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Monday 25 October 2010

A Tender-Hearted Tyrant?

“I have not spent a day without loving you; I have not spent a night without embracing you; I have not so much as drunk a single cup of tea without cursing the pride and ambition which force me to remain separated from the moving spirit of my life.”
What an interesting line from one of Napoleon’s letters to his wife. In other letters he writes of the distance between them and again blames his pride – it almost seems like he was driven beyond reason to be constantly conquering somewhere or other for fear of being conquered. When he discovered that during one of his terribly long absences Josephine had taken a lover, he was beside himself with grief but rather than treating her with physical cruelty, he returned home and when she swore it would not happen again, he accepted it....on condition that he could take what mistresses he chose – and he did. What a need to be in power...and such a tender heart. He must have lived in constant conflict between his head and his heart – his driving ambition that made him quite ruthless, and his natural tendency to love and the need to feel loved in return. Even as he invaded other countries, he tried to convince himself that he was doing so to liberate them but it was surely was merely a symptom of his need to liberate himself from the many unresolved issues from his childhood and beyond.

In spite of myself, I really do find something attractive and intriguing about him – something of the lost little boy who disguised his need to feel loved behind a display of machismo. In this he reminds me a lot of Kaiser Wilhelm II, but Napoleon had the added intellectual brilliance and personal drive to be able to achieve so many of his aims. Unlike the vile Robespierre, he didn’t insist on the slaughter of innocent bystanders- he fought only opposing armies - and he did seize a crown, but only when that crown was already there for the taking. His support for the French Revolution is something I dislike but he didn’t support all that unnecessary slaughter or the paranoia that was so characteristic of ‘The Terror.’

He divorced Josephine when he considered her too old to bear him a son to continue the dynasty but he was heart-broken by that decision and he saw that Josephine was well cared for. When he heard later of her death, he retired to his room, refusing to be seen for two days. There was a man who had the wherewithal and opportunity to achieve all that Nicholas II would have liked to have achieved – a quiet life with his wife and family – but who was so driven by ambition that he could not live that ideal. Nothing except Napoleon stopped him from living a happy life with his wife but he remained driven and unhappy. Doesn’t it show how everything is in the mind of the individual? None of us is a victim of circumstance. We are victims only of our own thoughts and beliefs and, since we have power over those, the world is our oyster!

I set out to learn more of Napoleon, believing I would dislike him but in fact, I find him fascinating. (Incidentally, as a light aside, my mother told me today that when she was a small child her grandmother, for some odd reason, had a very large portrait of Napoleon hanging on the wall. My mother – being a small child – assumed it was a picture of her late grandfather! Funny...my mother’s name is Josephine!)

Here is a fascinating site with some of Napoleon’s letters to Josephine....and then to his mistresses and to his second wife.



May said...

Queen Astrid of Belgium named her daughter, the future Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, after Josephine. (Astrid was reading a biography of the Empress during her pregnancy).

Lovely post- I've never been a big fan of Napoleon, quite the opposite- but as usual, you make me think of things in new ways.

Christina said...

Thank you for your very kind comment. I think Josephine was a fascinating person and was not a fan of Napoleon either...maybe he wasn't quite so bad after all...(Reminds me of A.A. Milne in 'Winnie the Pooh' - "everyone's alright really," said Pooh, "but I don't suppose I'm right," he said.
"Of course you are!" said Christopher Robin.