Jilly: Napoleon’s Novella

A couple of days ago I found a surprising addition to my reading retreat list.

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?

5 thoughts on “Jilly: Napoleon’s Novella

  1. How interesting this is! Including the Wikipedia entry about the Canova statue (and how, after commissioning it, Napoleon refused to accept it because it was “too athletic”). I would definitely read Clisson and Eugenie, even for $9, although I have so much reading material that I’d be a dope to try to squish it onto my Kindle, which would surely give up the ghost if it had to accept one more thing. It also makes me wonder a bit—does everybody think they can write a novel? Well, Bonaparte certainly had the chutzpa for it. Let us know how it goes!

    • The Canova statue is quite something, kind of an extreme precursor to the photoshopped selfie.
      I’m amazed that Wellington put it in his stairwell, where all the guests at his Waterloo dinners would have seen it. He even had to have the floor reinforced to support its weight. I’m guessing the cost and logistics involved in moving Boney is one reason he’s still standing there.

      Most people believe they can write a novel, but most of them don’t. Kudos to Bonaparte for actually doing it, in addition to all the other activities occupying his time 😉

      • That statue is fantastic, Jilly, but I remember thinking when I saw it that it was a little odd that Wellington had it so prominently displayed. Though really, it bore so little resemblance to Napoleon that maybe it didn’t matter.

  2. That is really interesting indeed! We’ve got a few politicians who have written genre — I think Newt Gringrich wrote alt history? And then there’s the romance novelist, Selena Montgomery, who has a dayjob as Stacey Abrams.

    (-: I don’t know if I’d click on it for $9 though. Maybe if it were my era or obsession, yeah. Or if I saw a ton of good reviews for it from trusted friends. (-: How was it, honestly? Sounds like no happy ending, and not really enough time for plot development. (And really, it’s too much to hope he’s got his characters going up in airships, or casting wizardly spells on the Russian weather witches. Someone want to write an alt history for me where Napoleon is a wizard? LOL, you can have the idea; I’ve got my hands full at the moment with other stuff.)

    • I didn’t know about Selena Montgomery/Stacey Abrams. That’s very interesting!

      It seems that Napoleon wrote Clisson and Eugenie when he had the hots for his sister-in-law (his brother’s wife’s sister), though he went off her later when he met Josephine. I haven’t read it yet–I gather it’s a bit of a Dr. Johnson book…not that it’s done well, but that he did it at all. I just love the idea of getting such an intimate personal insight into the man’s psyche.

      Alt history where Napoleon is a wizard…I don’t *think* that’s been done. I’d read it! Naomi Novik already did the Napoleonic Wars with dragons, though. Temeraire series. Nine books, starting with His Majesty’s Dragon.

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