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Marie-Louise, wife of Napoleon I (J. Bertaut)


The France-Empire editions have just re-edited the work of Jules Bertaut on Marie-Louise, Empress, wife of Napoleon I. The one that the golden legend of the empire has not spared is found somewhat rehabilitated. Not stopping at the usual denunciation made against him as a bad mother and bad wife, not content with a caricatural comparison with his aunt Marie-Antoinette, Jules Bertaut paints a deeply human and compassionate portrait of a sweet Viennese manhandled by interests that exceeded her.

Marie-Louise: the unloved stranger in imperial history?

Marie-Louise of Habsburg, daughter of the Emperor of Austria, is Napoleon's second wife. After having repudiated Josephine because of her sterility, Napoleon hoped from his marriage with Marie-Louise a male heir to the dynasty and a close alliance with his father-in-law Francis I of Austria. She gave him this long-awaited heir, it was the Eagle, but the Austrian alliance was only a decoy which broke in 1813, causing the fall of the First Empire. Marie-Louise, the foreigner, was quickly compared to her aunt Marie-Antoinette: two sovereigns from Austria, two distant women at court, two women with shameless reputations, two women whose Fatherland turned against the France, two women who brought about the downfall of their husbands ... Her behavior after the fall of the Empire was not to restore her image either: while her husband was dying on Saint Helena, and her son was suffering from consumption. abandoned in her golden prison in Schönbrunn, Marie-Louise was lounging in the arms of General Neipperg. In the years following the end of the Empire, the grumblers embroidered the golden legend of Napoleon, amplified by the resistance of a political Bonapartism which continued to gain strength until the advent of the Second Empire. And in this golden legend which caricatured the protagonists, Marie-Louise inevitably had the wrong role: bad wife, bad mother, what the biographers forgave Josephine, they did not forgive her. Because Marie-Louise was also Austria, and in this first half of the 19th century where the legend was embroidered: Austria remained the enemy.

A double rehabilitation

This reissue of Jules Bertaut's work is a double rehabilitation. First of all, a rehabilitation of Marie-Louise that the author refuses to give in to complacency. He rightly points out how the golden legend of Napoleon overwhelmed him when she was more indulgent with the shamelessness of Joséphine, but also of the Bonaparte sisters Pauline and Caroline, or with the multiple betrayals of the entourage of the Emperor. Jules Bertaut skilfully points out that Napoleon was heroic, that he was made a quasi-equal of ancient archetypes, and that we carried over to Marie-Louise fantasized expectations of a perfect woman, out of the ordinary, for a husband. extraordinary. However, we should not judge Marie-Louise for the gap between reality and the expectations we had of her, but we must be content to look at the vicissitudes of an ordinary woman who was not made to endure the weight of these expectations. Ardent to love a man as long as he is close to her, manipulated by her family who did everything to make her change her diaper and forget her French past, the author invites us to look at her as an unhappy human creature, no more no less heroic than the average person. A look full of humanity and compassion, far from the exalted stakes of the imperial golden legend, but which does not seek to make Marie-Louise a saint either.

But this reissue is also a rehabilitation of the author himself: Jules Bertaut (1877 - 1959). This French historian, literary critic, was a good connoisseur of the July Monarchy and the city of Paris, but also an excellent Balzacian. Among other things, we owe him studies by Père Goriot, books on the capital, The young girl in literature, and of course historical summaries on the period 1815 - 1848 and on the period 1848 - Second Republic. However, during his candidacy for the French Academy, Jules Bertaud obtained no vote: a rejection that Jean Tulard today considers as brutal as it is unjust. The reissue of his work on Marie-Louise therefore tends to rehabilitate this character who deserves all our intention, whatever the Immortals may have thought ...

BERTAUT Jules, Marie-Louise, wife of Napoleon I, France Empire, 2012.


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