The Fronde, The French Revolution, Napoleon and related crap

Reply Fri 13 May, 2005 08:53 pm
In deference to the poor souls who have been innocently hit by flying furniture over on the UN, the US and Iraq, if Setanta and I or any other brave soul continues contracting our deathgrip, let's do it here.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sat 14 May, 2005 12:12 am
Don't get it really: e.g.
- why do you call the French Revolution a "crap",
- what is "related" here in your opinion (the American Revolution? the 'Dancing Vienna Congress'?),
- etc. ... ?
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Reply Sat 14 May, 2005 11:13 am
I don't call the Revolution "a crap." (Though I appreciate the levity.)

I blithely gather any related wars, movements (!), and personages under the category of "crap", because a four lettered word would fit in the thread title.. It doesn't define. It compartmentalizes with the correct number of letters.

What anyone deems related qualifies as related for purposes of discussion in this thread.

But, the Mods don't move stuff for the purposes of whim or housecleaning, so I can't bring the conversation from the other thread.

Still. If anyone cares to press a point here--I'm game.

And, just so you know: I don't have a negative opinion of the French Revolution. Parts of it were heinous, but heinous is largely unavoidable in Revolutions.
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Reply Sat 14 May, 2005 08:29 pm
Tonight, Josephine

As Max Gallo brings his biography of Napoleon Bonaparte to a triumphant close, Frank Kane salutes the immortal lad

Sunday May 1, 2005
The Observer

Napoleon: Volume 4 - The Immortal of St Helena
by Max Gallo

What a lad Napoleon was. He was other things too - soldier, despot, legislator, engineer, philosopher, historian and, ultimately, failure and exile. But for sheer laddishness, he was hard to beat.

Though booze never figured highly on his agenda - a glass or two of Chambertin was his favourite tipple, even on campaign in the frozen depths of Russia - he fought and fornicated his way across Europe with the gusto of any football fan or rock star. He did it in the name of France, and of destiny, and, irony of ironies, in the guise of reason.

As a child of the French enlightenment and the revolution, he rationalised everything, even the grossest cruelty or perverse act of ego. In the Egyptian campaign of 1798, he abandoned his army to the Turks because he saw political opportunity at home, but rationalised it as the fulfilment of his destiny.

In Moscow, he hesitated two fatal weeks after the Russians had burnt the city around him, only retreating when it was too late to save the Grande Armée from the horrors of the Russian winter. He rationalised his decision as an act of strategic diplomacy - by waiting in Moscow, he could keep Tsar Alexander guessing as to his strength and his plans.

But as Max Gallo's brilliant work of historical imagination shows, his greatest acts of self-serving rationalisation were reserved for his love affairs. From his first sexual encounter with a prostitute in Paris, through his marriage to Josephine and the innumerable affairs that punctuated it, to his second marriage to Marie Louise of Austria, he shagged for France and for destiny. His attendant, Duroc, was virtually a pimp, supplying Napoleon with an endless succession of willing courtesans.

He allowed conscience to intervene only once in sexual matters: on the retreat from Moscow, after he had again abandoned his army to the enemy, he wanted to detour for a couple of nights of pleasure with his Polish mistress, Marie Walewska, but decided against it. Even he couldn't quite square that one while thousands of his soldiers were dying from exposure or at the hands of the merciless Cossacks.

But for all the affairs and one-night liaisons, the Emperor of Kings is at his most vulnerable and sensitive when Gallo analyses the affairs of the heart. He never really wanted to divorce the ageing Josephine, but felt he had to produce an heir for the French. Towards the end of his life, he would write: 'She is the person I have loved the most and her memory is even more vivid in my mind now.'

The personal poignancy should not detract from the horrors for which he was largely responsible. The Napoleonic wars lasted nearly 20 years, killed millions and ravaged Europe from Lisbon to Moscow. The period ended in the restoration of everything that Napoleon and the French revolutionaries had hated - the Bourbon monarchy and aristocracy and English supremacy.

It also gave birth to a new German nation dominated by Prussia (the seed of Nazism) and a revived Russian empire.

Some historians, mainly English, have seen Napoleon as a prototype for Hitler and Stalin. But Gallo humanises him in a way those later monsters can never be. Despite all the deaths and suffering, there was no Holocaust or gulag equivalent under Napoleon.

Gallo's quartet is a triumph of historiography and of Gallic pride. Even in decline, in exile on the prison island of St Helena, Napoleon maintains a dignity at odds with his pathetic circumstances. There is even the hint of an affair with the wife of his hated jailer, the English governor, Sir Hudson Lowe. What a lad.

I never knew he was such a coward, and had so little respect for his men.

Another French party boy...with a penchant for retreat?
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Reply Sun 15 May, 2005 01:11 am
I never knew he was such a coward, and had so little respect for his men.

Oh, yes. Every time in his career that he led his army into a complete disaster, he just handed the whole mess over to a subordinate, did a runner and went and raised a fresh army to replace the men he'd just allowed to be wiped out. He did it in Egypt, he did it in Spain, he did it in Russia. Nothing if not consistent.
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