Erotic, yes, judging from some of the comments made by Napoleon in hisletters from the battlefield. Tragic, star-crossed, the older woman-younger man romance, and tear-jerker could all apply.
In the wake of the French Revolution Josephine was a widow with two children, recovering from a period of imprisonment. She was obviously a star at the French court and was mistress to Barras, one of the Directors of the Republic. When she met Napoleon it was love at first sight, on his part, anyhow. Josephine was a little less infatuated and perhaps a little cynical as a result of her history. Anyhow, she and Napoleon became an item, seemingly with the blessings of Barras. Whether he had tired of her or simply
found keeping a high maintenance mistress too taxing on his time and pocketbook, we don't know. But, he was partly
responsible for the quick advancement of Napoleon's career as head of the army and appeared to have no further interest in Josephine. Josephine was six years older than Napoleon when they married in a civil ceremony.
Napoleon wrote letters to her that were sweet, pining, jealous and smouldering in turn. "I awake full of you" and "I am going to bed with my heart full of your adorable image" are samples of his infatuation with her.
The more erotic side to his love is revealed in references to "the little
black forest" he longs to visit and "a kiss on your heart and one much lower down."
She was a more sporadic letter writer and obviously not as impassioned as Napoleon was, because she took a lover in his absence. He must have been aware of this, or maybe it was just a jealous nature when he wrote "I don't love you anymore, on the contrary I hate you," and "you don't love your husband." "you have killed my heart."
When he returned to France the confrontation must have been a blistering row. He discarded her but she wept and wailed on his doorstep until he took her back again. Now the shoe was on the other foot. Josephine was the one to remain faithful and Napoleon, though he still loved her, held the power and took mistresses. In any case, he crowned her his empress, a fact not approved of by the Roman Church as they were only married in a civil ceremony.
They definitely didn't have a happy ending. He needed an heir which she couldn't provide so he divorced her and married Marie Louise, who promptly gave him a son. Josephine seemed to have no objections, but wasn't in much of a place to complain.
She became ill and died at the age of 50. We all know of Napoleon's
death in exile on the Isle of Elba. It is unsure whether he died of cancer or of poison. They didn't have CSI then to make the determination.
Napoleon's love for Josephine prevailed because her name was the last word on his lips before he died.
How would a story like that translate into a romance novel, changing the characters to our own? It would be a great historical romance. Perhaps a Shakespearean style play, with deaths all around and tragedy the theme
Maybe an erotic story. I don't think it would pass muster as a "sweet," but maybe if the other elements were downplayed and the story ended with their marriage and not with their deaths.
Romance is something not new to our generation. History is full of it
and I think many historical relationships could act as a prompt for great romances.