Annemarie Selinko’s 1953 bestseller, Désirée, proves the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction.
At 14, Eugénie Désirée Clary, daughter of a silk merchant of Marseilles, becomes engaged to a General with an unpronounceable Corsican name, which the General later changes to Napoleon Bonoparte.
Désirée’s sister marries Napoleon’s brother Joseph, but Napoleon jilts Désirée for the wealthy widow Josephine Beauharnais.
Désirée marries Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a general risen from the ranks. His integrity and administrative skills make him indispensable as Bonoparte turns the French Republic into a European empire.
Just when it appears Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo will allow the couple to have a normal life, Jean-Baptiste is elected king of Sweden.
Désirée is too immature to be a queen. She lives in France, Jean-Baptiste in Stockholm. Their son Oscar, grown to manhood, convinces her to go to Sweden and become Queen.
Désirée’s unique relationship to the Bonopartes and her middle-class common sense make her a touchstone by which the French excesses of the period can be measured.
Désirée is a novel that gets better with each chapter. Selinko manages to mingle history and fiction without doing damage either to either. Désirée’s growth from a precocious, romantic teen to a pragmatic grandmother will win readers’ affections and respect.Désirée By Annemarie Selinko William Morrow, 1953 594 pages 1953 bestseller #3 My grade B