My Favorite Bonaparte

As those of you who follow me on Facebook know, I just heard yesterday that Sandra Gulland, author of the Josephine B. Trilogy, will be writing a YA book about Josephine’s daughter, Hortense de Beauharnais.

Which I am particularly excited about since I wrote a YA book about Hortense back in 1994 (when I was still a YA!). I originally called it The Tail of the Comet, then switched it later to Napoleon’s Daughter. That novel began in 1796, just before Josephine’s marriage to Napoleon, and ended in 1802, with Hortense’s marriage to Napoleon’s morose younger brother Louis, following Hortense through her teen years.

I was just seventeen when I wrote my book about Hortense. Having steeped myself in her memoirs at a tender age, I’ve always thought of her as a sort of historical pen pal, a far-away friend. When I wrote The Garden Intrigue, it only seemed logical to make Hortense my heroine’s best friend– after all, I’d known her for years!

I am toying with the idea of posting my old YA novel here on the site for you– just for fun! It’s not something I’d ever publish (you can tell I was seventeen when I wrote it) but it does provide some interesting Napoleonic background info.

In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from The Garden Intrigue, featuring Jane Wooliston, Emma, and her old friend, Hortense….

My heroine, Emma, first met Hortense when they were both pupils at Mme. Campan’s school for girls in St. Germain-en-Laye, where they became fast friends. It’s Hortense who helps Emma elope from Mme. Campan’s, and, when Emma’s hasty marriage fails, it’s Hortense who takes Emma in.

But by the time The Garden Intrigue opens, in late spring of 1804, Napoleon’s imperial ambitions have changed everything, even their friendship. Emma is aware her old friend is in a bad way– but she hasn’t the faintest idea how to help….

When Emma was shown into Hortense’s boudoir, the others were already deep in conversation, a china pot of coffee on the table between them, two cups half full and a third glaringly empty.

Jane Wooliston smiled at Emma over her coffee cup. “Only fifteen minutes late this time. You’re improving.”

Hortense Bonaparte made a face at Jane. “Don’t be unkind!” Rising, she embraced Emma, the differences in their height reversed from when they had first known each other, when Hortense was eleven and Emma fourteen. Now Hortense was the taller of the two, a grown woman and a mother. But she still had the same sweet nature that had endeared her to everyone at Mme Campan’s. “I’m sure there was an extenuating circumstance. Such as…

“A stampede of bears across the Champs-Elysee?” suggested Jane. “Typhoons? Hurricanes?”

Emma plumped down with a thump on the yellow silk settee. “A hurricane, indeed! Hurricane Augustus, you mean. Someone”—she looked hard at Jane—“unleashed a poet on me.”

“Unleashed is such a strong term,” said Jane.

“No one ever tells me anything,” complained Hortense, to no one in particular.

It was meant jokingly, but Emma felt a twinge of guilt all the same. If she thought her own position was fraught, Hortense’s was far worse. Bad enough being the First Consul’s stepdaughter, but she was made doubly a Bonaparte by her marriage to Napoleon’s younger brother, Louis. As the family rose in prominence, those who surrounded them were increasingly likely to be toadies, informers, or both. There were few these days whom Hortense could call friend and believe it.

Emma angled herself towards Hortense. “Trust me, you aren’t missing much of anything. You know Augustus Whittlesby, don’t you?”

“The poet?” Hortense perked up. She turned to Jane. “Isn’t he in love with you?”

“Perpetually,” said Emma, before Jane could jump in.

“Poetically,” countered Jane repressively. “It isn’t at all the same thing.”

“Yes, yes, we’ve had this discussion,” said Emma. And Augustus Whittlesby had been so very terrified when he had thought she might be flirting with him. Emma pushed that thought away; it wasn’t a particularly flattering recollection. “What did you tell him about me?” she demanded. “You didn’t say anything about my predilection for his pantaloons, did you?”

“Oh, my,” said Jane, raising one brow. “One afternoon in his company and you’re already away with the alliteration.”

“Don’t change the subject,” said Emma severely. “The poor man is terrified that I intend to seduce him.”

“Do you?” asked Hortense, with interest. The intense scrutiny of a jealous husband left her little opportunity to seduce anyone, but she took a generous interest in her friends.

“No! Absolutely not. I’m just using him for his help with my masque.” She wasn’t quite sure when, but somehow, it had become her masque, hers, quite hers. Maybe it had something to do with the pirates.

“So you are writing it!” Hortense put down her cup with a delicate clink. “Maman will be so pleased. She was terrified she might have to ask Caroline to help instead, and you know how Caroline is.” She made an admirable effort to sound cheerful, but there was no mistaking the strain beneath it.

“And Whittlesby,” said Jane. “Is he… helpful?”

“Stop that! And, yes,” Emma admitted. “He is. Or, at least, he might be. We’ll see. If you don’t stop smirking I’ll send him back to writing odes for you.” She turned to Hortense. “You will be my heroine, won’t you?”

Hortense took a deep interest in the contents of her coffee cup. “You know I want to be… but it might not be possible.”

“There won’t be much to… Oh.” Emma stared at Hortense’s hand where it rested gently on her stomach as her friend’s words took on new meaning. “Are you—I mean….”

Hortense nodded. “Yes.”

“But that doesn’t mean you can’t perform.” Women tended to go about in society up until the very last moment, a pregnancy no bar to one’s usual social whirl. The masque was in less than a month. “You won’t even be showing.”

Hortense shook her head, not meeting Emma’s eyes. “Louis wouldn’t like it.”

Emma and Jane exchanged a look. It was no secret that Hortense’s marriage was a sham, her husband delighting in all manner of petty persecutions.

It was a hideous situation. Hortense had never wanted to marry Louis, nor Louis Hortense, but if he wanted a dynasty, Bonaparte needed more heirs, and Hortense and Louis were to provide them. It was either that, or Bonaparte would divorce or Hortense’s mother and marry again, someone younger, more fertile. Hortense and Louis had one child already, Louis-Charles, but he was sickly, prone to every fever and chill that came along.

For the sake of her mother’s happiness, Hortense was caught, a glorified broodmare in the service of everyone else’s ambition.

Emma’s heart ached for her friend.

And, just a little bit, for herself. She certainly didn’t envy Hortense her situation, but she did envy her the curve of her hand across her belly, the child sleeping in the nursery, the press of small arms around her neck.

For more background on Hortense, you can read a post I wrote about her earlier this year.

Check back tomorrow for another excerpt from The Garden Intrigue!


  1. Céline on February 10, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Oooooh, Lauren, it would be such a treat for us to be able to read something you wrote at a younger age!! Yes, please, do post it on your blog!!! 🙂

    It’s very interesting, your “history” with Hortense! How old were you when you read her memoirs? Do you still have the reference of the book? I’d be very interested in reading it too!!

  2. SusanN on February 10, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    I’m not going to read the snippet since I’m “saving myself” for the full experience when the book comes out. (I had wanted to re-read the whole series before this new book was released, but it just didn’t happen. Need. More. Time.)

    I would, however, be interested in your youthful scribblings. I’m willing to bet the work is less juvenile than it appears to your eyes–probably something a lot of writers would envy.

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