Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The Last Great Dance on Earth
The Last Great Dance on Earth, by Sandra Gulland (Third book of the Jospehine B. Trilogy)
...Josephine and Bonaparte have just gotten married...
I'm often asked if it’s possible to read this book without having read the previous two. First of all, the three volumes in the trilogy are a continuation of eachother. So, in order to appreciate the story in full, you need to read all three. Josephine's life takes such dramatic turns that it almost seems as though she lived three lives in one. Almost like three powerful novels culminating in The Last Great Dance on Earth. This one, I felt, was truly a touching and emotional read.
As the first two, the third volume is also written in diary form. In this book however, Sandra Gulland, develops the memoirs even further, without ever altering them. For me, this brought Josephine to life, closer than imaginable. From the beginning of this book, Gulland lures the reader further and further in, until you become totally captivated by Josephine’s life.
It was impossible not to befriend Josephine. Her letters called out to me and I often thought myself to be her priveleged confidante. Gulland skilfully captures our emotions throughout these letters. This can be seen in: Josephine’s unsuccessful and painful ordeals to have Napoleon’s baby; Bonaparte’s family’s disdain for her as well as their scheming plans to rid themselves of her; Josephine’s loneliness; Her pain and humiliation while enduring Bonaparte’s affairs; Her resilience, sacrifice and surrender for the name of love and a greater purpose…and more.
I was able to feel Josephine’s emotions throughout the book. At certain points, I even became angry at her for accepting Napoleon’s affairs; but this didn’t last for long. Despite my views, somehow, I made exceptions for Josephine. I understood her reasons and also came to accept them. She understood Napoleon’s greater purpose and all that it entailed. She understood that he was a man like no other, “Je le veux”- and he conquered. Her voice, feelings and motives came through clearly throughout this historical novel. Very often, I become teary-eyed when reading about the lives of historical figures- but with Josephine, I caught myself sobbing…several times (as though I’d learned about this for the first time). Josephine’s love, tenderness, understanding and total devotion to Napoleon, her man, came first, above all else.
Besides her great love for Napoleon, Josephine’s tremendous love for her children is constant throughout the book. The detail in portraying Josephine as a caring and encouraging mother who stood by her children in their every decision, made her all the more endearing to me. The way Josephine cared for Hortense through her painful family tragedy and marital problems - Her willingness to take care of her grandchildren when Hortense needed her most- her children could always depend on her to be there.
Eugene and Hortense’s letters to her are filled with caring words that reveal love and concern. There is a clear sense of their close and loving relationship in the way they all interact with eachother. They are together and united in every decision, regardless of their own personal feelings; the Divorce being a perfect example of this, as well as, their unity in accepting and welcoming Bonaparte’s decision to marry Marie Louise.
These unbelievably difficult situations which must have required an enormous sense of loyalty, love and acceptance, continuously surface the story to emphasize the passionate life that Josephine lived. And in the end, Eugene’s touching letter announcing the death of his beloved mother to Bonaparte, addressed: Sire, Emperor (Papa), completely moved me to tears. I know it’s history, and I’ve read this all before; Even so, The Last Great Dance on Earth is now forever sealed within my heart.
Up until her death, Josephine only wanted what was best for her Bonaparte, the man who “had inspired her to believe once again in heroes, in destiny, but above all in the miracle of love”. p.4
Passionate times, beautiful details, sorrowful moments, love beyond boundaries- Bringing history to life, The Last Great Dance on Earth is an exceptional book.
…Not difficult to see why this is my favourite Josephine historical novel.
Posted by Lucy at 11:59 AM