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Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte
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Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

3.5 of 5 stars 3.50  ·  rating details  ·  125 ratings  ·  24 reviews
From the award-winning historian and author of Revolutionary Mothers (“Incisive, thoughtful, spiced with vivid anecdotes. Don’t miss it.”—Thomas Fleming) and Civil War Wives (“Utterly fresh . . . Sensitive, poignant, thoroughly fascinating.”—Jay Winik), here is the remarkable life of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, renowned as the most beautiful woman of nineteenth-century ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published February 11th 2014 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2014)
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Mmars
Born in 1785, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte lived a life more typical of women one hundred years later. Though her father’s self-made American wealth could have supported her, a life-long feud with her father over her short, youthful marriage to Jerome Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother,) an unrelenting desire to live in Europe, and the determination to live a dignified and independent life thereafter forced Elizabeth to develop a financial acumen unusual for her time. However, she was never able to ...more
Jaylia3
Before reading this biography of Betsy Patterson Bonaparte I didn’t realize Napoleon Bonaparte had a Baltimore connection, but it’s a fascinating story, well told in this book, that encompasses both European and early American history and culture. Betsy met Napoleon’s younger brother Jérôme in 1803 while he was in Maryland avoiding military service and the two teenagers fell in love and married within that year, against the wishes of their families and governments. Betsy’s strict controlling fat ...more
Kathie
The story of a Baltimore girl with high hopes. It's hard to care for any of these characters. Elizabeth had a difficult relationship with her father after her mother died, at least that's the way she saw it. He tried to protect her from making awful choices, at least that's the way he saw it. She was an intelligent, attractive woman who just wanted to LIVE. But not in Baltimore and she was willing to do almost anything to get out of Baltimore and live the good life as long as it was in Europe. B ...more
Christine
A highly readable and accessible biography of a Bonaparte bride whose story exemplifies the difficulty of bridging the complex cultures of late-18th- into 19th-century Europe and United States. Dr. Berkin does a good job of not overly romanticizing her subject, nor does she apologize for or condemn her actions even as she tries to explain them. That, combined with her decision not to bog this book down with more context than necessary (as many biographies tend to do) and excellent use of the com ...more
Lauren
This is a light (and I do mean light) biography. Centering on Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, a wealthy American woman who was (briefly) the sister-in-law of Napoleon, the book’s premise is that Elizabeth was an independent woman, ahead of her time.

In some ways, she was. After her disastrous marriage to Jerome Bonaparte, she never did remarry and did buck convention. But I’d stop short of calling her independent or ahead of her time: yes, she had money (inherited) that she did invest, but she mos
...more
Christine Rebbert
A biography of Elizabeth (Betsy) Patterson Bonaparte, the young and beautiful Baltimore heiress who feel in love with the equally-young Naval officer brother of Napoleon and married him. However, Napoleon declared the marriage (to an American commoner!) void. By then pregnant with their only son, Betsy fought for years, not necessarily to restore the marriage, but to have the son accepted as a member of the royal family. That never happened either, even though she never remarried but lived into ...more
Lois
A very interesting book. I had never heard of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte , first wife of Napoleon's brother, Jerome before. She was truly a remarkable woman for her time. My favorite quote is " Had the marriage not been dissolved by Napoleon, it might have dissolved under the weight of her realization that sometimes a prince is only a frog in a velvet coat. ". I wonder if the author had double meaning in those words since at that time frog was a perjorative used to describe the French.

It's a
...more
Carin
This is how a history ought to be written. I have read two other histories lately that I didn't like at all, and I must say I went into this one with some measure of dread, but it was great. It was short, moved briskly, and was well-written in an accessible style.

It sounds a bit fairytale-like or just plan hard to believe, but in the early 1800s, Napoleon Bonaparte's youngest brother, Jerome, who was uneducated, liked his women, and a sprendthrift, came to America in order to avoid doing hard wo
...more
Barbara
Elizabeth Patterson, born in Baltimore before the American Revolution, thought that Americans were boorish and that the finest culture was in Europe. So when she was wooed by Jerome Bonaparte, younger brother to Napoleon, she married him. Napoleon forced Jerome to divorce Elizabeth and marry a German princess. Elizabeth spent the rest of her life trying to convince her son (also named Jerome) and grandsons that they too should marry into European wealth and/ or royalty. It didn't work.
Anne
Betsy Bonaparte was an earlier Wallis Warfield Simpson, willing to shock and scandalize and discard the social conventions of early Baltimore (my hometown, these ladies are two of my favorites!) When most other well-brought-up ladies would have retreated to their homes to pray the scandal faded, Betsy set out to live her altered life the best way she knew how, unwittingly coming to represent in her old age all the things she railed against in her youth.
Deb
Being born and raised in Maryland, this book gave great insight into our local "celebrity" Betsy Patterson Bonaparte. Very interesting tale of her marriage and annulment from Napoleon's younger brother. Also, her relationship with her father, son and various luminaries of the day. Even though the book is set in days past, Betsy shares a very contemporary outlook on life. Read this in one weekend! Highly recommend for anyone interested in Baltimore and American history.
Jennybeast
Very interesting biography of a very interesting woman, who refused to bow to the conventions of her time. Ambitious Baltimore beauty and heiress who married a younger Bonaparte and was cast off by Napolean, she made her way and her fortune according to her own standards. This well written little biography captures her life beautifully and succinctly.



Advanced reader copy provided by edelweiss.
Elizabeth
This was a very brief overview of Elizabeth's life. If you're looking for a crash course or introduction about her, this is a wonderful place to start. If you're looking for something more in-depth about her marriage to Bonaparte or her life devoted to her son, look elsewhere. Berkin is a wonderful historian of Women's History and this is a wonderfully written book, it just comes off as a little hollow. I felt like I was on a speed ride through Elizabeth's life.
Margaret Sankey
From an excellent historian of antebellum America, a popular biography of Betsy Patterson Bonaparte, the Baltimore belle foolish enough to marry that wastrel Jerome, but canny enough to invest her money and live well until the 1870s, despite remaining enamored of European and convinced that one of the grandsons would be embraced into the imperial family.
Joan Porte
This was a decent book about someone I knew nothing about - a young Baltimore girl - looking for an adventurous life - who winds up marrying Bonaparte's brother! I wish we had learned more about her insights but a good, fast read.
Jan Daulton
This is an interesting book about a woman who was ahead of her time. Drags a little in places, but if you like history, you will like this book. Entertaining....
Martha
Excellent and highly digestible history of one of the USA's first celebrities, a woman who pulled herself out of rejection and public humiliation.
Mari
An interesting footnote,
Carole Roman
This started off as a most promising biography, but after the two chapters, I found myself hard pressed to read on. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte looked to be a fascinating historical figure, a woman who flouted convention to pursue what she desired, and she wanted to be important. The problem was, that once I got past her marriage, I found her story rambling and skimmed through the book to get to the end.
Meredith Allady
Competent little history of an event that usually gets a paragraph or two in Napoleonic biographies. Well-written, but probably not of much interest to anyone who isn't wrapped up in this time period, as ultimate it is merely the sad tale of a woman who, firmly convinced of both her own superiority, and that of European culture, chose to spend her whole life chasing the wind.
Anne
Before moving to the Baltimore area, I had never heard of Betsy Patterson Bonaparte. Now I know she is a local legend, kind of the flip side of Wallis Warfield Simpson. This book was written on about a YA level, but was interesting and informational, all the same.
Lyn
I was pleasantly surprised in reading this book. Who knew there were Bonaparte's I the US. Elizabeth was a fascinating woman with a mind if her own.
Anna
An interesting story and an interesting woman, but somehow it was a bit of a chore to finish.
Cheri
I had never heard of Betsy Patterson Bonaparte. Very interesting person.
Deborah Ryan
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Apr 24, 2015
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“Betsy was flattered but apparently unmoved by the admiration of local suitors. If she assumed, as surely all girls of her class and era did, that marriage and motherhood were an inevitable part of female life, she nevertheless nurtured a hope that someone would rescue her from the dull and constricting married life that lay ahead. And in 1803 that hope seemed to become a reality when a handsome stranger appeared in staid Baltimore City. His name was Jérôme Bonaparte, and he was the youngest brother of the first consul of France, Napoleon.” 0 likes
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