Sunday, July 09, 2006

Pierre and Napoleon

I don't know much about history, and I'm assured I don't need to to appreciate War and Peace. There's not many references to historical events in Book I, but enough to sidetrack me and want to know more.

Unless otherwise indicated quoatations are taken from Wikipedia's entry on Napoleon, which compares well with other encyclopedic sources I've checked, and I'm assured by a couple history buffs I consulted that it's fairly accurate, it covers the basics, and it's mostly objective.

Napoleon was serving in the military when the French revolution broke out (1789).

Throughout the 90s, as a general, he became increasingly influential in French politics. He published 3 newspapers, widely circulated within France.

From 1795 to 1799, the Directoire exécutif held executive power in France. Power was shared by 5 directors, chosen by the Council of Ancients from a list elected by the Council of Five Hundred (two parliamentary houses).

Napoleon seized power on November 9, 1799 (or 18 Brumaire on the French Republican calendar).

War and Peace begins in 1805. Genoa and Lucca (city-states) had just been annexed by France.

On the second page Prince Vasily tells us, "They have decided that Bonaparte has burned his boats." This doesn't appear to match a historical event. Perhaps it's meant as a metaphor? Although, it's the sort of thing that Napoleon would do, or that would be attributed to him.

At the beginning of chapter 3, the party is discussing the assasination (see below) of the Duke of Enghien.

I can find no substantiation for the Viscount's anecdote, that the Duke and Bonaparte both enjoyed Mademoiselle George's favours, although Napoleon's association with her is mentioned in the Historic Court Memoirs of France.

Toward the end of chapter 4, Anna Pavlovna's guests gang up on Pierre:
"...how can you account for a great man who is capable of executing a duke or even an ordinary person, for that matter, without cause and without trial?"
In January 1804, Bonaparte's police uncovered an assassination plot against him, ostensibly sponsored by the Bourbons. In retaliation, Bonaparte ordered the arrest of the Duc d'Enghien, in a violation of the sovereignty of Baden. After a hurried secret trial, the Duke was executed on 21 March. Bonaparte then used this incident to justify the re-creation of a hereditary monarchy in France, with himself as Emperor, on the theory that a Bourbon restoration would be impossible once the Bonapartist succession was entrenched in the constitution.


"I should like to ask Monsiuer how he explains the Eighteenth Brumaire... Was that not a hoax? It was an act of trickery in no way resembling the conduct of a great man."

When Napoleon had returned to Paris in October 1799,
the military situation had improved due to several French victories. The Republic was bankrupt, however, and the corrupt and inefficient Directory was more unpopular with the French public than ever.

Bonaparte was approached by one of the Directors, Sieyès, seeking his support for a coup to overthrow the constitution. The plot included Bonaparte's brother Lucien, then serving as speaker of the Council of Five Hundred, Roger Ducos, another Director, and Talleyrand. On 9 November (18 Brumaire), and the following day, troops led by Bonaparte seized control and dispersed the legislative councils, leaving a rump to name Bonaparte, Sieyès, and Ducos as provisional Consuls to administer the government. Although Sieyès expected to dominate the new regime, he was outmaneuvered by Bonaparte, who drafted the Constitution of the Year VIII and secured his own election as First Consul. This made him the most powerful person in France, a power that was increased by the Constitution of the Year X, which made him First Consul for life.


"And the prisoners he killed in Africa!"
In early 1799 he led the army into the Ottoman province of Syria, now modern Israel, and defeated numerically superior Ottoman forces in several battles, but his army was weakened by disease and poor supplies. He was unable to reduce the fortress of Acre, and was forced to return to Egypt in May. In order to speed up the retreat, Bonaparte took the controversial step of killing prisoners and plague-stricken men along the way. His supporters have argued that this decision was necessary given the continuing harassment of stragglers by Ottoman forces.


Pierre is referred to as a Jacobin. Napoleon supported the Jacobins. "The terms Jacobin and Jacobinism are used as pejoratives for left-wing revolutionary politics."

In chapter 13, Boris finds Pierre imagining himself as Napoleon. "England is done for"..."Pitt, as a traitor to the state and the rights of nations, is condemned to —" I don't understand this. Thanks to Pitt's efforts, Great Britain in April had joined the Third Coalition, an alliance (including Russia and Austria) to fight Napoleon. I suppose this moment says more about Pierre than anything else. Is this just some geekiness, or possibly childishness, coming through? Possibly it shows that his admiration of Napoleon is blind, and his understanding of political events limited (just thinking out loud...)? Or is he a bit of a megalomaniac himself (and how will this play out when he's a count)?

The couple other historical references, I think, can be taken at face value (movement of troops, etc). (If I've missed any references or if you have any insight into the relevance of these events, please share via the comments.)

The instances noted above do, however, add a little to Pierre's characterization. He's never before been received in "society" (having been abroad, and perhaps because he's illegitimate), but now he appears not only as anti-patriotic, but as a Napoleonic sympathizer — seen at the very least as a fool, though quite possibly as a threat, to be siding with a cause that essentially seeks to do away with the very class he is now associating with.

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