Napoleon Bonaparte never set foot on English soil, although he was held aboard a warship off the coast of Devon after his surrender to the Royal Navy in 1815. Nor did he ever admit to being a prisoner. With its focus on the last six years of Napoleon’s life—from his arrival at Devon, where he became the object of massive English public interest, through his exile on St. Helena, where he died in 1821—this close study of Napoleon in captivity attempts to reconstruct an authentic portrait of the fallen emperor by examining contemporary documents and public records of opinion. As this judicious volume by journalist and historian Frank Giles shows, Napoleon worked hard at St. Helena to obfuscate the history of his tyranny in France with a legend that would elevate him as the architect of a federation of free European peoples—had it not been for the fears of reactionary monarchs and the envy of England. Many English citizens, most of them discontent Whigs, stood among Napoleon’s collaborators in this legend, just as many of them joined in the condemnation of the British governor at St. Helena, Sir Hudson Lowe, as a petty, tyrannical bureaucrat and booby. Turning a scrupulous eye to the Hudson Lowe papers, Giles attempts to redeem Napoleon’s jailer and guardian, reviled as he has been by critics on both sides of the Channel, from the judgment of history. What emerges is a more balanced view of both Lowe and Napoleon, condemned to each other on an island in the Atlantic for six years.
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Frank Giles was editor of the Sunday Times (London) from 1981 to 1983 and is the author of The Locust Years: The Story of the Fourth French Republic, 1946-1958.
John Lee, a stage actor and writer and a coproducer of feature films, has narrated more than one hundred audiobooks of every conceivable genre, earning some three dozen Earphones Awards and the prestigious Audie Award.
Napoleon, Europe's 19th-century bˆte noir, spent his final years as Britain's prisoner, in the custody of Sir Hudson Lowe on the isolated south Atlantic island of St. Helena. This esoteric addition to the vast assortment of Napoleonic literature concerns the adversarial relationship between the former emperor and his keeper and the controversy Napoleon's exile spawned in Britain. Giles, former literary editor of London's Sunday Times and author of The Locust Years: The Story of the Fourth French Republic, proposes that the historical view of Lowe as a "pettifogging, tactless, suspicious, tyrannical officer" was the result of a "ceaseless campaign of vilification mounted against him by Bonaparte." Readers will find Giles's descriptions of Napoleon in exile no longer battling Wellington over countries, but battling Lowe over the protocols of dinner invitations and his right to be called emperor are poignant and pathetic. Much of the book is devoted to the discord within English society generated by his captivity. Giles explores the opinions of Lord and Lady Holland, prominent Whigs who steadfastly argued Bonaparte's case against Lowe, as well as those of Byron and Wordsworth, and artists and historians. The controversy did not end with Napoleon's death. He was interred on St. Helena despite his wish to be returned to France upon his death; 19 years later, the French government, hoping to appease a restless French citizenry nostalgic for past "Imperial glory," requested that the English allow Bonaparte's remains to be removed there. Ironically, the English complied with the request in order to help cement ties between the two nations. Giles is a straightforward writer and a diligent researcher, but this narrow slice of history will draw only the most devoted students of Napoleon and his era. Illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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