My youngest brother has sent me Flora Fraser's review in the Times of Clisson and Eugénie, Napoleon's short romantic novel which has recently been published in English.
The novel was written when he was only 26, after he had fallen in love and become engaged to Eugénie Desirée Clary, and had also already proved his worth as an artillery officer at the siege of Toulon.
The review is surprisingly favourable: "there is a wit and power about the writing and the characterisation that makes the reader regret that Napoleon Bonaparte did not write more fiction."
This sentiment was echoed by a neighbour of mine when I told him about it - "he might have done less harm had he stuck to novel writing!"
The review says that the novel "sheds light on how Napoleon saw himself at this time - as a man attracted by the life of reflection and that of action".
Like virtually every British person who writes on Napoleon, the reviewer cannot resist one barbed comment: "It shows a remarkable self-knowledge, a self-knowledge that later, one might be tempted to say, he lost ". For what it is worth I do not think that Napoleon lost his self-knowledge, certainly not on St Helena.
I often think of his comment to Gourgaud, who of all Napoleon's party proved the least able to cope with the rigours of exile on St Helena. "Do you not think that when I wake in the night I don't have bad moments, when I recall what I was and what I am now? " Such thoughts were private. Their absence in what he wrote or what he said is not proof that self-knowledge did not exist.
For Napoleon there was no person in whom he could confide, and no medium in which his innermost thoughts could be expressed. I do not think that he is as unusual in this as many imagine. I wonder how many autobiographies written by statesmen and lesser politicians really reveal their inner thoughts?