Napoleon the Novelist / Edition 1

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This brilliantly original study uncovers a side to Napoleon Bonaparte which has hitherto been ignored by biographers - that of the aspiring novelist and man of letters. In this illuminating, witty and elegantly written book, Andy Martin reveals how this neglected aspect of Napoleon's remarkable life actually provides the key to understanding it.

The French Revolution, Austerlitz and Waterloo all came second in Napoleon's life to a Discourse on Happiness, a Dialogue on Love and repeated attempts at a novel. Napoleon began as a would-be Rousseau and ended up on Saint Helena dictating his own confessions. The colossal rise and catastrophic fall of his empire are, Martin argues, anticipated in the obsessive and tragicomic pages of his voluminous writings.

Napoleon emerges as an idealist, romantic, visionary, critic, a thinker with an epic imagination and an underdeveloped sense of reality, pushing his 'portable library' across Europe, Asia and the Orient, and always wrestling with the intricacies of language and literature. And, although Napoleon was denounced as a failure in an essay competition, Martin shows that he did indeed succeed in imposing himself as the archetype and inspiration of modern European culture.

This provocative book will appeal to a wide general readership. It will also be of interest to students of literature, modern languages and European history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'Napoleon the Novelist is a delightful, dashing after-dinnerspeech for the cognoscenti ... This is a refreshing book for thesheer entertainment it provides and for its many real insights. Toan academic who spends more than his fair share of time inairports, this made welcome reading - and that is a compliment infull.' Times Higher Education Supplement

'Napoleon ... was a writer who complained that his life left himtoo little time for writing. His two fictions ... together withmiscellaneous essays, reveal a mind obedient to the conventions andsensibilities of the 18th Century, whereas his career ushered inthe as yet unfledged 19th. This mutation, from amateur to anoriginality of purpose so complete that it continues to amaze, wasalso a template for other desires that were to fashion new laws ofcreativity. It is likely that without his example the Romanticmovement as we know it would have failed to emerge in the form, orforms, now so familiar ... [This book] gives full weight to thepower of myth, of the glamour that surrounds and occasionallyobscures the facts. Although many of Napoleon's campaigns wereinconclusive - and some disastrous - the myth endures and is stillmysteriously relevant.' Anita Brookner, The DailyTelegraph

'Andy Martin's wicked comic intelligence plays on two keyboardsat once. With one hand he trills his way through Napoleon'slong-forgotten literary career, while with the other he improviseson the assorted myths and fantasies that the Emperor bequeathed toEurope. What is astonishing about the whole performance, however,is that all this surface animation sharpens the impact of Martin'sunderlying tragic theme: that battlefields are fictive scenarios inwhich only the corpses are real.' Malcolm Bowie, All SoulsCollege, Oxford

'There is nothing new in the eagerness of politicians to exploitliterature for their own ends. Indeed a particularly extreme casehas been examined by Andy Martin in his fascinating new bookNapoleon the Novelist. The political and military career ofNapoleon, Martin argues, was largely shaped by his thwartedambitions as a visionary, thinker and writer of fiction.'Terence Blacker, The Independent

'The dichotomy between reality and perception is the theme ofAndy Martin's witty study, Napoleon the Novelist ... [an]engaging thesis about Napoleon's literary culture.' LiteraryReview

'Martin provides an entertaining tour of Napoleonic obsessions.'London Review of Books

From The Critics
For most people, the name Napoleon summons a familiar image: the military genius in his cocked hat and green overcoat, wagering his empire on classic battlefields from Austerlitz to Waterloo. To such readers, a "life" of Napoleon without a single martial scene will seem downright contrary; Martin's book is not for them. For those who already know their way around the era-perhaps even know that the Emperor was indeed an author-may find Napoleon the Novelist enlightening and provocative.

It helps to be comfortable with statements like "The world has to be thought out before it is entitled to exist." Martin, who teaches at Cambridge University, doesn't get lost in the thickets of semiotics and deconstruction, but his book is unapologetically literary in focus; within this limited purview, he imparts interesting information, offers intriguing if sometimes debatable theses, and generally covers plenty of intellectual ground.

Martin is fine at evoking the philosophical and political ferment of the Enlightenment, where young Bonaparte's ideas were formed. Instead of the passionate revolutionary, he portrays an aspiring writer penning a discourse on Happiness as the guillotine did its bloody work, and advances the notion that Napoleon's career was in essence a literary endeavor on a continental scale, a Romantic tragedy sweeping inevitably from ancien regime to upheaval to Empire to exile. His argument (admittedly oversimplified here): Napoleon had to do it because he couldn't write it.

Developing this idea, Martin marshals variously persuasive evidence. He observes that Napoleon was not merely an islander by birth and by temperament, but a linguistic Man without a Country, never really at home in either French or Italian. He explores and explicates Napoleon's own rather fevered novels, takes readers along on the doomed expedition to Egypt (depicted as cultural crusade rather than military campaign), and visits subjects as diverse as the invention of the semaphore telegraph, the Emperor's amorous conquests, and the bickering of his literary heirs and executors on St. Helena. He also sketches deft, ironic scenes like Napoleon and Goethe at the theater earnestly discussing Voltaire, and recounts episodes like the Emperor's invitation to Goethe to come to Paris to write what Martin drolly suggests would be called "The Sorrows of Young Napoleon."

Some of these propositions seem to skate rather airily over the flesh-and-blood events of twenty years of war, but on the whole the book is insightful, informative, and engaging; the kind of book whose ideas stimulate thinking-and whose margins accumulate notes. (February)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780745625362
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.05 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Andy Martin
is Lecturer in French at the University ofCambridge and author of Walking on Water and Waiting forBardot.

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Table of Contents


I, Napoleon.

1. A Prize for Happiness.

2. Islands and Continents.

3. Mind over Matter.

4. Mentioned in Dispatches.

5. The Third Man.

6. Death of the Author.


Sources and Bibliography.


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