The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, by Ruth Hull Chatlien, was a wonderfully enlightening read about a woman I knew little about, an American woman from Baltimore society that married Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. The title really does say it all, as Betsy Patterson, a young woman who always dreamed of marrying into high society of Europe’s elite, doesn’t take any stops on her way of making a name for herself and enjoying life at French court.
However, even when most of it doesn’t work out to be pretty as a picture for her, we can admire her strength, motivation, perseverance, independence, and ingenuity. Betsy Bonaparte is thrilling to me. I admire a woman who goes after what she wants at all cost and doesn’t settle for what anyone tells her she should be content with. Of course, as this is based on a true story, I really admire the research that Chatlien put into this historical woman. It’s wonderful that she brought Betsy to light for readers to know more of her story. Her life was such a struggle to be recognized, respected, and known that I think it’s fitting that her story be brought to the limelight through such a well-written book.
It must have been quite the experience to live among and with such extravagant and incorrigible personalities as the Bonaparte family possessed. Maybe some people would see Betsy Bonaparte as overbearing or aggressive or selfish even, but Chalien did a wonderful job of showcasing a well-rounded side of her and allowing her to be known for her amazing ability to “stay her course.”
That said, Chatlien did a superb job of character development with Betsy Bonaparte as well as the whole other cast of historical characters. Her 19th Century details were delicious and I enjoyed reading about the fashion and visually imagining the scenes Chatlien set so vividly for the reader.
The story is fast-moving, well-written, structured succinctly, suspenseful, and engaging. Reading about the Napoleonic era is always thrilling, but reading about an American of the time caught up in their drama is quite an original learning experience. I feel that Chalien teaches us educationally and historically while at the same time creating a story that gives it its fiction genre designation. It’s a story with impact and it flows through all the tumultuous times with a fervor and a seamless quality.
I highly recommend this book as a wonderful historical read, which like a fine art painting, will be an asset to your shelf of favorite French book collections. Such an amazing book rich with details and another to add to the list of book that speak to the amazing, almost forgotten women of the past.
The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, Synopsis~
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.
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Author Ruth Hull Chatlien, Biography~
She is the author of Modern American Indian Leaders and has published several short stories and poems in literary magazines. The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte 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.
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