Top critical review
Good in parts
on 14 January 2016
Starts well and finishes well, especially from the 1870 war onwards, but in between Mr Seward falls into the trap of so many biographers, he falls in love with his subject. Not particularly surprising given that Eugenie was such a strident, passionate but difficult woman
Louis Napoleon was the least worst option in 1848 and the fear of a repeat of 1789 (and 1792) drove the bourgeois to support his coup of 1851, allowing him to become emperor and live off the myth of his uncle. In the event he never quite lived up to that myth but, to the relief of the bourgeois, he kept the socialists out of power. However, throughout his reign there was a certain political tension, particularly in Paris, fuelled by censorship and repression. Napoleon stifled political debate.
Eugenie, as a woman, as a foreigner, as the wife of the Emperor, tended to amplify that political tension rather than defuse it. It seems, with the benefit of hindsight, she may have been the wrong woman for the job.
The air of political tension pervading during the empire doesn't really materialise in Mr Seward's book. Eugenie is just too good, it always seems to be someone else's fault and if her volatile character is mentioned in another biography, it apparently becomes 'suspect'.
Nevertheless, well written and the sections on the Franco-Prussian war and the exile are excellent. They save the book.