On Napoleon



Two hundred years ago in 1812 Napoleon led his army to Moscow. In War and Peace Tolstoy gave his account of the great invasion, the battle of Borodino, and the subsequent burning of Moscow. Rosamund Bartlett, translator of Russian novels and biographer of Tolstoy investigates the truth and the fiction of one of the most famous novels of all time.

The first of three programmes for Radio 3's Napoleon season which explores why great artists of the nineteenth century took the French military leader, reformer and dictator as the subject for their renowned works. Later the series explores the Napoleon of Stendhal and Byron.

Tolstoy believed that Napoleon and the Russian commander Kutuzov were no more significant in deciding the outcome of events than any one of the thousands of ordinary soldiers who slogged their way across Europe to fight or who defended their motherland as best they could. With reports by the Russian novelist Zinovy Zinik from the battlefied at Borodino and at Tolstoy's country estate at Yasnaya Polyana, Rosamund Bartlett tells how Tolstoy took up the story of what became known as the first great patriotic war in Russia and shaped it in his own way - a version of events that nonetheless has endured over time and become in many people's minds the truth of 1812.


Stendhal and Napoleon:the story of a novelist cooking for the emperor. Andy Martin tells how writer Stendahl, later to be the renowned author of the French classic The Red and the Black, followed Napoleon across Europe to Moscow in 1812 and changed fiction in the process. Part of Radio 3's series of programmes on Napoleon, marking his huge influence on nineteenth century European culture.

Two hundred years ago the French novelist, at that time a big fan of Napoleon, became a kind of catering manager to the emperor and journeyed from France to Russia attempting to feed some of the thousands of troops who marched on Moscow. On the way he got into all sorts of scrapes, glimpsed his hero, narrowly avoided being burned as cities and towns were scorched around about, and saw very little fighting. He got to Moscow and pretty much turned around and headed home. But getting out was harder still than getting in. Death and hunger was everywhere, even cannibalism, the two combined. At one point he wrote about how he had gone down on his knees at the sight of a potato. Later when he came to write one of his masterpiece novels, The Charterhouse of Parma, the tragi-comic experiences of the campaign and the arbitrariness of battle (how do you know if you are in a battle, what would a realistic description of being under fire actually be?) transformed his writing about Waterloo and ushered in a new realism into the nineteenth century novel.

Andy Martin, French scholar and author of Napoleon the Novelist travels part way with Stendhal from Paris to Vilnius and back again exploring how a romantic young man was transformed into a genius clear-eyed novelist thanks to some potatoes.

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British Romanticism and Napoleon: Simon Bainbridge explores the love and the hate and how, from the French Revolution to his end on St Helena, Napoleon shaped poetry in Britain. To early British Romantic writers, like Wordsworth and Coleridge, Napoleon's rise after the French Revolution was a cause for celebration. But soon "the bringer of liberty - the layer out of the world garden", as Coleridge called him, seemed more of a tyrant than those he had replaced. Other younger writers and poets in Britain thought and wrote differently. Some used their belief in and feelings for Napoleon to shake off the influence and over-weening presence of their literary fathers. William Hazlitt remained a Napoleon devotee to distance himself from the Lake poets. Byron was his own man and launched a second (sometime one-man) craze for Napoleon. He even commissioned a replica of Napoleon's carriage to travel to Waterloo on a pilgrimage after the defeat of his hero. Simon Bainbridge, scholar of Romanticism, travels to Paris and to Waterloo. He traces the footsteps of the literary pilgrims and the decriers and explores their love-hate relationship with Napoleon and his legacy in British literature. Producer: Tim Dee