Book review: Désirée by Annemarie Selinko

DésiréeDésirée by Annemarie Selinko

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story of Bernardine Eugénie Désirée Clary, he daughter of François Clary, a wealthy silk manufacturer and merchant, and his second wife, Françoise Rose Somis. Her sister, Julie Clary, married Joseph Bonaparte, and later became Queen of Naples and Spain.

Eugénie was introduced to Napoleon Bonaparte by his brother, Joseph Bonaparte who met her by chance when she was trying to release her brother Etienne, who was arrested in her father’s place by the revolutionary authorities. It was Napoleon who suggested that Joseph should become engaged to her older sister Julie instead, while he should be engaged to Désirée. In less than a year, Napoleon met Joséphine de Beauharnais and broke his engagement with Eugénie.

When Désirée moved to Paris in order to live with her sister and her brother-in-law, she received a marriage proposal by Coronel Junot. She then met and married Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, another French general.

The author magnificently describes Désirée’s life through her diaries which were addressed to her father and which were written since she was fourteen years old.

It was amazing to learn how a daughter of a simple silk merchant of Marseilles became engaged to Napoleon Bonaparte, married Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte – Charles XIV John, king of Sweden and Norway, and then became Queen Desideria of Sweden and Norway.

Page 137:

“As long as we had General Bonaparte in Italy we won all the battles and the Austrians begged for peace. As soon as he’s away to carry our glory overseas everything is upside down.’ Strange, the impression Napoleon’s campaign has made on simple people.”

Page 220:

“A movement of startled surprise went through the ranks of spectators. Napoleon had broken the pre-arranged crowing ritual and had crowned himself!

Page 298:

“Your Royal Highness,” the young man continued, “as a Chief Chamberlain of His Majesty King Charles XIII of Sweden I beg to report that the Parliament of Sweden has unanimously elected the Prince of Ponte Corvo to be Heir to the Throne. His Majesty King Charles XIII wishes to adopt the Prince of Ponte Corvo and to welcome him in Sweden as his beloved son.”

Page 418:

Napoleon himself was at Fontainebleau with 5,000 men of his Guards regiments. Caulaincourt negotiated for him with the victors. On April 4th (1814) he signed his declaration of abdication.

A movie Désirée (1954) was made based on this book, with the unforgettable actors Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Merle Oberon and Michael Rennie.


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