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An Interesting Read - But Too Soft on The Empress
on 21 May 1999
Carrolly Erickson is a talented researcher and author, and her new biography on Empress Josephine is another very good read. I have a problem, however, with Erickson's habit of falling a little too much in love with some of her less admirable subjects. Josephine, while an exceptional character study, does not deserve the relentless emphasis Erickson places on her few redeeming qualities. Josephine was, in fact, a shallow and self-indulgent liar, swindler, whore, and manipulator extraordinaire. Although Erickson acknowledges these traits, she plays them down by repeatedly referencing Josephine's ingenuousness, compassion, and victim qualities, none of which are visible without Erickson's careful coaching. Erickson displayed this same oh-come-now-she's-not-so-bad-if-you'll-only-try approach with Mary Tudor ("Bloody Mary"). The book ended, appropriately, with Josephine's funeral. But I wanted to know what happened to her two children, Napolean's new wife, and even the loathsome Bonapart relatives. These were not peripheral characters; they were integral components of Josephine's life and a quick wrap-up sketch of each would have made the ending much more satisfying. I'm glad I read this book and recommend it to other biography and history lovers. Even so it's difficult to resist a spectacular kind of repugnance towards Josephine, notwithstanding Erickson's unfortunate and obvious urging to the contrary.