Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Clisson and Eugenie Amazon Reviews

Clisson and Eugenie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Reader
Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase
I'm OK with reading a fragmentary, much-reconstructed and, yes, amateurish work --- I'm OK with that (even if I think it a bit misleading to call a 20-page story a 'novel') because I'm interested in Napoleon. But you lose me when the editor/translator asserts: 'Since it would appear that this text which has come down to us (apart from the first two paragraphs) was never the final version, a few paragraphs remain that are incoherent and incomplete. THESE PASSAGES HAVE BEEN FREELY INTERPRETED AND COMPLETED BY THE TRANSLATOR' (Translator's Note, page 31, emphasis mine). If I have any doubts, I'm kindly referred to the French edition of the text (?). Sorry, but this is not acceptable scholarship. One thing is wanting to read what Napoleon wrote, another is wanting to read what Peter Hicks wrote. Pity, because I had been looking forward to reading the book, and enjoying the idea that Napoleon had been a writer... But, alas, nothing of the sort.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Positively ropey November 8, 2009
To find Napoleon Bonaparte in this literary freak-show is hardly astounding. Among these political and military mermaids, bearded ladies and three-headed calves he ought to be a prize exhibit. Yet in the manner of freak-shows, his most extensive foray into fiction is, in its present form at least, not quite the genuine article. What we have in Clisson and Eugénie is a scholarly reconstruction of the various fragments and drafts of the original text, whose manuscript leaves have been scattered everywhere from Paris and New York to Moscow, Santa Barbara and Milan. As translator and editor of this new English edition, claimed by its publishers as definitive, Peter Hicks and Emilie Barthet have cleverly collated the different false starts and reworkings to create a readable version. By 1795 at the age of 26, when he began Clisson and Eugénie, Bonaparte was quite an experienced writer, having produced essays on suicide, the nature of love and the sources of happiness, as well as short stories set in Restoration London, medieval Arabia and his native island of Corsica. Such works provided a therapeutic exercise for the restless young soldier. 'When I entered military service,' he told a friend, 'I was bored while in the garrison. I would form an ideal world in my mind's eye, and try to work out how this differed from the world I found myself in.' The whole issue of real versus ideal was tested when Napoleon fell in love with Desirée Eugénie Clary, sister-in-law of his unpromising brother Joseph, whom he later made King of Spain. Praising 'the charms of your person and character', Napoleon declared that Desirée's image was 'engraved on my heart' and was soon asking for her hand in marriage. The adored one, however, took time to decide and matters were scarcely helped by her lover's military posting to Brittany. By August 1795, when the relationship had lasted over a year, his tone was growing more rational. He urged his 'dear friend' to forget him since 'you know that my destiny lies in the hazard of combat'. A month or so later Napoleon met Josephine de Beauharnais, whose charms quickly eclipsed those of the wavering Desirée. Clisson and Eugénie was evidently written to exorcise memories of the liaison. The tale, lasting just 17 pages, is a simple one. Clisson, 'from birth strongly attracted to war' , becomes an officer in France's Revolutionary National Guard. Dissatisfied with soldiering, he retires to the country. At a nearby spa, 'the landscape of emotions, the realm of enchantment', he meets pretty young Amélie and her not so attractive sister Eugénie. It is the latter who enthrals him, the pair settle down together, bring up a family and exert a beneficent moral influence on each other. Tragedy strikes, however, when Clisson is called up to fight, Eugénie falls for the personable young aide-de-camp he sends with a letter and the hapless hero seeks destruction in battle. There now, I've spoiled the story for you. This would matter more if Clisson and Eugénie were less obviously amateurish. There are moments when its author shows a certain talent for writing, especially when evoking Clisson's doubts and susceptibilities. Otherwise Boney's notorious impatience shows through. Passages of such supreme perfunctoriness as: 'He renounced all thought of glory. Months and years sped by like hours. They had children and remained deeply in love', make us realise why novel-writing was not a viable career option for the Corsican Ogre. He had a young lieutenant on his Russian campaign, a certain Henri Beyle, who might have knocked the whole thing into a small masterpiece. A Clisson and Eugénie from the pen of Stendhal - now that would have been something.
1 Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Napoleon and Desiree August 5, 2012
By Don
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
Bernard Cornwell need not worry that a newly-discovered library of Napoleonic novels will swamp the historical fiction market.

As noted by previous reviewers, this piece is a short story rather than a novel, with Napoleon's final draft lost in the sands of time. This edition is compiled from various fragments of several drafts, patched together and rather liberally translated from the French. Must be rather like trying to make something from a clay jar full of Dead Sea Scroll.

I'm afraid as a "novel" this work can only impress an authority in French literature, who can recognize and appreciate styles and nuances which mean little to the rest of us. Even in English literature, writing styles have changed drastically over the centuries; today I don't expect this work would earn high marks in a sophomore literature class.

Nevertheless, I was delighted to have the opportunity to read this edition: it's not about the writing, it's about the writer.

A work of fiction opens a window into the soul of the author, a glimpse of his heart, as much as what is on his mind. My own fictional hero is not a stranger, but my Walter-Mittyesque alter-ego, the man I imagine I want to be, should be, might have been.

Who can doubt that Clisson is Napoleon as he saw himself in 1795? "victory was his constant companion. But envy and all the petty jealousies that growing reputations attract, which ruin so many able men and so often stifle genius, brought false accusations against him." Later recalled from his happy state of family life to command armies, "he alone was the reason for the army's successes". We see the image of a man with unique military skills, far beyond his peers, essential to his fatherland - egotistical or accurate, believed-in or wished-for? At the end, dissappointed in love, he dies gloriously in battle, leading his men to victory. Does this not reveal a streak of Romanticism in the young Napoleon, rivalled only by his self-confidence? Not the cynic of later years who could say "by such baubles are men led" when referring to the Legion of Honor.

Cabasson's afterword raises the intriguing suggestion that Napoleon shortly after writing this yarn had the opportunity to follow his own plot, leading his army in a desperate charge across the bridge at Arcole, perhaps expecting a heroic death to bring a glorius victory. Instead, a fellow soldier took a bullet for him, and Napoleon survived, imbued with a sense of destiny yet to be fulfilled. Was this a turning point in his life?

If you're seriously interested in Napoleon, read the story and the afterword and consider yourself what they reveal of the man. And thank all those who have made this little bit of the mystery of Napoleon available to us - well worth the price.

What wouldn't we give to compare a novel written by Napoleon ten years later?

No comments:

Post a Comment