, she believes her dream has come true—until Jerome’s older brother Napoleon becomes an implacable enemy.
Based on a true story, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is a historical novel that portrays this woman’s tumultuous life. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, known to history as Betsy Bonaparte, scandalized Washington with her daring French fashions; visited Niagara Falls when it was an unsettled wilderness; survived a shipwreck and run-ins with British and French warships; dined with presidents and danced with dukes; and lived through the 1814 Battle of Baltimore. Yet through it all, Betsy never lost sight of her primary goal—to win recognition of her marriage
A copy of this title was provided via Author for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Their First Dance
As they entered the ballroom, Betsy was pleased to see that many people broke off their conversations to watch them. The first dance of the evening was to be a contradanse, which would have the advantage of pairing them for at least ten minutes and of having periods when they could converse because they were not required to take part in the moves. The first time they were an inactive couple, Betsy said, “Lieutenant Bonaparte, I have never seen a uniform like yours. Is it a naval dress uniform?”
Jerome laughed. “No, it is a hussar’s uniform.”
“But, hussars are cavalry. I thought you were in the navy.”
“I am.” He shrugged. “But I like the way this one looks. It is debonair, is it not?”
Before Betsy could answer, it was their turn to take part in the next movement, and by the time they could speak again, she decided not to pursue the subject. She suspected that it was a tremendous breach of protocol for a military officer to wear the uniform of a different branch of service. Clearly, being Napoleon’s brother came with unusual privileges, liberties that the youngest Bonaparte did not hesitate to enjoy.
As she pondered these things, Jerome complimented her on her elegant gown. “It is—très à la mode,” he said after a moment of searching for an equivalent English phrase.
“Merci, monsieur,” Betsy answered, gratified that he considered her stylish.
“Ah, parlez-vous français?” he exclaimed, sounding like a boy in his excitement that she spoke his language.
Betsy nodded, and he gave her gloved hand a quick squeeze of approval. Then returning to the previous subject, he said, “Your taste in clothing reminds me of ma belle-soeur Josephine. She truly knows how to set Paris on its ear.”
“Oh, please tell me about her.”
He chuckled and said in French, “A while back, she started a new fashion of wearing sheer gowns such as yours but with nothing underneath.”
Betsy’s cheeks burned as Jerome continued, “Napoleon considered the style too immodest. One day, finding Josephine and her ladies sitting in the drawing room in such flimsy attire, he gave orders for the servants to pile wood on the fire. When Josephine complained that she was roasting alive, he said, ‘My dear, I was afraid you might catch cold sitting here naked.’”
In spite of her discomfort with the indiscreet topic, Betsy found herself joining in Jerome’s laughter. Then, after her first wave of self-consciousness passed, she felt a delicious sense of freedom in being able to talk so openly of things forbidden in Baltimore society.
The last move of the dance required Jerome to grasp her hands and swing her through several revolutions. After the last twirl, he flirtatiously pulled her closer to his body than was proper before releasing her. As they pulled apart, Betsy found herself halted. Her gold chain had caught on one of his buttons.
She dared not look up at him. With the rapidity of lightning, she felt as embarrassed as if she had found herself publicly wearing one of Josephine’s revealing gowns.
“Permit me.” Jerome used his index finger to unhook her necklace. Instead of releasing the chain, however, he kept it on the crook of his finger and whispered, “Do you see, chère mademoiselle? Fate has brought us together, and we are destined never to part.”
Betsy caught her breath at the romantic perfection of the moment, but then her natural skepticism reasserted itself. She perceived that this man to whom she was temporarily joined—handsome, warm-hearted, and fun loving though he might be—lacked the steely resolve of his famous older brother. He seemed content to glide through life feasting on whatever privileges fell to him in Napoleon’s wake.
“Fate seems to have forgotten that I promised my next dance to someone else.”
Jerome released her gold chain. “If that is your wish.”
“My wish, sir, is for a partner who understands that I am a kingdom that must be won rather than claimed as a birthright.”
For a moment, he seemed perplexed and she feared the sentiment was too complex for him to understand it in English, but then laughter returned to his eyes. “Truly, Mademoiselle, that is a challenge worthy of a Bonaparte.” He bowed and watched her walk away.
About Ruth Hull Chatlien
Ruth Hull Chatlien has been a writer and editor of educational materials for twenty-five years. Her specialty is U.S. and world history. She is the author of Modern American Indian Leaders and has published several short stories and poems in literary magazines. The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte (2013) is her first published novel.
She lives in northeastern Illinois with her husband, Michael, and a very pampered dog named Smokey. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found gardening, knitting, drawing, painting, or watching football.