Tuesday, 19 May 2009

New books: Biography of Princess Pauline Borghese

A few days ago John Murray of London published Venus of Empire: The Life of Pauline Bonaparte by Flora Fraser, which was published already in February in the USA by Alfred A. Knopf as Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire.
Napoléon I’s favourite sister, Princess Pauline Borghese (1780-1825) was famous for being, in Metternich’s words, “as beautiful as it is possible to be” and for her many lovers. She is also remembered for the fact that she was the only one of the Emperor’s siblings who went with him to share his misfortune in exile.
The book is well written, but the problem is that Princess Pauline really did not do much in her short life. For 250 pages her illnesses and her lovers succeed each other while the great events of her time unfold in the background, something which unfortunately makes the book a bit boring at times.
This is not the first biography of Princess Pauline, but compared to other biographers Flora Fraser has succeeded quite well in bringing to life Pauline’s two husbands – the promising General Victor Leclerc, who died while on an expedition to the Caribbean in 1802, and the rather insignificant Prince Camillo Borghese, scion of that great Roman family.
Flora Fraser comes from a truly literary family, which includes, among others, her mother Antonia Fraser, herself a noted biographer, her stepfather the Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, her grandmother Elizabeth Longford and her grandfather the late Lord Longford. She has earlier written biographies of Emma, Lady Hamilton, George IV’s consort Queen Caroline and the daughters of George III. Her next book will be a biography of George and Martha Washington.

The first chapter of the book can be read here:


Sunday Times’s review (10 May):


Daily Express’s review (8 May):


The New York Times’s review (19 March):


Washington Times’s review (8 March):


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