The Last Great Dance on Earth is the triumphant final volume of Sandra Gulland's beloved trilogy based on the life of Josephine Bonaparte. When the novel opens, Josephine and Napoleon have been married for four tumultuous years. Napoleon is Josephine's great love, and she his. But their passionate union is troubled from within, as Josephine is unable to produce an heir, and from without, as England makes war against France and Napoleon's Corsican clan makes war against his wife. Through Josephine's heartfelt diary entries, we witness the personal betrayals and political intrigues that will finally drive them apart, culminating in Josephine's greatest tragedy: her divorce from Napoleon and his exile to Elba. The Last Great Dance on Earth is historical fiction on a grand scale and the stirring conclusion to an unforgettable love story.
From other people that have read this trilogy, they say that this book is their least favourite of the three. I find myself wondering if that is because of a decrease in writing style, or because this is the book where everything falls apart. It really is a depressing novel, one bad thing seems to happen after another, but that is not Gulland's fault, that is histories fault. It is not like she can suddenly change history in book three to make for a happier story.
When the book opens, Josephine and Napoleon have been married for four years. Josephine is a few years older than her husband, and as I mentioned in the post for the previous book, unable to have children. This is not her fault, it is just the way things are, but it becomes very important in this book. It is strange to see the two of them now. Josephine was unsure if she even wanted to marry Napoleon in the beginning, but yet here they are and she seems quite happy to be with him. She knew him before he was anything, and she loves him even if he has nothing.
There are good moments in this book, though, I might add. The book starts out on a happy note, but Napoleon begins to have affairs with other women that play a more central role in this novel than they did in others. He loves his wife, there is no question there, but it seems that men just had to be unfaithful from time to time back in those days. We will not get into today's culture. Josephine really battles with the whole idea of turning a blind eye to what her husband is doing, but she tries. It is hard when someone you love is cheating on you, and while other women of the time seem easily to turn the other cheek, Josephine worries. I think for her it is more that she is worried he will divorce her than anything else.
It is not hard to tell through the course of this trilogy that Josephine and Napoleon loved each other, I just wish that things could have been different. Napoleon finally has what he set out to have, the life that he has been planning and working for, and his family is pushing him from all sides to divorce Josephine. You can tell that it really is the last thing that he wants to do, that he honestly loves her, but sometimes the good of the country has to come over the good of your heart. It really is a shame that things could not have gone another way, but in this time, men were more interested in having an heir (someone had to carry on the family name), and less about the love of a good woman. It is clear that with or without an heir, Josephine was better for him, but you can decide that on your own should you choose to read this book.
I found this book sad, I will give people that. I really felt for Josephine near the end. Even when you are reading something that you know the outcome, it still is sad to see it all come crashing down. Not to mention, I was sad to see this trilogy end.
The third and final book in the excellent Josephine B trilogy starts approximately four years after the marriage of Napoleon and Josephine. The couple are at first happily married, but there is always pressure on the two of them, both externally and internally! It is Napoleon's greatest wish to have a child, and Josephine is forced to endure many different 'cures' to try to become pregnant, but it is likely that her period of incarceration during the Revolution has caused the early onset of menopause for her.
It was quite interesting to me to read this trilogy, because most of the books that I read have France as the enemy, so it is easy to forget how much Napoleon actually achieved, and to not really appreciate how popular he really was in France during his reign, particularly the early years. The fact that he was able to achieve as much as he did as well as deal with his grasping and petty, jealous family is quite amazing. The appointment of the Bonapartes onto the thrones of the countries that Napoleon conquered was very thorough, even if the jockeying for the most tasty of these morsels (thrones) was at times farcical!
I did find it quite ironic that the Revolution overthrew the Bourbon kings, and yet, in effect, Napoleon introduced a very similar court, albeit calling himself Emperor, but the rigid rules, formality and excesses were all there, as was the need to have a structure in place to determine who would be Emperor next...to have an heir.
There is less to be cheerful about in this book than there were in the previous books, and Josephine's diary reflects this as she begins to understand her fate. Josephine struggled with the implication of being created Empress, and struggled with the numerous affairs that Napoleon had and was expected to turn a blind eye too, although on one occasion she was the one who had to end one of the relationships on Napoleon's behalf. She also had to constantly be on guard against the whole Bonaparte clan who had been against her since the very early days of her marriage.
History shows that Napoleon divorced Josephine because she could not provide him an heir, and yet, Napoleon seemed to still care very much for her, which in a way makes this love story even more poignant.
Gulland has written an excellent trilogy about a fascinating woman, living in a volatile and tumultuous time.
The three books in this trilogy are listed below. Click on the links to go to our reviews of the other books in the trilogy.
The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.
Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe
The Last Great Dance on Earth