Alexandra Deutsch literally "unpacks" Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte’s personal belongings in this intuitively sophisticated material culture biography of the woman whose seductive beauty and tragic marriage repeatedly pulls us back for another look and, ideally, a deeper understanding of the person behind the celebrity. In addition to letters and portraits, Deutsch found bits of the story in previously overlooked objects in the vast Bonaparte family collections. Long overlooked textile scraps, for example, tell rich stories of forgiveness gifts from Jerome to Elizabeth. A lone red account book contains a record of her finances, yet turned 180 degrees reads like a journal, providing "some of the most powerful evidence of Elizabeth's internal struggles" during the French trial over her son’s legitimacy. The volume is likely one of the five in which she recorded a "skeleton" of a memoir.
Deutsch pays equal attention to the lives of Elizabeth’s son Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, "Bo," and grandsons Jerome Jr. and Charles, deftly exploring how the members of these next generations defined and perpetuated their royal heritage through material possessions. This work truly expands Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte’s story beyond the "mésalliance" with Napoleon’s younger brother and reveals the complex life of a romantic and rebellious young woman whose deep hurt drove her to the courts of Europe and who ultimately found comfort and satisfaction in her hard-won financial independence. In this well-balanced and exceptionally sensitive work, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte finally breathes.