Last night I finished The Hundred Days: Napoleon’s Last Campaign from eye-witness accounts. It was, of course, weighted heavily towards the British and German; if you want the Hundred Days told from the French point of view you should look elsewhere. That said, Brett-James picked a good cross-section, and let them speak for themselves.
I realized near the end that I was putting off finishing the book, because I didn’t want to hear a nasty version of Napoleon’s surrender. I mean, the man was a friction’ misogynist–his Code is laughably woman-hating in parts–and yet I can’t help but admire his military record and his sheer bloody-mindedness. If he hadn’t invaded Russia like an idiot…well, but he did. In retrospect, “invading Russia” is probably Fate’s way of disposing of European autocrats who can’t be taken down by any other means.
However, I needn’t have worried, because that particular historical bit was handled very deftly. The British were not gracious in victory. (I mean, I can hardly blame them, but still.) And it says something for the Corsican that they feared him so much–and France loved his success so well–that they immured him on that awful island.
The other thing that struck me was the descriptions of the carnage at Waterloo. I suppose the horrors of modern warfare have numbed me, for I felt saddest for the horses. Nevertheless, war is a colossal fucking waste. The amount of care and energy that goes into creating a single human, or a single horse, gone in a flash or with protracted suffering. I am left with Sarah Connor’s “all you create is death, and destruction” speech in Terminator 2–the one her son chided her for, which makes me angry every time I watch it.
I’m currently interspersing Marcel Schwob short stories with Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and enjoying the latter the most. Tanith Lee did everything Schwob did, only better.
But that’s (say it with me) another blog post.