The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte
Ruth Hull Chatlien
Release date: December 2, 2013 at Amika Press
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. [Provided by the author]
When I first saw the cover of this novel I expected to read about the famous Josephine and I was wonderfully surprised that Ruth Hull Chatlien had selected a woman I knew little to nothing about but was just as captivating. The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is the story of a Baltimore born merchant's daughter, Elizabeth "Betsy" Patterson. Betsy was certainly a rebel; precocious, dismissive of everything American and not one to do what she was told or what was expected of her. No, Betsy had dreams of her own and a determination that they become reality.
Betsy decided at an early age that she would not marry an American but would marry and live in Europe. A dream of many young girls, but they lacked what Betsy had in abundance - ambition. During a visit to Baltimore, Jerome Bonaparte meets and falls in love with Betsy and the two wed. The happiness is short lived as Napoleon refuses to acknowledge the marriage and her life at the French court is not at all in keeping with the dreams of her youth, but Betsy is still imbued with ambition and thinks she can out maneuver Napoleon himself. One must admire her independence and intelligence, but at the same time mourn her complete lack of prudence. She is an interesting character, but not a thoroughly likable one.
Betsy's story is related against the backdrop of the events of Napoleonic France, the battles of Waterloo and the War of 1812, but despite these larger events Betsy never looks far beyond her own ambition and desires. Her relentless determination is admirable but her inability to concede defeat and content herself with what she does have is maddening and in the end is her undoing.
Ruth Hull Chatlien's debut novel is truly a wonderfully entertaining and interesting glimpse into the life of Elizabeth "Betsy" Patterson Bonaparte as well as full of rich details of 19th c. French life. Through the telling of the life of this real historical figure Chatlien is also able to illuminate the life of women in Napoleonic France and at the same time remains true to the known history of the era. The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte is a suspenseful, quick moving read, full of vivid facts and insights into the personalities of those who visited or resided at the court of Napoleon. I applaud Chatlien for crafting such a remarkable debut novel which is a contribution to the genre of historical fiction and I look forward to her future work.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ruth Hull Chatlien has been a writer and editor of educational materials for twenty-five years. Her specialty is U.S. and world history. She is the author of Modern American Indian Leaders and has published several short stories and poems in literary magazines. The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte (2013) is her first published novel.
She lives in northeastern Illinois with her husband, Michael, and a very pampered dog named Smokey. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found gardening, knitting, drawing, painting, or watching football.