As a clever girl in stodgy, mercantile Baltimore, Betsy Patterson dreams of a marriage that will transport her to cultured Europe. When she falls in love with and marries Jerome Bonaparte, she believes her dream has come true—until Jerome’s older brother Napoleon becomes an implacable enemy.
Based on a true story, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is a historical novel that portrays this woman’s tumultuous life. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, known to history as Betsy Bonaparte, scandalized Washington with her daring French fashions; visited Niagara Falls when it was an unsettled wilderness; survived a shipwreck and run-ins with British and French warships; dined with presidents and danced with dukes; and lived through the 1814 Battle of Baltimore. Yet through it all, Betsy never lost sight of her primary goal—to win recognition of her marriage.
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The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, written by Ruth Hull Chatlien, is an amazing drama, with so many moments that made me gasp. I can’t count the number of times I grabbed the nearest human being and rambled off the book’s plot points just so I could gossip and say “oh no s/he didn’t” to someone other than myself. My only regret in reading this book was that I didn’t wait to find a friend to read it with me; my co-workers now know, without further doubt, that I am a lunatic.
By the end of the book, I found that the best way to describe Betsy was actually the same way someone once described me: “Damn, girl, [you’re] crazy in a good way.” (And, to quote Lucille Bluth, if that’s a veiled criticism of me, I won’t hear it and I won’t respond to it.) Trust me when I say that you will feel this way about Betsy. Her determination is hard not to admire, even if it’s a tad fatalistic; I found myself just as pensive as she was every time she set a plan into action.
Betsy’s parents, Dorcas and Mr. Patterson, are also great characters to follow. Dorcas is an underdog, and Mr. Patterson is an abhorrent twat, but they both have enough wisdom and shortcomings to make you want to simultaneously hug and slap the both of them… which is precisely the way well-written characters should make you feel. Note: By the end of the book, you will be resigned to stab Mr. Patterson in his pinky toe.
The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is Ruth Hull Chatlien’s first published novel, but you’d never know it just by reading it. I would have to say this book is one of my top reads for 2013 (I started it in 2013, so it still counts, OK?!) and I am excited to follow Chatlien’s next book.
Hat’s off to you, Ruth, and thank you for allowing me to read this wonderful novel.
You can also connect with Chatlien via Facebook!
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