Acquisitions (89): Napoleon

Alan Schom: One Hundred Days (1992)

flickr: Alan Schom (1937- )

Alan Schom: One Hundred Days (1992)
[Never Ending Books, Orewa - 17/1/2023]:

Alan Schom. One Hundred Days: Napoleon's Road to Waterloo. Atheneum. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.

Philip Dwyer: Napoleon: Passion, Death and Resurrection 1815–1840 (2018)

The Man of Destiny

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres: Napoleon (1769-1821)

'What is the world, O soldiers?
It is I:
I, this incessant snow,
This northern sky;
Soldiers, this solitude
Through which we go
Is I.'
- Walter de la Mare: "Napoleon" (1853)

It's hard to exaggerate the effect of Napoleon Bonaparte on writers and artists of the modern era - all the way up to the present day, in fact.

There are the admirers: Lord Byron, William Hazlitt, Victor Hugo. Then there are the denigrators: Sir Walter Scott, Madame de Staël, Lev Tolstoy. Somewhere in between there are the relentless chroniclers of every detail of his life and times: military campaigns, legal and political reforms, and even his influence on art and style!

Abel Gance, dir.: Napoléon (1927)

The apotheosis of all screen presentations of the Emperor would have to be Abel Gance's 6-hour silent film epic about his early years, culminating in a spectacular three-screen colour presentation of the mustering of his army for the invasion of Italy. I remember going to see a 4-hour version, restored by Kevin Bronwnlow and Francis Ford Coppola, and with a score by the latter's father Carmine Coppola, at the Edinburgh filmhouse in the mid-1980s. It was quite an experience.

As Australian historian Philip Dwyer comments in the third volume of his magisterial biography, Napoleon: Passion, Death and Resurrection 1815–1840 (2018), there's a sense in which the only real analogue for Napoleon's place in French culture is with Jesus Christ himself, especially given his alleged martyrdom by the perfidious English on St. Helena, with the island's obtuse and vindictive governor Sir Hudson Lowe as a combination of Pilate and Judas Iscariot.

Sergei Bondarchuk, dir.: Waterloo (1970)

Rod Steiger projects a distinctly less heroic version of the aging Bonaparte in Sergei Bondarchuk's film Waterloo. More famous, probably, for its cast of 15,000 Soviet soldiers than the subtlety of its screenplay, it's certainly a much better movie than its dismal box office would suggest. Even such hostile critics such as Charles Esdaile are forced to admit that:
Waterloo does have its good points – the depiction of the battlefield at the close of the day is particularly fine – but its narrative of the battle is often as highly unrealistic and disjointed as it is anglocentric, and shameless in promoting the Napoleonic legend.
He does, however concedes that "the choice of Rod Steiger as Napoleon was absolutely inspired and the making of the movie" - unlike a contemporary New York Times reviewer:
It is an awful performance, and every mannered point of it is emphasized by the elephantine selectivity of Bondarchuk’s camera – narrowing upon the eyes, a weary fold of flesh, the carefully hunched back, the hat, the pudgy man’s walk.
Whether one reads it as inspired or awful, Steiger's incarnation of Napoleon is certainly memorable. I suspect that those of us who already admire his acting - and are therefore prepared to put up with a fair amount of sliced ham and scenery chomping - will plump for the former interpretation. Others who find him intolerable will see this as simply one more piece of evidence for the prosecution.

Pieter Geyl: Napoleon - For and Against (1946)

There are so many biographies, memoirs, and histories of particular aspects of Napoleon's reign that it's hard to know where to begin. Pieter Geyl's book, pictured above, gives an excellent overview of the remarkable diversity of views on the subject.

Naturally, in the 75 years since it was published, innumerable new angles have been argued and new stances promulgated, but it's hard to see the question as quite so urgent now as it seemed throughout the nineteenth century and for some time afterwards. For Geyl, who suffered through the Nazi occupation of Holland and was even imprisoned for a time in Buchenwald, the comparison with Hitler was the truly indispensible one:
I do not grudge them, nor do I grudge the entire Napoleonic regime, the credit which here again accrues to them from the comparison. But if we are to be true to our own standards, if we want to live up to our determination that no retrogression in civilization shall be dated from our time, we must not in contemplating the past react less sensitively than did the men then living. The case of the persecution of the Jews remains singular: for the rest we must be alive to the fact, when we compare them then and now, that although there is a difference in degree, there is none in principle.

Here's a preliminary selection of materials on the subject:
  1. Biography
  2. History
  3. Memoir
  4. Fiction
  5. Film

Books I own are marked in bold:

Sir Walter Scott: The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte (1828)

    Vincent Archibald Patrick Cronin (1924–2011):

  1. Napoleon. 1971. Pelican Biographies. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.
    A good, basic overview of Napoleon's life and times.

  2. Philip G. Dwyer:

  3. Napoleon: The Path to Power, 1769-99 (2008)
  4. Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power, 1799-1814 (2015)
  5. Napoleon: Passion, Death and Resurrection, 1815-1840. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.
    The last is the only one of these three volumes I've read: it's thorough and insightful. In some ways the story of Napoleon's afterlife is more revealing than the actual details of his career.

  6. Pieter Catharinus Arie Geyl (1887–1966):

  7. Napoleon – For and Against. 1946. Trans. Olive Renier. 1949. Peregrine Books. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976.
    A classic discussion of the vagaries - and inherent unreliability - of biography: in this case those of the French chroniclers of Napoleon. Can it, indeed, continue to be regarded as a non-fictional medium?

  8. William Hazlitt (1778–1830):

  9. The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte. 4 vols (1828–1830)
    A clear statement of English radical views on Napoleon - by a close contemporary.

  10. Jean Christopher Herold (1919–1964):

  11. Bonaparte in Egypt. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1962.
    An excellent account of one of Napoleon's most fascinating campaigns: one which ended up having far more impact on the world of scholarship than on contemporary politics.

  12. Alan Morris Cedric Strauss-Schom (1937– ):

  13. One Hundred Days: Napoleon's Road to Waterloo. Atheneum. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.
    A nicely modulated account of Napoleon's last campaign, which includes good character studies of many of his intimates.
  14. Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life (1997)

  15. Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832):

  16. The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte, Emperor of the French. With a Preliminary View of the French Revolution. 9 vols (1827)
    The Tory view of Napoleon: better written than Hazlitt's, but not really much more reliable.

David Howarth: Waterloo: A Near Run Thing (1972)

    Roy Arthur Adkins (1951- ) & Lesley Adkins (1955- ):

  1. The Keys of Egypt: The Race to Crack the Hieroglyph Code. 2000. Perennial. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2001.
    An interesting insight into life in France during (and after) the Age of Napoleon, in the form of a biography of Jean-François Champollion, the decipherer of Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

  2. Sir Arthur Wynne Morgan Bryant (1899-1985):

  3. The Years of Endurance: 1793-1802. 1942. London: The Reprint Society, 1944.
  4. Years of Victory: 1802-1812. London: Collins, 1944.
  5. The Age of Elegance: 1812-1822. 1950. London: The Reprint Society, 1954.
    A somewhat triumphalist account of Britain's part in the Napoleonic wars: it remains strangely readable, despite the obvious markers of wartime propaganda imbedded in the narrative.

  6. Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881):

  7. The French Revolution: A History. 1837. 3 volumes complete in one. London: Ward, Lock & Co., n.d.
    A classic - though long superseded - work: still worth a read for its rhetorical excess, if nothing else.

  8. Cecil Louis Troughton Smith ['C. S. Forester'] (1899-1966):

  9. The Adventures of John Wetherell: The Authentic Diary of a 19th Century British Seaman, Impressed into His Majesty's Service to Fight Bonaparte. London: Michael Joseph Ltd., 1954.
    A real-life counterpart to the 'Hornblower' books.

  10. Arthur Raymond ['Christopher'] Hibbert (1924-2008):

  11. The French Revolution. 1980. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.
    A good, clear account of the French Revolution, somewhat bland at times in its refusal to commit to a particular view, but then its author does seem to have aspired to to cover virtually all aspects of post-renaissance history in his variegated works.

  12. David Armine Howarth (1912-1991):

  13. Waterloo: Day of Battle. New York City: Galahad Books, 1968.
  14. Trafalgar: The Nelson Touch. London: Collins, 1969.
    Two well-written and enthralling accounts of the two most important battles of the Napoleonic era (from the British perspective, at any rate).

  15. William K. Klingaman (1950- ) & Nicholas P. Klingaman:

  16. The Year without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History. St. Martin's Griffin. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2013.
    This detailed anatomy of the famous "year without a summer" which followed the battle of Waterloo and the end of the Napoleonic era gives invaluable insights into the state of the world at the time. It was written by a father and son team: the former a historian, the latter a meteorologist.

  17. Elizabeth Pakenham, Countess of Longford (1906-2002):

  18. Wellington: The Years of the Sword. 1969. London: Book Club Associates, 1972.
  19. Wellington: Pillar of State. 1972. A Panther Book. Frogmore, St Albans: Granada Publishing Ltd., 1975.
    A good, detailed biography of the Duke of Wellington, which carries the story on far beyond the immediate consequences of Waterloo.

  20. Stanley Loomis (1922–1972):

  21. Paris in the Terror: June 1793-July 1794. London: Jonathan Cape, 1964.
    An interesting, though scarcely objective, account of Robespierre and Marat's infamous reign of terror.

  22. Gilles Néret (1933–2005):

  23. Déscription de l’Égypte: Publiées par les ordres de Napoléon Bonaparte. Edition complète. Ed. Gilles Néret. 1995. Köln: Taschen, 2002.
    A valuable compendium of plates from the immense collection of materials brought back by Napoleon's savants from the Egyptian expedition.

  24. Carola Mary Anima Oman (1897-1978):

  25. Nelson. 1947. London: The Reprint Society, by arrangement with Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., 1950.
    A good, sound biography of Napoleon's other great adversary in the Napoleonic Wars.

  26. Simon Michael Schama (1945- ):

  27. Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands, 1780-1813. 1977. Fontana Press. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.
  28. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. 1989. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2004.
    Citizens is an immense exercise in Chestertonian paradox: "Everyone has always assumed that ... but actually the opposite is the case." Its provocations are, however, well-substantiated and generally interesting to read. Whether it constitutes a new paradigm for our understanding of the Revolution as a whole is another question.

  29. Mark Lee Urban (1961- ):

  30. The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes: The Story of George Scovell. London: Faber, 2001.
    An interesting sidelight on Britain's war against Napoleon.

  31. Adam Zamoyski (1949- ):

  32. Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. London: The Orion Publishing Group Ltd., 1999.
  33. 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2004.
  34. Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon & the Congress of Vienna. HarperPress. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.
    Both 1812 and Rites of Peace are essential reading for anyone who aspires to understand the last years of the Napoleonic era. Zamoyski is an erudite and well-informed guide to the period, and lacks the Anglocentric bias which informs many other English-language works on the subject.

Sergeant Bourgogne: The Retreat from Moscow (1985)

    Henri-Gatien, comte Bertrand (1773–1844):

  1. Napoleon at St. Helena: Memoirs of General Bertrand, Grand Marshal of the Palace, January to May 1821. Ed. Paul Fleuriot de Langle. Trans. Frances Hume. London: Cassell & Company Ltd, 1953.
    One of many accounts of the last days of Napoleon: in this case it constitutes a useful supplement to Las Cases, who was long gone from the island by then.

  2. Adrien Jean Baptiste François Bourgogne (1785-1867):

  3. Memoirs of Sergeant Bourgogne (1812-1813). 1898. Introduction by Sir John Fortescue. The Saint Giles Library, 12. London: Jonathan Cape, 1940.
    A classic soldier's-eye view of the 1812 campaign: found and published long after its author's death.

  4. Emmanuel-Augustin-Dieudonné-Joseph, comte de Las Cases (1766–1842):

  5. Le Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène (1823)
    This immense collection of the Emperor's diatribes and daily habits has come to constitute, for better or worse, the Bible of the Bonapartists. It should not, however, be confused with the - mostly military - memoirs dictated by Napoleon to his amanuenses at much the same time.

Anthony Burgess: Napoleon Symphony (1974)

    John Burgess Wilson ['Anthony Burgess'] (1917-1993):

  1. Burgess, Anthony. Napoleon Symphony: A Novel in Four Movements. 1974. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1974.
    An interesting - though not, perhaps, entirely successful - experiment in novel writing, in which Napoleon's life is compressed into the structure of Beethoven's Eroica symphony.

  2. Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle (1859-1930):

  3. The Conan Doyle Historical Romances. Volume 2: Rodney Stone; Uncle Bernac; The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard; The Adventures of Brigadier Gerard. 1896, 1897, 1896, 1903. London: John Murray, 1932.
  4. The Complete Napoleonic Stories. Uncle Bernac; The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard; The Adventures of Brigadier Gerard; The Great Shadow. 1897, 1896, 1903, 1892. London: John Murray, 1956.
    Doyle both loved and hated Napoleon, and came at him from a number of angles in his historical fiction. Brigadier Gerard is one of his most entertaining creations: a fatuous but basically honourable slave to egotism and 'la gloire'. Uncle Bernac and The Great Shadow are more obvious adventure stories: full of smugglers and suspicious-looking spies ("You see that little man in the corner? His name is Bonaparte. He will go far ..."). Rodney Stone is a classic Regency piece, hinging on the prize-fighting mania of the time.

  5. Thomas Hardy (1840-1928):

  6. The Dynasts: An Epic-Drama of the War with Napoleon. 1904, 1906, 1908. Introduction by John Wain. Pocket Papermacs. London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd. / New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965.
    There are a number of individual poems about Napoleon and the emotions - both positive and negative - he inspired in his contemporaries. It's hard to think of any other epics on the scale of The Dynasts, though. It's a hard work to characterise: in some respects it seems to foresee the cinematic effects of Eisenstein and Griffith, in other ways it's an unusually extended but otherwise typically Hardyesque exercise in pessimism and dramatic irony.

  7. Victor-Marie Hugo (1802-1885):

  8. Les Misérables. 1862. Ed. Yves Gohin. 3 vols. Collection Folio, 348-50. 1973. Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1983.
  9. Les Misérables. 1862. Trans. Norman Denny. 1976. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986.
    One of the two immense digressions in Hugo's great novel concerns the construction of the Paris sewers, the other the Battle of Waterloo. To Hugo this was the most significant event of his lifetime: all evils stemmed from it, and he finds it difficult to get off the subject.

  10. Thomas Keneally (1935- ):

  11. Napoleon's Last Island. A Vintage Book. Sydney: Random House Australia Pty Ltd., 2015.
    Keneally's book centres on the small number of local friends and sympathisers Napoleon was able to recruit even in exile in St. Helena. It's vividly and effectively written, but it's hard to say to what end, exactly.

  12. Annemarie Selinko (1914-1986):

  13. Désirée. 1951. Trans. Arnold Bender & E. W. Dickes. 1953. The Reprint Society. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1954.
    A surprisingly entertaining and informative account of Napoleon's early career seen through the eyes of his jilted fiancée Eugénie Désirée Clary, who ended up instead as the Queen of Sweden.

  14. Marie-Henri Beyle ['Stendhal'] (1783-1842):

  15. Vie de Napoléon. 1817–1818 (1929)
  16. Le Rouge et le Noir: Chronique du XIXe siècle. Édition illustrée. 1831. Ed. Henri Martineau. Classiques Garnier. 1960. Paris: Éditions Garnier Frères, 1962.
  17. La Chartreuse de Parme: Édition illustrée, augmentée d’une biographie. 1839. Ed. Henri Martineau. Classiques Garnier. 1961. Paris: Éditions Garnier Frères, 1968.
  18. The Charterhouse of Parma. 1839. Trans. C. K. Scott-Moncrieff. Wood-engravings by Zelma Blakely. London: The Folio Society, 1977.
    Julien Sorel, the hero of Le Rouge et le Noir, is inspired to imitate the Emperor Napoleon by fabricating his own system of egotistic self-aggrandisement. Fabrice, the hero of La Chartreuse de Parme, is a hapless bystander at the Battle of Waterloo. It's safe to say that Stendhal had equivocal views on Napoleon: at times adulation, at other times contempt. Given he actually took part in the invasion of Russia, he's one of the few participants in the war of the era to leave behind such a substantial body of work on the subject.

  19. William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863):

  20. Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero. With 193 Illustrations by the Author. 1847-48. Ed. John Sutherland. The World’s Classics. 1983. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
    The Battle of Waterloo plays an important part in the fortunes of Becky Sharp and her entourage of dupes and villains.

  21. Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910):

  22. Война и Мир. 2 vols. Illustrated by V. A. Serova. Москва и Ленинград: Государственное Издательство Художественной Литературий, 1960.
  23. War and Peace. 1869. Trans. Constance Garnett. 1904. Illustrated by John Groth. London: The Reprint Society Ltd., 1960.
  24. War and Peace. 1869. Trans. Louise & Aylmer Maude. 1922-1923. Illustrated by Vassily Verestchagin & Fritz Eichenberg. New York: The Heritage Press, 1938.
  25. War and Peace. 1869. Trans. Rosemary Edmonds. 1957. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983.
  26. War and Peace: Original Version. 1865-66. Ed. Evelina E. Zaidenshnur. 1983. Ed. Jenefer Coates. Trans. Andrew Bromfield. Introduction by Nikolai Tolstoy. London: Harper Perennial, 2007.
    In War and Peace, Tolstoy tries to extend his knowledge of his character's inner lives and thoughts even to the Emperor himself. Is he successful? It's hard to say. The novel is so immensely ambitious on all levels, however, that this is only one of the extraordinary feats he attempts in it. Like Homer and Shakespeare, it's more of a work to marvel at than to criticise in the ordinary sense.

  27. Jeanette Winterson (1959- ):

  28. The Passion. London: Bloomsbury, 1987.
    This is a wonderfully passionate and entertaining novel set among a group of Napoleon's camp followers: highly recommended.

Sergei Bondarchuk, dir.: War and Peace (1966)

    Sergei Fedorovich Bondarchuk (1920-1994):

  1. War and Peace, dir. Sergei Bondarchuk, writ. Sergei Bondarchuk, Vasily Solovyov (based on the novel by Lev Tolstoy) - with Sergei Bondarchuk, Ludmila Savelyeva, Vyacheslav Tikhonov - (USSR, 1966-67). 5-DVD set.
    There are, of course, many adaptations of War and Peace. This is probably the most authoritative and grandiose in scale, however.
  2. Waterloo, dir. Sergei Bondarchuk, writ. H. A. L. Craig, Sergei Bondarchuk, Vittorio Bonicelli - with Rod Steiger, Christopher Plummer, Orson Welles, Jack Hawkins, Virginia McKenna, Dan O'Herlihy - (Italy, USSR, 1970).
    A much better film than it's often given credit for. There is, apparently, a four-hour version released in Russia but it has never (yet) been shown on Western screens.

  3. Abel Eugène Alexandre Péréthon ['Abel Gance'] (1889–1981):

  4. Napoleon, writ. & dir. Abel Gance – with Albert Dieudonné, Abel Gance, Philippe Hériat, Antonin Artaud – (France, 1927).
    The greatest of all Napoleonic movies: majestic and supremely over-the-top. It was meant as the first of six films covering his entire career, but the prohibitive costs of this one, combined with the advent of sound, put paid to that idea.

  5. Jesse Handsher & Olivier Roland:

  6. Being Napoleon, dir. & prod. Jesse Handsher & Olivier Roland - with Mark Schneider & Frank Samson - (USA, 2018)
    A surprisingly amusing account of the cut-throat world of Napoleonic impersonation. One avatar of the emperor is overheard refusing to pay his parking fines as a result of having to hurry to get to the field of Waterloo in time ...

  7. Thomas George Hooper (1972- ):

  8. Les Misérables, dir. Tom Hooper (based on the musical by Alain Boublil & Claude-Michel Schönberg) – with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried – (UK/USA, 2012).
    A rollicking version of the hit musical, complete with battle-scenes and full-on sentimentality.

  9. Yves Simoneau (1955- ):

  10. Napoléon: A Miniseries, dir. Yves Simoneau, writ. Didier Decoin & Max Gallo - with Christian Clavier, John Malkovich, Isabella Rossellini, Gérard Depardieu, Julian Sands - (France, 2002)
    This is quite enjoyable, though admittedly somewhat clunky in parts. Of course, like all cinephiles, I regret that Stanley Kubrick was never able to make his own epic bio-pic about Napoleon. This will have to do instead for the moment, I fear.

Napoleon's Library (Château de Compiègne)

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