Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe by Sandra Gulland

I fear I have made a mistake

Set in Paris at the end of the eighteenth century, Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe opens as Josephine awakes to the reality of her recent marriage to 'the Corsican' Napoleon Bonaparte, now General-in-Chief of the Army of Italy. Through Josephine's diary entries and Napoleon's impassioned - and at times disturbing - love letters, an astonishing portrait of a canny and compassionate woman emerges set against one of the most tumultuous periods in European history. Written is a spare but compelling style, this beautifully crafted novel brings the amazing drama of the legendary Josephine to vibrant life.

Kailana Says:

I have to admit that I finished this book and almost immediately started book three, so I might have a hard time remembering what happens in book two and what happened in book one.

In the first book the main character was known as Rose, but now she is the beautiful wife of Napoleon. I really liked this trilogy. Josephine is a very interesting character. Some people are not fond of the diary-style of writing, but I thought it worked well for this trilogy. It feels more personal that way. You cannot help feeling bad for Josephine. She has not had a very easy life, most people in France at this time have not, but her luck does not seem to ever fully recover. As a result of her imprisonment during the Terror, she is unable to have Napoleon's child. They try all these methods, but we know that that the stress of her imprisonment likely resulted in her starting menopause at a young age. She can have children, she has two with her first husband, the timing is just wrong for her to give Napoleon any.

I thought that Napoleon is also an interesting character. You are not really sure if Josephine and Napoleon are going to hit it off at first, if you go into it with an innocent impression of what is going to happen. For those that know what happened in history, though, Gulland does a very good job sticking to the main historical facts. I cannot say that I liked Napoleon, though, he just had his good points. He loved Josephine, I never questioned that. He just tried to do what was best for France, and he had an atrocious family. At the end of the third book it tells what happened to all of them, actually.

Another thing I liked about the books were the footnotes. They explained things that happened in the previous book so you understood references, but they also included letters and things from historical records of Josephine and her family, plus providing references for off-hand remarks that were not explained. To someone living in Josephine's time, they likely made sense, but to people living today, unless you are very up on the time period, you might miss the reference. I have to admit that while I like history, and have taken many history courses in university, I have never had a course that covered the Napoleonic Wars in any great detail. They were mentioned, I know who they were, but even if it is a fiction book, this is the most I have ever read on Napoleon. When I graduate and reading non-fiction history books becomes fun again, this is a subject matter I would like to read more about.

I also have to briefly comment on the medical practices of the time. Normally I might have overlooked them, but I am taking a history of medicine course this year, and we just talked about medicine in about the time that this book covers, so it was interesting to see the methods I learned about in use in this novel. I mean, obviously I have seen it before, but in the past I did not have a medical history course to provide background information.

Marg says:

The events portrayed at the beginning of this book following on almost directly from the end of The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.. Napoleon and Rose (now known as Josephine) are newly married, not without opposition from her children. Napoleon is rapidly rising through the ranks, and Josephine is along for the ride. They have a very strange relationship in some ways. He is jealously devoted to Josephine and yet she has to pay her own way, and finds herself deeply in debt on several occasions. This debt is exacerbated by the fact that the Caribbean islands are now pretty much incommunicado with France due to the problems with the British. Napoleon's family has also made it very clear that they do not want Josephine as part of the family and can be quite malicious in their treatment of her.

Napoleon goes off to fight in Italy and misses Josephine so much that he sends for her, but not before her enemies (also known as Napoleon's family) have planted doubts in his mind about her faithfulness. On arrival, she is feted like royalty and she begins to understand exactly how much power and authority her husband now wields, and once reconciled to him, continues on a journey with him that will take her far from her roots as a humble planter's daughter.

Once again, Gulland manages to make the diary format work. She brings alive the excitement and the tribulations of the life of Josephine during this time when her husband's star is rising in the sphere of French politics, to the point that she is close to the point of fulfilling the prophecy that she was given as a young woman, but that, I guess, is what will be covered in the next book.

Another very entertaining read from this author! I am looking forward to the third and final book in the series!

Rating 4/5

The books in this trilogy in order are:

The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.
Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe
The Last Great Dance on Earth


  1. First of all, I love the blog! :D

    I first read Gulland's Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe, about seven years ago, and fell in love with the diary format. I tried reading other books that had the same format, but they didn't do it for me, so it must have been Gulland's style of writing. I fell in love with Josephine and since then I've been collecting books on Napoleon and Josephine.
    Gulland's books have a special place in my keeper shelf.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Leya! And welcome to blogging!

  3. I already have the first book in the series in my Wish List. :-)