woensdag 11 februari 2015

Josephine and the Bodin Company

Sandra Gulland asked me an interesting question. See reactions.

The letters Josephine supposed to have written  to Hippolyte Charles do they really exist?
Josephine, along with Charles and possibly Barras, had become deeply involved in the financial affairs of the Bodin Company. This was one of the many concerns mushrooming in this period that held, or sought, contracts for government supplies. Charles had surrendered his army commission to work more closely with the company, if not actually to be a partner in it. Josephine, too, was much more than an innocent bystander. For what could only be selfish financial reasons this wife of a victorious general sought to make secret profit out of the economic necessities of a country at war.

Under the heavy pressure of a steadily enlarging war, the government had been faced with a baffling supply problem. It had very little cash. Hence it had to make contracts with suppliers who operated on a very large scale and were willing to accept financial payments on a deferred, long-term basis. The Compagnie Flachat and the Compagnie Dijon were outstanding examples of companies which played a major part in such operations. Simultaneously, bankers such as Ouvrard and public figures such as Barras and Talleyrand were able to make huge fortunes through loans, currency speculation, and similar devices.

Other lesser groups, among which the Compagnie Bodin was one, tried to move into these lush financial pastures. This company followed the common practice of shortchanging the government, both in the quantities and the quality of the supplies it furnished. It was not averse to altering figures in its invoices after they had been officially approved, and it had a reputation for providing the government with poor horses and cattle it had taken by requisition from French farmers and peasants, often without troubling to pay for them.

Information about this unsavoury Bodin Company reached Joseph Bonaparte, inveterate enemy of Josephine. He then hastened to inform Napoleon. Following this, the brothers confronted Josephine in what must have been an extremely painful interview. Among the papers of Hippolyte Charles have survived a few letters from Josephine that were unknown to her earlier biographers and that put her in as unfavourable a light as any known documents in her entire life.

She wrote to Charles in great agitation to say that on the day before Joseph had had a long conversation with Napoleon, after which the two had put her through a most savage interrogation. Did she, they asked, know this Citizen Bodin? Had she been responsible for getting him supply contracts with the Army of Italy? Did Captain Charles lodge with Bodin at No. 100, Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and did Josephine go there daily? The answers Josephine told Hippolyte she had given to Napoleon suggest that the ruthless interrogation had brought her close to hysteria:

I replied that I knew nothing about what he was saying to me; if he wished a divorce he had only to speak; he had no need to use such means; and I was the most unfortunate of women and the most unhappy. Yes, my Hippolyte, they have my complete hatred; you alone have my tenderness and my love; they must see now, as a result of the terrible state I have been in for several days, how much I abhor them; they can see my disappointment — my despair at not being able to see you as often as I wish. Hippolyte, I shall kill myself — yes, I wish to end a life that henceforth would be only a burden if it could not be devoted to you. Alas! What have I done to these monsters? But they are acting in vain, I will never be a victim of their atrocious conduct!
Following this outburst came specific instructions:
Tell Bodin, I beg you, to say that he doesn't know me; that it has not been through me that he got the contracts for the Army of Italy; let him tell the door-keeper at No. 100 that when people ask him if Bodin lives there he is to say that he doesn't know him. Tell Bodin not to use the letters which I have given him for Italy until some time after his arrival when he needs them . . . Ah, they torment me in vain! They will never separate me from my Hippolyte; my last look will be for him! I will do everything to see you today. If I cannot, I will spend the evening at Bodin's and tomorrow I will send Blondin [a servant] to let you know the time when I could see you in the garden of Mousseaux. Adieu, my Hippolyte, a thousand kisses, as burning as is my heart, and as amorous . . .

In a subsequent letter to Captain Charles, Josephine told him that she had just written to the minister of war arranging to submit some papers. Papers about what? Could her action have concerned army contracts, or had it something to do with Hippolyte's retirement from military service? She added further that she had written to Barras asking him 'to return the letters which he had promised'. We can only conjecture what these were. The letter to Captain Charles ends as follows:
I am going, my dear Hippolyte, to the country. I shall be back between half past five and six, looking for you at Bodin's. Yes, my Hippolyte, life is a continual torture. You alone can make me happy. Tell me that you love me, and only me. I shall be the happiest of women. Send me, by means of Blondin, 50,000 livres from the notes in your possession. Callot is demanding them. Farewell, I send you a thousand tender kisses. Tout à toi.  
p166 When a wife writes such letters to a lover, the reasonable inference is that relations with her husband have reached the breaking point. Actually, no such decisive development was to occur. When Bonaparte returned from his inspection tour, his mind was much more on grand strategy than on the problems of his private life. He had little time for Josephine, and whatever anger he did show seems to have arisen as much from her evident connexion with the Bodin Company as from what he knew of her relations with Captain Charles. Josephine suspected that it was her new brother-in‑law, Joseph Bonaparte, who was trying to make trouble. Three months later she told Barras that Joseph's attitude to her was 'abominable', and that she knew he had vowed not to rest until he had separated Josephine from her new husband. 'He is a vile, abominable person,' she wrote heatedly, 'some day you will know what he is like.'

If there had been serious prospect of a rupture, it is hardly likely that Bonaparte would then have bought the house they had been renting for the past two years. On 26 March 1798 he purchased the establishment on the newly named rue de la Victoire — Pompeian frescoes, mirrors, cupids, pink roses, white swans, and all — for 52,400 francs. The price was substantial, yet far less than the 300,000 francs that Josephine had incurred for its refurnishing and redecoration. The fantastic purchase was doubtless the only way for the soldier to safeguard his interest in the huge sums he had already been obliged to pay. Read more: penelope

3 opmerkingen:

  1. I love this blog, but regarding this post I would like to add that I was told by Dr. Catinat at Malmaison that nobody has ever actually seen these letters. This was decades ago, so perhaps they have surfaced since. Have they? If they remain unseen, I feel that one must question their authenticity. (A survivor, and a mother of teens, I have always found it hard to believe that Josephine would threaten suicide.)

    Sandra Gulland

    1. Hi Sandra,
      Thank you for your reaction. On the moment I am reading the biography of Kate Williams "Josephine"". In this book I am reading a lot of things I didn't know before.

      About these letters. The source Kate Williams is using is Hastier, Le grand amour de Josephine.

      I was searching on the internet if I could find more information about these letters. I found this Penelope website.

      I don't know if these letters really exists. it is an interesting question. I am happy you asked.

  2. Hi Kleurrijk,

    Sorry to be so slow to respond. Some historical journalism is rather like the US Hollywood gossip magazines, I think. Hastier's work is in that category, in my opinion. Kate Williams tends to go for any colourful account. When she wrote that Barras bought Josephine's house for her, I bailed. This is point-blank not true, and it's not a hard detail to discover. And using Hastier as a source? Ugh.

    Mind, when I began work on TALES OF PASSION, TALES OF WOE, I believed Hastier and others as well. I asked my wonderful consultants at Malmaison about these stories. "Not true!" is what they said. At that point I learned to look for the evidence.

    I haven't found the link to the Penelope website. Please let me know! I'm interested.

    Sincerely, Sandra



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