Saturday, October 20, 2012

What is is about Josephine - Guest post by Sandra Gulland

What is it about Josephine?

Josephine who? You rarely have to say. Josephine is one of the few people in history who is known simply by her first name. I think of Cleopatra, Jesus, Napoleon ... and then? Josephine.

Why does her memory linger? What is it we continue to find so fascinating about her? She wasn't dramatic; she didn't do anything particularly showy. In fact, if anything, she was known for being quiet, a gentle personality.

I can't explain what it is that others find so alluring; I can only speak for myself.

For me, the most amazing thing about Josephine was that her extraordinary life was, in fact, foretold. As a young teen on the island of Martinique, a fortuneteller told her that she would be unhappily married, widowed, and then become "more than a Queen." I don't believe that it is possible to predict the future, and yet there is proof: an account of this prediction was printed in a Parisian journal before Josephine had even met Napoleon.

Was Josephine a "king-maker"? As I was writing the Josephine B. Trilogy, it seemed almost spooky the way the men in her life became "rulers" after meeting her. For a short period of time during the Revolution, her first husband Alexandre de Beauharnais was considered the man who ruled. After the Revolution, her friend Barras led the country. And then, of course, there was the extraordinary rise of the socially-inept Corsican general she married.

Was she ambitious? Decidedly not. "How unhappy a crown makes one," she wrote to her daughter Hortense. Was she helpful to Napoleon? Absolutely. Supportive? Ditto. But she was not a goal-driven woman. (But for one thing: her constant focus was the wellbeing of her two children, and, later, her grandchildren.) What she was was extraordinarily perceptive, sensitive to people's needs. Madame Rémusat, who was not kind with respect to Josephine in her memoirs (significantly written after Napoleon's fall), said, in a letter (and I paraphrase): "When one spends time with Josephine, one's heart is full." And that, to me, says it all. Napoleon rose to fame on his own merits, certainly, but I personally doubt that he would have won the trust of the people without Josephine at his side. She was someone everyone -- both the conservatives and the revolutionaries alike -- could identify with. She was kindness personified.

For me, personally, it was her courage that inspires me. "If Josephine could do it, I can do it." It's a curious word to use, for she wasn't exactly doing battle on a field of war. Yet it's a word that comes to my readers, as well, writing to me about how Josephine has given them courage. (The stories I get bring tears: I can't tell you how many letters I've gotten from readers who read the Trilogy in the hospital.) The courage Josephine had was to step up to the challenge presented to her, as well as the courage to bow gracefully to defeat. And yet always—always—with an open heart.

I've been away from Josephine's world for over a decade now, and yet she continues to haunt me. Last summer, I was invited to be part of a documentary on her: In Search of Josephine. (It's now out: I recommend it.) I was in the process, at the time, of releasing the Trilogy in e-book form under my own imprint; the files were in need of proofreading. The timing was perfect: for the first time in well over a decade, I read my own novels, and was moved, yet again, by Josephine's powerful story. Then, in November, I was offered a contract to write a Young Adult novel about Josephine's daughter Hortense—an offer I gladly accepted once I realized what a wonderful story Hortense had to tell. And then, shortly after the release of the documentary, I learned that it was official that Michael Hirst (scriptwriter for the Tudors and the Elizabeth movies) had written the script for a TV mini-series based on the Trilogy, that a producer was in place, and Josephine cast. (Sorry! I can't reveal names at this time.) It appears that Josephine will be, yet again and again, beloved by all.

"I win battles, but Josephine wins hearts," Napoleon said. How true.

Sandra Gulland is the author of The Josephine B. Trilogy, which has been published in 17 countries. Her most recent novel, also internationally-published, is Mistress of the Sun, set in the 17th century court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. She has recently launched Sandra Gulland INK, an e-book publishing company, so that her work would be available to readers worldwide. For more about Sandra and her work, go to her website: You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. If you want to receive her e-newletter, sign up here.


  1. Fantastic post! I read the Josephine trilogy several years ago and it remains a favourite of mine to this day. Josephine was an incredible woman.

    I'm very excited by the news that a mini-series is in the works.

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  3. How exciting to hear about the upcoming mini-series! I will have to keep my eye out for it in the future. I haven't yet had the chance to read the books, but now I have a great excuse to move them up the list.