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`NAPOLEON AND JOSEPHINE' TOOK YEARS TO EVOLVE

Evangeline Bruce is a name revered in diplomatic circles and in the highest echelons of Washington society. Now it is emblazoned on dust jackets, with publication of her book, "Napoleon and Josephine: An Improbable Marriage," by Lisa Drew/Scribner.

The work, long in progress, did not originate as a double biography or as the chronicle of a romance."I had an idea to do a book called `1795,' drawing together everything about the end of the Terror of the French Revolution," said Bruce, widow of David K.E. Bruce, who served as ambassador to London, Paris and Bonn.

"It was going to a month-by-month account of the year, including Napoleon and Josephine, but with many minor characters. Doubleday was to publish it, but then I withdrew it."

The project lay dormant until 1989. Then, she said, she was advised that readers "would only be interested in major characters, not in minor ones, so it needed total rewriting."

Although she moved Napoleon and Josephine, who married in 1796 and divorced in 1809, onto center stage, she did not give up her focus on the broader historical context, from the 1780s to after Napoleon's death, in 1821.