In this lecture based on her book, A Woman of Two Worlds: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, Alexandra Deutsch, Director of Collections and Interpretation at the Maryland Historical Society, analyzes Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte’s personal belongings and letters to create a material culture biography of the woman whose seductive beauty and tragic marriage have long been documented. Through careful consideration of her possessions and writings, as well as those of her son and grandsons, this lecture takes Elizabeth’s story far beyond the one typically told. Driven by her desire to create an imperial legacy for her descendants, Elizabeth forged a remarkable life after her ill-fated marriage to Jérôme Bonaparte ended in 1805. She lived the rest of her life as a single woman, dying in 1879 as arguably one of America’s first self-made millionaires.
This heavily illustrated lecture also includes aspects of the Bonaparte story previously overlooked and revealed by the study of objects in the vast Bonaparte family collections. Long ignored textile scraps, for example, tell rich stories of forgiveness gifts from her husband Jérôme Bonaparte. 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 lecture pays equal attention to the lives of Elizabeth’s son Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, “Bo,” and grandsons Jerome Jr. and Charles and explores how the members of these next generations perpetuated and represented their imperial legacy through material possessions. Deutsch’s interpretation expands Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte’s story beyond the “mésalliance” with Napoleon’s younger brother and reveals the complex life of a rebellious young woman whose deep hurt drove her to the courts of Europe and ultimately to establish an imperial legacy that continues today for her descendants
Free and open to the public