Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Second Empress

The Second Empress is the fifth book from historical novelist, Michelle Moran. The book centers around the marriage of Archduchess Maria Lucia of Austria and Napoleon I of France told from the perspective of the Archduchess herself, Napoleon's sister, Pauline, and her chamberlain by the name of Paul Moreau.

Since birth, Archduchess Maria Lucia of Austria has been taught to hate France and French ideas especially the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, who humiliated her Father, Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor, by making him sign the Peace of Pressburg in 1805. So it comes as a surprise to her when the Emperor Napoleon asks for her hand in marriage.

Pauline, Napoleon's favorite sister, having finally convinced her brother to divorce his barren wife, Josephine de Beauharnais, is distraught that he intends to wed an Archduchess of Austria. She had long fostered hope that he would follow the example of the Egyptian Pharaohs and would marry her. There to comfort her is her black chamberlain, Paul.

Paul was born on the island of St. Dominigue, Haiti, a mullatre whose Father was a nobleman and whose Mother was a black slave. Paul met Pauline, who was visiting the island with her husband, Charles Leclerc, when she began having an affair with his half brother. The two spend many a carefree day with each other before Haiti explodes in rebellion and Pauline must return to France to be with her brother. Paul goes with her and takes on the name Paul in her honor.

Maria Lucia is forced to leave behind her family, she is especially close to her mother-in-law, Maria Ludovika, and her life in Austria as regent for her unstable younger brother, Ferdinand, her lover, Adam von Neipperg, even her dog named Sigi. She is escorted to the French border by Napoleon's other sister, Caroline, Queen of Naples. Napoleon meets up with the entourage an Compienge and he and Marie Louise, she has lost her German name in the process as well, consummate the marriage

Marie Louise finds a companion in her predecessor's daughter, Hortense, Queen of Holland. Marie Louise soon becomes pregnant with Napoleon's child which delights the Emperor to no end, and as a gift he brings her dog, Sigi, from Austria to France. On March 20, 1811, Marie Louise gave birth to Napoleon II. Her relationship with Napoleon is a distant one as he is still very much in love with Josephine, this is fortunate on Marie Louise's part as she still detests him.

Pauline takes a new lover as her health begins to decline.There to comfort her is her black chamberlain, Paul. Paul is becoming increasingly restless with his life in Paris as he is no step closer to achieving his dream of ending slavery on Haiti than he was the day he arrived.

Napoleon goes to war against the Russians, making Marie Louise regent during his absence.The Russian campaign is a disaster and Napoleon forced to return home in defeat. The Empire falls and Napoleon is sent to the island of Elba. Marie Louie flees France with her infant son to return to Austria where she is greeted with open arms by her Father and lover and they all live happily ever after. There is a brief moment where Napoleon returns to power for 100 days but after his defeat at Waterloo and his subsequent exile to St. Helena he never returns.

After the Empire falls, Paul leaves Pauline as he finally realizes that they will never be together. Pauline is the only Bonaparte sibling to visit her brother on St. Helena.

I give this book 0/5. This is the first book I've read by Michelle Moran and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I am rather fond of the character of Empress Marie Louise of France, although I do not condone her actions after Napoleon's downfall. However, the picture that Moran paints of the Archduchess is one that I can not abide. I do not know about you but I have always thought that Marie Louie cared for Napoleon, even if it was just a passing fancy. She would have gone to Elba to be with her husband had Neipperg not come in the way. Her relationship with Neipperg is one of the biggest problems in the story. In "The Second Empress" Neipperg and Marie Louise have known each other since they were kids, however the two never even met until after Marie Louise returned to Austria after the fall of French Empire. Also, in the story, Marie Louise loses her virginity to Neipperg. Not only is this impossible had the story actually worked out the way Moran wrote it to be it would be very improbable that something like that could've happened. The Hapsburg's are a very proud family and would never have allowed one of their own daughters to be deflowered by a commoner. When Marie Louise returns to Austria, her Father who gives his consent for her and Neipperg to embrace. This is absolute ludicrous considering how he did not allow his daughter to mourn Neipperg's passing publicly. And let's just get this straight, there is no way on Earth that Francis I would have ever let his daughter reign as regent for his son.Riddled with inaccuracies, this book is only meant for historical fiction and should not be taken seriously.

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