Sunday, September 2, 2012

The 3Rs - Reading, Ranting & Recipes



I've read so many books since I last posted on the blog that I scarcely know where to begin. The book that kept me sane when the final days of packing and moving were driving me demented was a book I first read when I was a teenager, and I discovered a copy amongst my late mother-in-law's things when sorting through boxes that were going to be stored.

Desiree by Austrian writer Annemarie Selinko was originaly published in German in 1951. It was translated into English by Arnold Bender and E.W.Dikes and published by the Reprint Society in 1954
Desiree is a romance, and all the more romantic for being based on a true story, and although it is not exactly what one would describe as a great book, it captures the attention and one learns a huge chunk of European history without really trying.
Bernadine Eugenie Desiree Clary was born in 1777. She was the younger daughter of a prosperous silk merchant in Marseille. When she was 16 or 17, after the death of her father, her older brother was arrested by the local branch of the Revolutionary Government, and the good offices of a young Corsican clerk called Joseph Bonaparte helped to secure his release. As a result, Joseph and his brother Napoleon met the Clary family, and quite soon Joseph married Desiree's sister Julie; Napoleon and Desiree fell for one another and when she turned 18 they became formally engaged. Napoleon then went north to Paris where he met and became involved with the charming and sophisticated widow Josephine de Beauharnais. Josephine's husband had been sent to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. Napoleon jilted Desiree and married Josephine.

Some years later Desiree married one of Napoleon's fellow generals, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, and they had a son, Oscar. Napoleon appointed Bernadotte as a Marshal of France, a move he later came to regret. Bernadotte was an inspired military leader, but it meant that he and Desiree spent much of their married lives apart as he was always away on campaign. In 1809 the Swedish parliament offered him the role of heir-presumptive to the Swedish king who was old and childless. He and Desiree renounced their French citizenship and became Crown Prince and Princess of Sweden, though for many years Desiree continued to live in Paris. Eventually when the old King of Sweden died, they became the King and Queen, thus establishing the Royal house of Bernadotte who are the Royal Family of Sweden to this day.

The book which was hugely popular when it came out, was made into a movie starring Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons, which I would now like to track down on DVD. As a teenage girl I just revelled in the romance of it all and paid scant attention to the history, but I found that re-reading the book made me realise how patchy my knowledge of the Napoleonic Empire is, most of what I knew was from a British perspective. As a result I now have a biography of Napoleon and some other books about the period on my 'Must Read' list.


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