Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste


Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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A Hard Mother To Please

December 21, 2012

Many of us were raised by hard to please parents; many of us are dealing with them still. Some consolation can be had in knowing that famous and powerful people also had similar problems, even someone as renowned as Napoleon Bonaparte. By most accounts Napoleon’s mother was hard to impress and not easy to get along with.


Letizia Ramolino, came from an undistinguished Corsican family before marrying Carlo Bonaparte, a man of some means hampered by an addiction to gambling. When her husband died of stomach cancer in 1785 leaving the family penniless, Letizia had no reason to believe she or her brood of children would ever achieve success. Yet few families have reached so lofty a pinnacle of power as the Bonapartes.



I mention this while drawing your attention to a famous painting, The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David. In spite of its title, the painting does not show the coronation of Napoleon. The seated man in white behind the already-crowned Emperor is Pope Pius VII, hauled from Rome to lend gravitas to the ceremony. But just as the Pope lifted the crown, Napoleon snatched it from the pontiff’s hands and placed it on his own head, crowning himself. Pius is shown sitting passively while rendering a limp blessing.


This may have been a fun show of bravado by Napoleon, but it was a difficult moment to ennoble in paint, as evidenced by the artist’s discarded sketches. David struggled to depict the Emperor’s self-serving moment and finally gave up, choosing instead to depict the moment afterwards where Napoleon placed a crown on his wife Josephine. Like many great men, Napoleon was a control freak; the crown snatching may have been a last minute decision but he’d planned this ceremony as if it were a military campaign.


Returning now to the Emperor’s mother—saying she was difficult would be an understatement. A harsh mother with a down-to-earth view of most things, she raised her fatherless children with a stiff hand and appeared indifferent to their achievements, even those of her fourth child, Napoleon. As the years passed she hardly seemed to care as Napoleon’s career blazed like a comet, carrying him from a lowly French corporal to General of France’s armies, then Consul of France, King of Italy and master of Europe before having himself crowned Emperor of the French—not bad for a poor kid with a funny Corsican accent from an impoverished island near Italy.


It hardly mattered that Napoleon showered his mother and siblings with sufficient riches to make King Midas weep with envy. Like I said, she was hard to impress, and she couldn’t resist ranting and belittling her son as if he were a guttersnipe instead of the most powerful man in the world. In fact, on the big day in 1804 when Napoleon was crowned Emperor in Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, Letizia wasn’t even present. She’d gotten into a hissy fit with her son and boycotted the big event. She was upset by the thought that Napoleon hadn’t done enough to distinguish the Bonaparte name, hadn’t provided well enough for the brothers and sisters he’d placed on the thrones of Europe. If ever there was a hard woman to please it was Letizia Bonaparte. 


Still. if you study the painting closely you’ll see the Emperor’s mother sitting in a place of prominence, a lovely smile on her face as she beams joyfully at her son’s triumph. Although his mother didn’t attend the ceremony in a physical sense, she attended in the way that mattered most to her son. Napoleon understood better than anyone the propaganda value of art and he wasn’t about to let dear old mom ruin the moment. Since he was paying for the coronation painting, he simply ordered the artist to include her. We can assume she was not pleased.


So the next time you think a parent or loved one has set the bar of achievement too high just consider yourself fortunate—once there was a mother who thought having a son crowned Emperor of France just wasn’t good enough.




All that tough love probably was good motivation for Napoleon to do something with his life. Maybe he snatched the crown because he thought the pope was going too slow. I want to be emperor NOW!!! If you're not posting next week then early Happy Holidays!
By: PT Dilloway on December 21, 2012
oh my- glad she wasn't my mom-
By: Kathe W. on December 21, 2012
Early Photoshop........ ? ;) My mother didn't attend my wedding because she made plans to "go out of town" that weekend........ Blessed Yule, mate! Have a lovely holiday week! Mimi Collage Pirate
By: Mimi Foxmorton on December 21, 2012
Not exactly sure if I'd want that kind of woman for a mom... Have a wonderful Christmas Stephen!
By: Anne on December 21, 2012
My mother never believed I could achieve my goal of becoming Queen of the Universe, either--guess I showed her!!
By: fishducky on December 21, 2012
A wee bit of your inner art historian peeking out here â loved it. Mindy
By: mindy on December 21, 2012
So often your posts are an educational experience! What a fun bit of history with which I was not at all familiar!
By: Eva Gallant on December 21, 2012
It was my father that was hard to please. My mother was wonderful. Okay, my father was a tyrant and it's a wonder I survived. Literally. Have a terrific day. :)
By: Comedy Plus on December 21, 2012
She reminds me of my grandmother -- who had her sons wrapped around her finger, and their wives resenting the hell out of her.
By: Tom Sightings on December 21, 2012
My mom thought I was fabulous (if only I could just lose a little bit of weight - ha).
By: The Bug on December 21, 2012
Sounds like a friend's mom -- and i'm glad neither of them are mine.
By: messymimi on December 21, 2012
How sad that a person would have to "photoshop" a parent into their lives. Truly a sad situation that a parent doesn't find joy in their child's accomplishments ... at whatever level those accomplishments are. I only had one parent, my father, who was difficult but I lucked out with a husband that has always been super supportive. Things tend to equal out in one way or another.
By: Cheryl P. on December 21, 2012
Interesting bit of history! What I remember from history class was that the reason for Napoleon crowning himself was to humiliate the Pope and to show that he was of higher standing than the Pope and the church. Didn't know about his difficult mother.
By: Pixel Peeper on December 21, 2012
Letizia would certainly have made an effective model for Mommie Dearest. Another very intriguing post~
By: Shelly on December 21, 2012
Interesting history....are you making this stuff up?
By: Cranky on December 21, 2012
And sot here are some sad and sick people in this world. Some children are devastated and destroyed by such a parent and some excel .
By: Red on December 21, 2012
My kids think I'm a bitch and impossible to please. I tell them that if they'd been raised by my mom, then they would know what it's like to have a parent who can't be pleased. Even though I try to be better parent than my parents were to me, I can't fuckin' win. But I loved your description of the painting, along with the history lesson. In fact, I learn a great deal from you, and I appreciate it very much. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 21, 2012
If I'd been King Nappy I think I would have made mom the queen of Tahiti or something. Surely she would have been impressed with that, and if not, she's half a world away. Who cares? ;) S
By: scott park on December 21, 2012
So even in those days, before the internet and such, you couldn't always believe what you saw.
By: Tom Cochrun on December 21, 2012
In these times, she would sue him for using her likeness without permission.
By: Val on December 21, 2012
My mother never thought I would ever become a famous author. Well, I showed her! Oh...wait a minute...no, I didn't.
By: Al Penwasser on December 21, 2012
I really enjoy your posts on paintings. I learn so much and you help us to appreciate the importance of art. I keep forgetting they photo-shopped back then to tell the story they wanted instead of what the real picture would show.
By: Tabor on December 22, 2012
I love history! We don't have to look back far to realize there have always been similar problems and personality types to those that we deal with today.
By: Patricia on December 22, 2012
wow, some people really are impossible. reminds me of a shel silverstein poem about a woman whose refrain is to the effect of, "almost perfect but not quite." she gets to the pearly gates and is greeted with that very phrase.
By: lime on December 22, 2012
I have such an 'I don't care' attitude, I probably wouldn't have given her the time of day. However, I also wouldn't have cared enough to work so hard for the success either.
By: Brett Minor on December 22, 2012
Your historical knowledge is impressive Stephen. I'm blessed with a mother who, for the most part, is easy to please. But my mother-in-law, that's another matter!
By: Bryan Jones on December 24, 2012

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