Well, my slow journey through Sandra Gulland’s trilogy of novels about Josephine Bonaparte has finally come to an end. What a lovely journey it was! They are the epitome of great historical fiction: engaging, rich with true details, full of familiar figures brought to life. They were so good I ordered a biography of Josephine from the library; I must know more!
The trilogy is comprised (as you may guess) of three books: The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B., Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe, and The Last Great Dance on Earth. They are written in first person, as Josephine’s diaries, beginning when she is a girl on the island (then) of Martinico and concluding with her death in France, years later. Each book picks up where the previous left off. Throughout, Gulland inserts footnotes that clarify French phrases, odd practices, and historical tidbits. It’s rare that footnotes don’t drive me nuts, but in this case they’re quite helpful and interesting.
I often forget how much I enjoy hearing from the great females of history. In school, we hear about this battle and that, King such-and-such and the Point A-Point B War. It’s easy to forget — or difficult to imagine in the first place — that the people you read about were real. I think one of the great abilities of historical fiction is that it can bring the past to life in a way that nonfiction, with its necessary focus on what happened, cannot. Fiction allows us to create the inner lives of the people whose exterior lives we see in the history books.
If you like historical fiction, Napoleon & Josephine, fictional diaries, or strong female characters, I would absolutely recommend picking up a copy of this fantastic trilogy!