Monday, May 11, 2009

Napoleon Bonaparte, romance novelist

I just about choked on my tea and toast this morning when I read this in The Guardian:

"I feel numb. Come to me without delay," may not have quite the same ­panting ardour as his famous love letters, but then Napoleon had not yet met his Josephine when he wrote the words.

There's more where that came from, 40 pages more. The first English version of the pieced-together fragments of his long lost novella, Clisson and EugĂ©nie, is due out this autumn, the Bookseller magazine reveals today. Two years ago when the lost first page resurfaced and was identified by Peter Hicks, an English expert on ­Napoleon responsible for the translation, it was sold at auction for £17,000.

Napoleon turned to literature, or at least an early precursor of chick-lit, at a wretched time when he seemed to have stalled his glorious career and lost his woman.

In the years of his power and glory, when he was painted by artists including Ingres as a god-like figure shining in cloth of gold, he kept the unfinished tale of a brilliant young soldier who loves tumultuously, loses, and dies heroically in battle "pierced by a thousand blows". Napoleon wrote it when he was a brilliant, youngish soldier tumultuously in love.

Never having been terribly interested in the Little General, I was unaware that when he died on St. Helena at the age of 51, he left behind the manuscript of a novella. Neither was I aware that it had recently been published in French. So naturally I did a double-take when I read that it will be published in English this October by the London-based publisher Gallic.

Here's more from The Guardian:

Jane Aitken, director of Gallic, insists the book will reveal Napoleon as "an accomplished writer of fiction".

"Although the piece of writing is short, it does cast an extraordinary light on Napoleon, who is someone we all think we know. We in Britain think of him as a ­military man, but here we see the ­romantic side to him."

This is very interesting, non? And I rather like the cover art.

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