The Last Great Dance on Earth
Reading Group Guide
1. "It is the season of renewal, yet I remain barren -- in spite of love, in spite of prayers," Josephine writes in her diary as The Last Great Dance on Earth opens. Her longing to conceive a child with Napoleon is one of the central themes of the story. Compare Josephine's frustrations with their childlessness with Napoleon's. How does Napoleon's attitude toward the need for a male heir change over the course of the novel?
2. When Napoleon first tells Josephine that his advisers recommend a hereditary system of succession, believing it would put an end to the constant threats against his life, Napoleon is careful to assure Josephine that he is insisting on his right to adopt one of his brothers' sons as his heir. Do you think the whole course of history would have been different and Napoleon and Josephine would have remained married had Little Napoleon, the much loved nephew he planned to make his heir, lived? Why or why not?
3. After one of Napoleon's flings, Josephine decides to make him "pay" by purchasing expensive clothes and baubles. Is Sandra Gulland lending support to the portrait of Josephine as a spendthrift that some historians have put forth, or is she making you think about why she might have spent so much? This is a minor example of how Sandra Gulland uses story and character to question existing interpretations of historical facts. How does this minor example make y see more