Anybody with a slight interest in Napoleon I or his age, the period of French history known as First Empire, is aware that after his fall power in France was regained by the Bourbon dynasty that had been replaced first by the Revolution, then by Napoleon's Consulate and Empire. Even during his life, after his abdication, he was violently vilified by Royalist propaganda, as never a dethroned sovereign was in all History. Besides the obvious political reasons for that hatred, there was the xenophobic one: not only Bonaparte, the former Emperor of the French, was not of French noble birth, but also he wasn't French at all. Josephine, on the other hand, who was always a representative of the Ancien Regime, regardless of her being Napoleon's wife for 13 years, was beloved by the Royalists, she, who was of French, though doubtful, noble birth.
Evangeline Bruce's book could have been written during the Bourbon Restoration, between 1815 and 1830, being, as it is, a compendium of all kinds of Royalist gossip and slander ever written against Napoleon and his Italian family, whereas Josephine and her French family are always treated fairly and sympathetically. Bruce sees Napoleon as a natural born monster: cynical, unscrupulous, ambitious, calculating, tyrannical and a bloodthirsty warmonger, in a word, the Corsican Ogre, that famous boogeyman invented by French and English Royalists to extinguish all trace of the Revolution which, according to them, was embodied by that single man.
She denies him any patriotism or idealism. She denies him any merit, attributing his military successes to his marshals and his political ones to his "incredible luck." Josephine, on the other hand, is the destitute brave mother of two children who survived the Revolution's Terror, caught the eye of the Ogre and, thanks to her sweetness, delicacy and femininity that only a noble stock can provide, succeeded to make something of a human being of that Ogre, but ended up as martyr when he put her aside to marry another woman (and a foreign one at that). In sum, Mrs. Bruce's book is sheer Royalist propaganda mixed up with "beauty and the beast" fairy tale, nothing more.
There's hardly one paragraph in this whole lampoon without some unpleasant remark on any of Napoleon's acts. Everything he does is distorted by a maligned bias. No word he ever utters is sincere. Even his most generous attitudes are not to be trusted. On page 414 we read: "He made even less effort than usual to hide his contempt for all around him; the few signs of affection, and these quite unreliable, were reserved only for Josephine and Hortense." Bruce supports this incredible nonsense not by quoting these "all around him," but bloodsucking Talleyrand on saying that the Emperor was "fascinated by himself." For Bruce, in fact, everything Napoleon's enemies tell is true, like viperous Metternich's unbelievable words put in Napoleon's mouth that he would "drag down the whole of society in his fall." All the guilty ones of betrayal towards him are acquitted, like treacherous Bernadotte, depicted by Bruce as opposing his benefactor out of true republican feeling and as "elected" for the Swedish throne, although even the rocks in Sweden know that this French marshal owed that throne exclusively to the Emperor.
It is far from surprising the author's deliberate omission of everything that could account for Napoleon's well-deserved fame of administrative genius as well as a military one. Considering him nothing but an usurper, out of sheer intellectual dishonesty Bruce simply omits the fact that the immense majority of the French elected Napoleon their Consul, as well as their Emperor through a referendum, which made him, in the democratic sense, the only legitimate monarch of his time in all Europe. Bruce doesn't mention that First Consul Bonaparte found the country bankrupt by the Directory and that he put finances in order. She wouldn't dream on mentioning his improvements in the education system, his protection of the labor classes, or that salaries in France were high as never before, limiting herself to point out that he surrounded his court by pomp and had 44 palaces, as if his military conquests had not increased the revenue considerably. Bruce ignores Napoleon's sane and balanced financial policy to say, rather deliriously: "War became France's almost sole industry." And, of course, she blames him for all the wars, although the whole world knows that the English government, which ultimately benefited from them, pushed for war relentlessly.
But the most striking proof that no story is absurd enough for Bruce to help her paint her unoriginal "Corsican Ogre" portrait is in the opening of the 23rd chapter, when we are confronted with the astonishing statement that Napoleon, and not England, caused the abrogation of the peace treaty of Amiens, by insulting a British ambassador. The reason presented by Bruce for such undiplomatic attitude is even more astounding: "Bonaparte disliked tall men."
Bruce does describe in a lively manner a few aspects of Revolutionary France, as well as some picturesque episodes concerning French salons, people's clothes and house decorations. But for that she seldom quotes her sources, and, given her general untrustworthiness and incredible prejudices against the main character and his family, there's no way to know if any description comes from historical fact or her own fanciful imagination. Even when she does indicate her sources at the end of the book, she won't give the chapter, making it difficult for us to go check the quotations for ourselves. There is only one recommendable thing in this whole 555 page book, which are its 32 pages of black and white pictures, untouched by the author's fantasy and prejudices. It's very little.