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Napoleon the Novelist
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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  • January 2001
  • 208 pages
  • 158 x 237 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $72.75
  • 9780745625355
  • Paperback $29.95
  • 9780745625362
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.


About 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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'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

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