The Napoleonic epic did not end in Paris with the Emperor’s second abdication on 22 June 1815. It continued for six more years, in a quite different setting, a volcanic rock in the middle of the South Atlantic, and in a more intimate register, that of a few French men and women confined in a damp house. Las Cases, in the Memorial of St Helena, gave us merely a carefully framed ‘snapshot’ of the early months. Napoleon was not however to “go gentle into that good night”. Right up until his death, on 5 May 1821, Napoleon fought a harsh and solitary battle against a fatal outcome. Despite the exceptional circumstances, he never let go either of the hope or the idea of glory that had driven him all his life. Regardless of his jailers’ paranoia and the pettiness of his entourage, he never gave up, and even identified and nurtured unexpected accomplices, to the point that his captivity could have turned out quite differently. The Emperor had no patience with foregone conclusions. Perhaps this is also why he continues to fascinate.
In this account, Pierre Branda uses previously overlooked or unpublished sources to highlight the different material, political and moral aspects of the existence of the illustrious exile and all that surrounded it. Not only on St Helena but also in London, Paris, or wherever Napoleon’s fate had aroused obsession, fear or pity, all the protagonists in the drama – from the closest companions to the passing visitors, from the rulers to the anonymous – are brought to life. Every situation, every incident, is analysed with a fine-tooth comb revealing its true significance. This attention to detail gives rise to unusual insights, portraits – some harsh but fair – and new perspectives. Over the course of the often interminable days, a gripping narrative takes form, as if the reader did not know how the story would end.
Pierre Branda is Director of the Fondation Napoléon’s heritage department, and author of numerous works on the Emperor, including Le Prix de la gloire, Napoléon et l’argent (Napoleon and money), Napoléon et ses hommes. La Maison de l’Empereur (Napoleon and his men. La Maison de l’Empereur) and, also by Perrin, La Saga des Bonaparte. His biography of Josephine, also by Perrin, was a great success.
Contents (in French)