Review by SIR CHARLES PETRIE
PAULINE: NAPOLEON'S FAVOURITE SISTER, (Collins, 30s.).
by Pierson Dixon THIS is a charming period -apiece. The author, who is the retiring British Ambassador to France, has for the past five years lived in the house which once belonged to the subject of his book, but which is now the British Embassy in Paris, so it is only natural that he should be steeped in Pauline's background.
Some critics, indeed, may feel that Sir Pierson is a little too much of a Bonapartist for their fancy, and certainly the picture he paints of the family is extremely flattering. So much is this so that at times he seems to be carried away by the charm of Pauline as to be a little blind to the vulgarity and avarice of her brothers and sisters, not excluding the Emperor himself.
What the author does succeed in is to convey to posterity those attributes of Pauline which fascinated, even if they sometimes irritatcd, her contemporaries, He thus sums up her character both as girl and woman:
Amorous by nature, flirtatious by temperament, she lived for frivolity. but this frivolity was balanced by a gaiety and good nature which charmed most of her acquaintance, and by a quality of courage and loyalty which endeared her to her great brother and led him constantly to condone extravagances which must often have been politically embarrassing as well as exasperating. Pauline rarely had a serious thought in her head. but she never did any human being serious harm.
Josephine would hardly have agreed with this last sentence. Like all her family Pauline loathed the Empress with a deadly hatred, and she neglected no opportunity of making trouble between husband and wife. Infidelities which mattered nothing in the case of Napoleon were mortal sins when they were committed by Josephine. At the same time Sir Pierson is fully justified in paying tribute to her loyalty to her brother. She and "Madame Mere" alone stuck to him in adversity, and they were with him at Elba.
In the days of his glory he had often behaved to his sister in a very cavalier manner: it was his theory, understandable in the cir
cumstances, that members of the Imperial Family could have no lives of their own—they existed for the Empire.
Pauline chafed against this attitude at the time, but she never remembered it against him when his star was setting. The truth is that Pauline had a truly noble spirit, and. irritating as she was in many ways, that comes down the years in her favour. In spite of all the dazzle of the Consulate and the Empire it is a sad story which the author has to tell—all the sadder because we know, as Pauline could not, how it was going to end. She was not a good judge of character, and most of the men in her life had little to recommend them.
Her two husbands were chosen for her by her brother. To the first, Leclerc, she was devoted, but he got caught up in Napoleon's American schemes, and died of fever in the West Indies; the second, Borghese, was impotent and a nincompoop, and he and she came together only during the last months of her life.
Politics come into the story very little, and they meant nothing to Pauline. who never understood them, though she was in reality their plaything. Sir Pierson, of course, understands them very well indeed, and he is perfectly right in stressing the importance of Napoleon's two greatest enormities, namely the arrest and execution of the Duc d'Enghien and the deception practised on the Spanish Royal Family at Bayonne._ Both brought retribution in their wake, and Pauline was one of those who suffered for the sins of her brother. The author, it should be observed, paints in the historical background in the manner of a master: there is enough of it to serve the
se reader's purpose, but it is never allowed to overshadow the story of his heroine.
From first to last Pauline was a butterfly on the wheel, and that it did not break her is the measure of the stoutness of her character. She always got the hest she could out of life, but she was never happy for long. Indeed, one gets the impression that had she remained the daughter of an impoverished family in Corsica. and never known the tin-_
sel glories of the Empire, her fate would have been a more enviable one, but she could never escape from her lot as the Emperor's sister, Of one thing, however, there can be no dispute—she was easily the most attractive, and probably the best-intentioned, of all the Bonapartes.