Reading Group Guide for THE SECOND EMPRESS


  1. Why do you think the author chose to tell the novel from three points of view? Did one point of view appeal to you more than another? Is so, why?
  2. If you had been in Marie-Louise’s place, would you have agreed to marry Napoleon?
  3. Much has been made of Napoleon’s genius on the battlefield, as well as his way with women. How does the author’s interpretation of Napoleon compare with other interpretations or articles you’ve read? Does he live up to his own legend, and if so, in what way?
  4. Historically, there has been much speculations about the nature of Napoleon’s relationship with his promiscuous sister, Pauline. What do you think is truth behind the gossip?
  5. Although Pauline has innumerable lovers, her one honest relationship seems to be with her servant, Paul. Why is this? What does she gain from him, and what does he gain by remaining with her in France? What eventually prompts him to leave?
  6. Why does the author include the letters between Josephine, Napoleon’s first wife, and the Emperor? What does it add to the story? Do they change your opinion about Napoleon?
  7. In your opinion, what drove Napoleon to invade Russia? Does he regret his invasion, even after it turns out to be both a military and political  catastrophe?
  8. Is Napoleon a sociopath, or just a man with enough power to match his ego?
  9.  What do you think becomes of Pauline after Paul leaves? Does she live out her remaining years happily, moving from one affair to the next? Is she capable of regret? Are any of the Bonapartes?
  10. The novel ends with Marie-Louise’s return to Austria. Do you think she felt any regret at leaving behind her life in France? Is so, why? What might have happened to her if she had chosen to follow Napoleon into exile, as most of Europe wanted her to do?