Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

Author(s): Carol Berkin


From the award-winning historian: the remarkable life of "the most beautiful woman of nineteenth-century Baltimore," whose marriage in 1803 to Jerome Bonaparte, the youngest brother of Napoleon, became inextricably bound to the diplomatic and political nineteenth-century histories of the United States, France, and England. From the author of "Revolutionary Mothers" ("Incisive, thoughtful, spiced with vivid anecdotes. Don't miss it."-Thomas Fleming) and "Civil War Wives" ("Utterly fresh...Sensitive, poignant, thoroughly fascinating."-Jay Winik). In "Wondrous Beauty," Carol Berkin tells the story of this audacious, outsize life: how her romantic, passionate marriage infuriated Napoleon and resulted in his banning the then-pregnant Betsy Bonaparte from disembarking in any European port, demanding that his brother either lose all power and remain married to that "American girl"-or renounce her, marry a woman of Napoleon's choice, and reap the benefits. Jerome ended the marriage and was made king of Westphalia; Betsy fled to England, and gave birth to her son and only child, Jerome's namesake. Berkin writes how this naive, headstrong American girl returned to Baltimore a cynical, independent woman, refusing to seek social redemption and return to obscurity through a quiet marriage to a member of Baltimore's merchant class; how she disdained America's obsession with money-making, its growing ethos of democracy, and the rigid gender roles that confined women to the parlor and the nursery, and sought a European society where women created salons devoted to intellectual life and where traditions of aristocracy dominated society; and, we see how as a shrewd investor she transformed a modest pension from the French government into a fortune that rivaled many a (male) financier.


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"Carol Berkin's Wondrous Beauty reads like a fascinating novel, with a heroine whose intriguing life and trans-Atlantic travels practically defy belief. Betsy Bonaparte emerges as a complex, charming, and brilliant woman, courageous enough to defy her brother-in-law--the French emperor--astute enough to increase the value of her Maryland estate to more than one million dollars, and determined enough to sue the state in the Supreme Court. Berkin provides her trademark combination of meticulous research, original ideas, and elegant prose.″ --Douglas R. Egerton, author of The Wars of Reconstruction

Carol Berkin received her A.B. from Barnard College and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. She taught at Baruch College from 1972 to 2008 and has taught at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York since 1983. She is currently Baruch Presidential Professor of History. Berkin is the author of "Civil War Wives, Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence," "A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution," "Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Loyalist," and "First Generations: Women in Colonial America, " and numerous articles and reviews. She lives in New York City and Guilford, Connecticut.

General Fields

  • : 9780307592781
  • : February 2014
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Carol Berkin
  • : Hardback
  • : 256