Charlene M. Boyer LewisElizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: An American Aristocrat in the Early Republic

University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012

by Daniel Kilbride on August 10, 2013

Charlene M. Boyer Lewis

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What is a celebrity? And how has the definition of celebrity changed over the course of American history? Those questions are central to Charlene M. Boyer Lewis‘s book Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: An American Aristocrat in the Early Republic (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012). Patterson, a beautiful and brilliant young woman from Baltimore, married Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, when she was only eighteen. They were quickly divorced at the emperor’s insistence, but her story does not end there. As  Boyer Lewis shows, this strong-willed and opinionated woman created a cult of celebrity around herself, centered on her self-conscious adoption of aristocratic ways. Her story illuminates the ambivalence about aristocracy, the scope of women’s action, the nature of fame and celebrity, and the complexities of father-daughter relationships in the early American republic.

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