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Overview

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-dinner speech for the cognoscenti ... This is a refreshing book for the sheer entertainment it provides and for its many real insights. To an academic who spends more than his fair share of time in airports, this made welcome reading - and that is a compliment in full.' Times Higher Education Supplement

'Napoleon ... was a writer who complained that his life left him too little time for writing. His two fictions ... together with miscellaneous essays, reveal a mind obedient to the conventions and sensibilities of the 18th Century, whereas his career ushered in the as yet unfledged 19th. This mutation, from amateur to an originality of purpose so complete that it continues to amaze, was also a template for other desires that were to fashion new laws of creativity. It is likely that without his example the Romantic movement as we know it would have failed to emerge in the form, or forms, now so familiar ... [This book] gives full weight to the power of myth, of the glamour that surrounds and occasionally obscures the facts. Although many of Napoleon's campaigns were inconclusive - and some disastrous - the myth endures and is still mysteriously relevant.' Anita Brookner, The Daily Telegraph

'Andy Martin's wicked comic intelligence plays on two keyboards at once. With one hand he trills his way through Napoleon's long-forgotten literary career, while with the other he improvises on the assorted myths and fantasies that the Emperor bequeathed to Europe. What is astonishing about the whole performance, however, is that all this surface animation sharpens the impact of Martin's underlying tragic theme: that battlefields are fictive scenarios in which only the corpses are real.' Malcolm Bowie, All Souls College, Oxford

'There is nothing new in the eagerness of politicians to exploit literature for their own ends. Indeed a particularly extreme case has been examined by Andy Martin in his fascinating new book Napoleon the Novelist. The political and military career of Napoleon, Martin argues, was largely shaped by his thwarted ambitions as a visionary, thinker and writer of fiction.' Terence Blacker, The Independent

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

'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 of Cambridge and author of Walking on Water and Waiting for Bardot.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements.

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.

Epitaphs.

Sources and Bibliography.

Index.

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