Happy New Year!
I hope 2022 brings you good health, good books and happiness.
I’ve decided to read Paris-themed books for this month. I love Paris and now I live in Paris. So why not immerse myself even more?
I’m currently reading How Paris Became Paris by Joan DeJean.
It’s the fabulous history of the most wonderful city in the world. Each chapter is about a specific neighborhood, which includes plenty of historical mansions, which comes with detailed explanations of the occupants of said mansions. It’s fascinating, fun and I can’t put it out.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Paris was known for isolated monuments but had not yet put its brand on urban space. Like other European cities, it was still emerging from its medieval past. But in a mere century Paris would be transformed into the modern and mythic city we know today.
Though most people associate the signature characteristics of Paris with the public works of the nineteenth century, Joan DeJean demonstrates that the Parisian model for urban space was in fact invented two centuries earlier, when the first complete design for the French capital was drawn up and implemented. As a result, Paris saw many changes. It became the first city to tear down its fortifications, inviting people in rather than keeping them out. Parisian urban planning showcased new kinds of streets, including the original boulevard, as well as public parks and the earliest sidewalks and bridges without houses. Venues opened for urban entertainment of all kinds, from opera and ballet to a pastime invented in Paris, recreational shopping. Parisians enjoyed the earliest public transportation and street lighting, and Paris became Europe’s first great walking city.
A century of planned development made Paris both beautiful and exciting. It gave people reasons to be out in public as never before and as nowhere else. And it gave Paris its modern identity as a place that people dreamed of seeing. By 1700, Paris had become the capital that would revolutionize our conception of the city and of urban life.
Next up will be Nancy Mitford’s Don’t Tell Alfred. I’ve never read anything by Nancy Mitford, but added this to my reading list because it’s set in Paris. The plot is supposed to be a comedic romp. The main character, Fanny Wincham, collides with royals and Rothschilds after her husband becomes Britain’s ambassador to France.
Fanny Wincham—last seen as a young woman in The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate—has lived contentedly for years as housewife to an absent-minded Oxford don, Alfred. But her life changes overnight when her beloved Alfred is appointed English Ambassador to Paris.
Soon she finds herself mixing with royalty and Rothschilds while battling her hysterical predecessor, Lady Leone, who refuses to leave the premises. When Fanny’s tender-hearted secretary begins filling the embassy with rescued animals and her teenage sons run away from Eton and show up with a rock star in tow, things get entirely out of hand. Gleefully sending up the antics of mid-century high society, Don’t Tell Alfred is classic Mitford.
Lastly, I plan to read Ambition & Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte by Kate Williams. Josephine loved Paris and was as Parisian as they come. It will be an interesting historical read about an interesting woman. Also, I’m having a lot of fun retracing her steps throughout Paris and learning about Paris then and now. (For example, the place where she married Napoleon is now a bank.)
Their love was legendary, their ambition flagrant and unashamed. Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife, Josephine, came to power during one of the most turbulent periods in the history of France. The story of the Corsican soldier’s incredible rise has been well documented. Now, in this spellbinding, luminous account, Kate Williams draws back the curtain on the woman who beguiled him: her humble origins, her exorbitant appetites, and the tragic turn of events that led to her undoing.
Born Marie-Josèphe-Rose de Tascher de La Pagerie on the Caribbean island of Martinique, the woman Napoleon would later call Josephine was the ultimate survivor. She endured a loveless marriage to a French aristocrat—executed during the Reign of Terror—then barely escaped the guillotine blade herself. Her near-death experience only fueled Josephine’s ambition and heightened her determination to find a man who could finance and sustain her. Though no classic beauty, she quickly developed a reputation as one of the most desirable women on the continent.
In 1795, she met Napoleon. The attraction was mutual, immediate, and intense. Theirs was an often-tumultuous union, roiled by their pursuit of other lovers but intensely focused on power and success. Josephine was Napoleon’s perfect consort and the object of national fascination. Together they conquered Europe. Their extravagance was unprecedented, even by the standards of Versailles. But she could not produce an heir. Sexual obsession brought them together, but cold biological truth tore them apart.
Gripping in its immediacy, captivating in its detail, Ambition and Desire is a true tale of desire, heartbreak, and revolutionary turmoil, engagingly written by one of England’s most praised young historians. Kate Williams’s searing portrait of this alluring and complex woman will finally elevate Josephine Bonaparte to the historical prominence she deserves.
I’m really happy about my reading list for January. It’s already taken me down a few rabbit holes (the Midford family was something else…).
What are you reading this month?