Monday, Jan. 19, 1953
D ÉSIRÉE (594 pp.)—Annemarie Selinko —Morrow ($4.50).
It was 1794, and Citizen Robespierre had just set up an altar to human reason in Paris. Little Desiree Clary of Marseille, though only 14, was a true daughter of the revolution, and, in her diary, brought all the power of her reason to the solution of a world problem. Her estimate of the situation: "A woman can usually get what she wants from a man if she has a well-developed figure." Her decision: "To stuff four handkerchiefs into the front of my dress tomorrow."
Desiree did, and a lucky thing too, for on the morrow whom was she to meet but the assistant to the deputy for Marseille, a young man named Joseph Buonaparte. And right in the middle of their conversation, she had to blow her nose. Joseph "could hardly believe his eyes" when he saw the collapse in prospects. He decided he liked her sister better, and handed Desiree down to his little brother, Napoleone. In time Desiree fulfilled her physical promise, and Napoleone asked her to be his wife.
With that for a start, most bestselling historicals would be off on a snappy story of boudoir doings in the First Empire, with a lusty cannon counterpoint to the mattress melody. In Desiree, however, Danish Novelist Annemarie Selinko has accepted the rational notion that historical novels must have some relation to historical fact. The historical facts in the case are these: that Napoleon (he later Gallicized his Corsican name) as a very young man was actually engaged to Desiree Clary, the daughter of a Marseille silk merchant, that he broke the engagement to marry Josephine, and that Desiree later married one of Napoleon's marshals, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, and became a queen on her husband's election to the throne of Norway and Sweden.
Novelist Selinko tells this story straight, with about as much verbal gusto as a court calendar. Nevertheless, her 594-page novel is already a bestseller in Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and other countries, and her publishers confidently expect that it will do as well in the U.S.
They may be right, but there is a profound truth in some of the first words Desiree addresses to her diary. "It's a shame," she laments, "to spoil these beautiful white pages with writing."
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,820906,00.html#ixzz2BTGG7Pkg