I have been avoiding writing this blog post.
I find myself in a little bit of a dilemma.
With a blog appropriately named "My Napoleon Obsession" I imagine most people will assume that I might not be able to enjoy any books that are not "pro the Emperor." That might be true. I've been known to shut a manuscript quickly that I believe to be anti Napoleon or historically inaccurate.
Then along comes a book about Lucien Bonaparte. A fascinating book. All I can say at this point is "had I read this book first this blog might have been named my Lucien Bonaparte Obsession."
Nooooooo. I know you can't believe it. Neither can I!!!
"Of all my siblings, he was the most gifted, the one who hurt me most."
What Napoleon did to Lucien was very disappointing. Napoleon hounded his brother for years for marrying a woman he did not select. He was banned from France and his very life was at stake. Napoleon never acknowledged that it really was Lucien who made it possible for him to become First Consul. The details about the threats and the communications between them are carefully revealed in the letters that have been saved by Lucien's family archive.
Sure, a few of Napoleon's siblings may have been incompetent or greedy. Lucien was not. Napoleon's treatment of Lucien only reveals the extent to which he could carry a grudge. It makes Lucien's response to this treatment appear very noble.
I am continually amazed that Napoleon could make the time for all these family dramas. Managing world-wide domination should have kept him busy enough.
What made me sink my teeth into this book was the opening preface.
This book started with a painting. In the summer of 2005, a collector in New York acquired an unusual, erotic portrait of a couple, set in an artificially ancient room. The painter, a half black Frenchman called Guillaume Guillion Lethiere from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, depicted a sensuous, curvaceous woman languidly lying on a chaise longue, her nakedness barely concealed by thin gauze, her pubic hair visible beneath it--surprising for a neoclassical work such as this. The man, dark and handsome, chin resting on right hand, is gravely but covetously contemplating this resting beauty; his feet, a satyr's profile looms in the left corner. The names of the two lovers are inscribed in Greek under the chaise longue: Alexandra and Lukiano.
It is because of the painting that the authors Marcello Simonetta and Noga Arikha began to investigate the life of Lucien Bonaparte. I am very glad that they did! The love story here rivals all the great ones! Napoleon and Josephine have fallen off the "great love story pedestal." No doubt they will creep their way back up...but for now and this summer, I'll be thinking about Lucien and Alexandrine.