I was planning to write a post about this weekend’s 250th birthday celebration in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was born in Ajaccio, Corsica, on 15 August, 1769. Visitors to the showpiece event at Waterloo, in Belgium, can enjoy presentations about regiments and armaments, watch combat workouts and equestrian demonstrations, and attend workshops on side-saddle riding, cartridge making, gun and cannon firing, and late 18th-century fashion.
I thought I’d mark the occasion by re-reading some of my favorite Napoleonic-era historical romances, and maybe searching out a few new ones.
Until I discovered that the man himself—ambitious schemer, military genius, serial philanderer and self-proclaimed emperor—wrote a work of romantic fiction, and that his oeuvre is conveniently available for download from the Zon.
Who knew? London’s museums are positively awash with weird and wonderful Napoleonic memorabilia—my fave is this three and a half meter tall white marble Canova statue of a naked Bonaparte as Mars, god of war, installed by the victorious Duke of Wellington in his home at Apsley House—but I don’t recall ever seeing anything about the Corsican’s sideline as a novelist.
Clisson and Eugenie is a 20-page love story, written by Napoleon when he was 26 (before he met Josephine). It has been assembled, edited and translated by Peter Hicks, a British historian, and Emilie Barthet, based on half a dozen fragmentary drafts that survive in collections and museums from California to Moscow.
It tells the story of Clisson, a heroic revolutionary soldier who’s tired of war. He meets and marries Eugenie and settles down to raise a family with her in bucolic bliss—until war returns and he feels compelled to serve his country again. Clisson is injured in battle and sends a charming, hot comrade to inform and reassure Eugenie on his behalf. Not his best idea. Things end heroically, if not happily.
The Kindle version of this book is just over $9, which might seem pretty steep for 20 pages of questionable fiction and academic reconstruction. OTOH, this is a semi-autobiographical love story, told from the hero’s POV, written by one of the most legendary and charismatic alpha males of the 18th/19th century. A single letter written by Napoleon sold in 2012 for over $244,000. And three love letters to his wife Josephine were sold a few months ago for 513,000 euros.
On that basis, $9 seems like a bargain. I hit the ‘buy’ button.
Have you read/would you read Clisson and Eugenie?
Do you have any other Napoleonic-era fiction or non-fiction recommendations?