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THE PRINCESS OF NOWHERE by Prince Lorenzo Borghese

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Avon A; Original edition (December 7, 2010)
Language: English

Princess Pauline Borghese was one of the most fascinating women of her day. Now her story is unforgettably told by one of her descendants....

Prince Lorenzo Borghese, a descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother-in-law, bursts boldly onto the historical fiction scene with The Princess of Nowhere—a captivating and richly atmospheric re-imagining of the life of the author’s famous ancestor, Princess Pauline Bonaparte Borghese, who became Princess Pauline Bonaparte Borghese, after her marriage to Prince Camillo Borghese. Author Borghese—whom TV viewers will recognize for his appearance on the hit ABC series, The Bachelor – Rome, will enthrall readers of Sarah Dunant and Suzannah Dunn with his masterful blend of fact and fiction – a story of passion, betrayal, and of one woman who truly conquered all…even death.

As the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, Pauline knows that her sole purpose has always been to make an advantageous marriage to further her ambitious brother’s goals. But her joie de vivre cannot be contained—much to the dismay of her new husband, Prince Camillo Borghese. Pauline’s and Camillo’s relationship is tempestuous at best, with Pauline constantly seeking the attention of other men—especially after a heartbreaking loss which leaves her devastated, desperate for attention, and searching for answers. Yet, despite everything, the love that brought Pauline and Camillo together, as imperfect as it might be, can never be truly stifled.

As seen through the eyes of the young woman who served as Pauline’s lady-in-waiting and surrogate daughter, The Princess of Nowhere is an unforgettable tale of a remarkable life that is a study in the excesses of the time as well as an intimate view of a woman strong enough to defy expectations.

THE PRINCESS OF NOWHERE, by Prince Lorenzo Borghese, is a brilliantly written portrayal of the exquisitely tempestuous and scandalous life of Princess Pauline Borghese, a sister of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Pauline Bonaparte was born in Corsica, and when her father, representative to the court of King Louis XVI of France passed away, her large family was thrust into the face of poverty. And when Corsica was made an unsafe place to live in 1793 due to the French Revolution, the Bonaparte family moved to France. Pauline’s ambitious brother, Napoleon, rose up through the military ranks, gaining prestige and amassing wealth, and power. Nobile Napoleon did not forget his poverty stricken family; as he became more influential he made sure that every member of his family benefitted, including his favorite, Pauline.

Napoleon arranged a marriage between seventeen year-old Pauline and his fellow officer, Victor Emmanuel LeClerc. The couple had one child, a son named Dermide, whom Pauline loved very much. When Victor was stationed to the West Indies she accompanied him there. But Victor suffered numerous military losses, and soon fell ill with yellow fever and died.

Back in mainland France, Pauline eventually grew bored of the required mourning period that she was living through for her husband. Yet although Napoleon was keen to have Pauline marry Prince Camillo Borghese to secure family ties with Italy and increase his wealth and power, he did not consent that the marriage take place before November of 1803 when Pauline’s mourning period would be completed. Pauline and Camillo, however, were unwilling to wait and wed in secret in August of that year. Napoleon, angered, refused to acknowledge Pauline’s newly acquired title of “Princess” until the couple had a civil marriage ceremony in November.  

It wasn’t long into the marriage that Pauline began to have affairs, just as she’d had during her marriage to Victor. In November, she, Camillo and Dermide came to Rome where they lived in Villa Borghese, and where Pauline began to learn how to behave in Roman society.

Camillo commissioned a statue of Pauline from the great sculptor Canova, and the now-famous sculpture of Pauline as the goddess Venus, entitled “Venus Victrix,” can beviewed at the Galleria Borghese in Rome.

Quite obviously, the marriage between Pauline and Camillo was not a happy one, despite the deep love and strong physical attraction that existed between them. When Pauline’s son, Dermide, died in childhood of fever, she blamed nearly everyone for a time, including Camillo. After the death of her son, Pauline’s life began to fall slowly and painfully apart, and she and Camillo eventually became estranged. Camillo joined Napoleon’s army and left Pauline to serve. Pauline, meanwhile, went to live in France and kept herself occupied with a series of lovers. When Napoleon fell out of power, she was the only one of his siblings to help him. Pauline liquidated all of her assets into cash and moved to Elba, using the money to better Napoleon’s condition during his exile there.

After Waterloo, Pauline moved back to Rome. During all of these events, Camillo had attempted to divorce Pauline but was refused by the Pope. Resigned, he eventually lived away from Pauline in Italy with a mistress of his own, Duchess Lante della Rovere. It was a bitter separation, but one that was still tinged with the depth of their love. As the years passed, Pauline was struck with a fatal illness, pulmonary tuberculosis. When she was nearing death, she sought out Camillo in the hopes of forgiveness and some form of reconciliation. He was not opposed, and not especially with the Pope’s persuasion, even offering Pauline rooms in his Florence palace as a sort of sanctuary for her to spend the rest of her days. Pauline and Camillo were reunited, and she was successful in gaining him back as a lover and as her husband. Sadly, their newly restored union only lasted for the final three months of her life. She died in the Palazzo Borghese in Florence.

Review

THE PRINCESS OF NOWHERE is the beautifully told story of the life of one of the most passionate women in history. And what makes this novel that much more authentic is that the intimate details of her life are shared with us by the direct descendant of Prince Camillo Borghese, Prince Lorenzo Borghese. The start of each chapter of this story of Pauline is gorgeously decorated. Pauline’s tale is told with compassion and tolerance, and in a beautiful yet neutral voice that gives the reader a chance to form their own opinion of Pauline, which will most likely be a sympathetic and loving one. The novel paints the norms and restrictions of the culture and society through which Pauline lived in vivid detail, and Pauline and Camillo are so wonderfully brought to life that readers will want to take their time turning the pages, unwilling to reach the end passages and the novel’s conclusion. THE PRINCESS OF NOWHERE is a beautiful book, and Pauline’s story is told with as much passion as she herself possessed in life.

The novel features a few fictional characters and is narrated partly by the fictional character, Sophie LeClerc, who is introduced as the cousin of Pauline's late first husband Victor Emmanuel LeClerc. Napoleon arranges for Sophie, who has lost her mother, to come and live with Pauline as her ward at the young and impressionable age of 10. Sophie is a very relatable character, one that any reader will fall in love with just as they will be enraptured with Pauline. Sophie herself immediately falls under Pauline’s spell during their first meeting.

When Pauline is courted by Prince Camillo Borghese, Sophie is extremely jealous over the amount of time that Camillo spends with Pauline, who appears to forget all about Sophie during Camillo’s courtship. Camillo, who is portrayed as a bit of a prude, proud, and uncomfortable in Paris because he does not speak the language, also narrates the novel. Yet he, too, falls under Pauline's spell during their first meeting, but he does have doubts about the marriage, having heard of Pauline's scandalous reputation, most especially surrounding her numerous love affairs. It is only when Camillo sees Pauline asleep, exhausted after days spent nursing a deathly ill Sophie back to health that he knows without a shadow of a doubt that he will marry her because he has seen her when she didn’t know that anyone was looking, that he’s seen the true Pauline.

Prince Lorenzo Borghese is remarkable as an author in his ability to capture Pauline’s capricious, spoiled nature perfectly, and presenting us with her flaws and her charms in equal measure. Pauline’s marriage to Camillo was as much a political one as it was one of passion, and sadly due to her infidelities she drove Camillo wild with jealousy and away for most of their marriage. Pauline is oftentimes hard to like and very easy to be angry with, but then there are moments when she is incredibly warm and compassionate.

Overall, she is endlessly enchanting and always surprising. She is a multi-faceted person whom no one ever knows completely. She is not a good wife and does not pretend to be, but she is such a loyal and loving sister especially when some of her siblings fail to be in those respects. Interestingly, Sophie has the longest personal journey in the book, starting as a very young, insecure girl who worships and adores Pauline, and growing into a woman who has learned that her idol is far from perfect yet still forgives and loves her. Borghese's characterization of his ancestor Camillo is truly fascinating. We are given a portrait of a man bound by the restrictions and traditions of his station in life who at the same time is spellbound by Pauline who is so different from the women that he has always known.

Pauline, who in her lifetime was considered the most beautiful woman in all of Europe, is a wonderful choice for a heroine – she is feisty, opinionated, petulant, strong, determined, brave, compassionate while at the same time extremely self-involved, and undeniable very human and mesmerizing. She is someone you would at times hate to know, but also a woman without whom you can not and would not want to live. Her attention and love would feel like a blessing bestowed upon you, even if given for only a small moment in time. Possessed with an immense spirit and a boundless lust for life, she was a woman who reached out for life wherever and whenever she could find it.

She is a complex heroine, sometimes cruel, but utterly fascinating and intensely full of life and a desire to live and love and be loved. She is loyal when others fail to be, unwavering in her love and devotion and care when people need it the most, and sometimes selfless to a saintly degree. Pauline is also incredibly easy to relate to, for she is shown to us not in some unattainable form of perfection but as so very flawed and human. As Camillo, Sophie and nearly everyone who came into contact with Pauline did, any reader of this novel will fall in love with Pauline, too. It is truly impossible not to be enraptured by Pauline because of the stunning charm and beauty of Pauline’s soul, which sadly did not have nearly long enough to grace this world.

Borghese does a brilliant job of expounding upon the reader that Pauline and Camillo's stormy, beautiful and tragic love story, though despite the fact that it was something of an arranged marriage, could have had a happy life if they had shared a bond of trust and communication. The reconciliation scenes leading up to Pauline's death are beautifully written. Pauline’s reunion with her husband, and her death, are some of the most touching passages in the novel. Every word rings true, and every moment between them is rooted in the reality of the life. Nothing feels overly romanticized, but perfectly realized.

THE PRINCESS OF NOWHERE is an exceptional debut from Prince Lorenzo Borghese, and hopefully he will pen more historical fiction novels (or novels in general!). The beauty of the author’s voice, pacing and writing make it obvious that Borghese labored intensely over this novel based on his ancestors, and it is commendable that he does not tie up the ending in a neat bow of saccharine happiness but gives the reader the honest conclusion based on the facts of Pauline’s marriage to Camillo and of her life. Borghese has a real skill and talent for writing, including a keen eye for voice and plot structure and seamlessly weaving fact into a fictional tale that is impossible to put down, making it a novel that demands to be re-read again and again.

THE PRINCESS OF NOWHERE is a must-have for anyone interested in the historical fiction genre, and a definite pick for those fascinated by Napoleon. Borghese has done a wonderful job of bringing a new voice and breathing new life into the story of Pauline and Camillo, and he has created a novel that would make his family, and Pauline, incredibly grateful and proud.

FYI: Do visit the book's official website to learn more about The Princess of Nowhere, and to see photos of the real locations featured throughout the novel.

Be sure to get your copy at Amazon.com -

The Princess of Nowhere: A Novel

Thank you to HarperCollins for a review copy!
 

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