N & E
Napoleon & Empire

Life of Napoleon Bonaparte

What a saga my life has been!

This is how Napoleon I himself is said to have evoked his extraordinary destiny in the autumn of his existence. Indeed this out of the ordinary existence has spawned an incredibly abundant array of works. For two centuries, historians, essay writers and novelists have described it, analyzed it, emphasized on it or on the contrary vilified it. The ambitious ones found in Napoleon Bonaparte an unparalleled example; pacifists treated him as an ogre; Leo Tolstoy reduced him to a mere puppet; Stendhal made him the great man of Sorel; Hippolyte Taine described him as an Italian condottiere of the Renaissance period who strayed into the modern world; Léon Bloy proclaimed him to be a prophet.

And the man who conquered Europe during his lifetime conquered the world after his death. In 2008, Beijing has devoted to him an exhibition in the prestigious residence of the emperors of China : the Forbidden City. The same year, the Museum of Fine Arts of Montreal has opened new rooms to expose Napoleonic objects donated by Mr. Ben Weider. In 2010, Berlin hosted the exhibition Napoleon and Europe. Dream and trauma. And these are just a few examples!

So many judgments that are as decisive and as opposed to one another, so many celebrations, however stem from the same facts: these incredible upheavals in the aftermath within which context Napoleon arose, give them such extraordinary splendour that a Honoré de Balzac, royalist, can barely mask his admiration.

This is the life that we will discuss here, so that each person can in his turn make his own studied opinion on an essential personality of the history of France. A personality who, two thousand years later, revived the great figures of Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, and who, like them, had been much more than a mere conqueror. His contributions on the administrative plane, considerable in scope, survived him. Today's France, irrespective of whether one is delighted with the way it is or whether one deplores the way it is, is the by-product of this France of the Revolution and the Empire – indissociables periods – and was fashioned by Napoleon Bonaparte.

A France where he rests, at Paris, in the Hôtel des Invalides, since December 15th, 1840.