SHANNON SELIN INTERVIEWS NAPOLEON BONAPARTE FROM NAPOLEON IN AMERICA
Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Corsica, a French island off the coast of Italy, on August 15, 1769. He trained as an artillery officer and became a successful general during the French Revolutionary Wars. In 1799, Napoleon staged a coup d’état and took over the French government. Five years later, he was crowned Emperor of the French. Although Napoleon conquered a large part of Europe, he was ultimately defeated by a European coalition at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The victors exiled him to St. Helena, a remote British island in the South Atlantic, where he died on May 5, 1821.
In my alternate history novel, Napoleon in America, Napoleon is rescued from St. Helena by pirate Jean Laffite and lands in New Orleans in 1821. I interviewed Napoleon three months after his arrival in the United States. He was at Point Breeze, the magnificent estate of his brother Joseph Bonaparte in Bordentown, New Jersey.
SS: Your Majesty, what do you think of America compared to Europe?
NB: The United States has a weak government and an impotent army. If it were in the middle of Europe, it would not last two years. The Americans are mere merchants. They seek glory in making money. But the one admirable quality the Americans have, the aspect in which they now surpass Europe, is liberal ideas. I approve of this, since I saved the Revolution and held the torch of liberalism in France. Europe is presently in the hands of despots, banded together for the oppression of mankind. They have placed Louis XVIII on the French throne, contrary to the wishes of the nation. They endeavour to vilify me. They ought to praise me, for my deeds brought glory to France.
SS: What would you say to those who accuse you of having drawn France into unnecessary wars?
NB: My enemies speak of my love of war, but I was constantly engaged in self-defence. After every victory, I immediately made proposals for peace. The English and their allies are responsible for kindling the flame of war, and for all the miseries that have since assailed France. I intended to devote myself entirely to the internal interests of the nation. Had I been allowed to do so, I would have wrought miracles. I would then have achieved the moral conquest of Europe, which I was on the point of accomplishing by arms. My ambition was of the noblest kind: that of establishing an empire of reason. Shall I be blamed for my ambition?
SS: Perhaps not, especially when you put it that manner, although there are those, like the Marquis de Lafayette, who blame you for the loss of three million Frenchmen.
NB: I count Lafayette among my enemies. Although I rescued him from the Austrians, he was never reconciled to my rule. What he knows, but does not acknowledge, is that sovereigns born to the throne can be beaten twenty times and still go back to their palaces. I could not. My power was dependent on my glory, and my glory on my victories. I am the child of fortune.
SS: You are also the child of Carlo and Letizia Buonaparte. What influence did they have on you?
NB: My father was a fine-looking man, with a vivid imagination and strong passions. He ran up considerable debts. My mother would make me go and spy on him in the café, to see if he was gambling. This I did not like to do. My father was a fanatical lover of liberty, but dreamt of it in impossible terms. If he had not died before the Revolution, he would have perished with the Girondins. He took me out of Corsica and sent me to school in France. This set me on my career.
My mother is a strong woman, full of pride. She could govern a kingdom. Her experience and her advice have been most useful to me. To her I owe my determination and strength of will. Unlike my father, she carries her frugality to a most ridiculous extreme.
SS: What about your siblings? How have they influenced you?
NB: They have done me more harm than good. I injured my career by placing my brothers and sisters on thrones. If I had to begin again, I would give them nothing more than a palace in Paris, and a few millions to spend in idleness. From my glory, they reaped an abundant harvest, and then deprived me of the aid that I have a right to expect from them.
SS: But Joseph has offered his help and his beautiful home to you.
NB: Yes, Joseph is soft-hearted, and I believe he is truly fond of me. I do not blame him, or Pauline, as much as the others. Though I made Joseph a king, he was not destined to reign. He is too fearful of making enemies. He has talent, but he hates work. He knows nothing of the art of war, though he thinks he does.
SS: Will your mother be joining you in the United States?
NB: My mother would willingly follow me anywhere. She joined me when I was in exile on Elba. So did Pauline. They wanted to go with me to St. Helena, but the British would not let them. In any case, I did not want them to witness the humiliations to which I was subjected on that miserable rock. But my mother is now too old to make the long journey from Rome.
SS: How about the Empress Marie Louise and your son? Will they come to America?
NB: That would be my hope, once I am settled, although my wife has ceased writing to me, and her father, the Emperor of Austria, holds my poor son captive in Vienna.
SS: Is the Empress the greatest love of your life?
NB: Although I have a very sincere affection for Marie Louise, I think that I loved my first wife, Josephine, better. That is natural. I was a young general when I met her. We rose up in the world together. Josephine was full of grace and tenderness. If she could have borne me a son, I never would have parted from her. We never had any quarrels, except about her debts. She expected me to pay them.
When I married Marie Louise, she was full of innocence, incapable of deception. In that, she was the opposite of Josephine. There is no doubt that my good Louise loved me. If her father had allowed it, she would have come with me to Elba. Instead he placed in her service an Austrian scoundrel, Count Neipperg, who has turned her against me.
SS: That must be hard to bear.
NB: A soldier can endure the pains of the heart with firmness, as surely as he can remain steady in the face of a cannon.
SS: Do you think you could fall in love again?
NB: A man past fifty years old can seldom fall in love. If I lost the Empress, I would not marry again. What is love, anyway? A passion that sets all the universe on one side and the solitary loved one on the other. It is not in my nature to surrender to such an overwhelming feeling.
SS: Are you lonely?
NB: This is not something I think about. I am aware that I do not have true friends. People pay court to me for the sake of what they might gain. My valet Marchand, he has stayed with me for ten years. He is perhaps my only friend. Marchand and Joseph.
SS: What would make you happy?
NB: I do not believe in happiness. I have sacrificed my happiness to my destiny.
SS: But there must have been times when you were happy.
NB: Yes, I was happy when I became First Consul, happy at the time of my marriage, and happy at the birth of my son. And yet, perhaps I was happiest after my victories in Italy. Such enthusiasm was shown for me. The streets rang out with ‘Long live the Liberator of Italy!’ and all this when I was only twenty-seven. It was then I perceived what I might someday become.
SS: What are your plans in the United States?
NB: I have come here in search of sanctuary. I will travel a bit, and then Joseph will give me some land, or I shall buy some, and we will cultivate it. I shall live on the products of my fields and my flocks. This, and the education of my son, will form my greatest pleasure.
SS: You will have seen in the papers that opinion is divided about your presence here. There are those who fear you may have broader ambitions.
NB: It is said that I am ambitious, but this is an error. I no longer care about glory and grandeur. I desire a tranquil life.
SS: Are you afraid that the allied powers will hunt you down?
NB: Many people wish to put an end to me – the English oligarchy, the Bourbons, madmen. They have tried before. They may try again. I do not fear any of them, except for madmen. They are the most fanatical.
SS: Do you fear death?
NB: At times I have longed to die. I have no terror of the afterlife and no fear of the future.
SS: How would you like to die?
NB: From a bullet on the battlefield.
SS: If, as you suggest, your fighting days are over, that is unlikely to happen.
NB: You are right, of course. We must see what fate will bring.
ABOUT NAPOLEON IN AMERICA
What if Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped from St. Helena and wound up in the United States?
The year is 1821. Former French Emperor Napoleon has been imprisoned on a dark wart in the Atlantic since his defeat at Waterloo in 1815. Rescued in a state of near-death by Gulf pirate Jean Laffite, Napoleon lands in New Orleans, where he struggles to regain his health aided by voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. Opponents of the Bourbon regime expect him to reconquer France. French Canadians beg him to seize Canada from Britain. American adventurers urge him to steal Texas from Mexico. His brother Joseph pleads with him to settle peacefully in New Jersey. As Napoleon restlessly explores his new land, he frets about his legacy. He fears for the future of his ten-year-old son, trapped in the velvet fetters of the Austrian court. While the British, French and American governments follow his activities with growing alarm, remnants of the Grande Armée flock to him with growing anticipation. Are Napoleon’s intentions as peaceful as he says they are? If not, does he still have the qualities necessary to lead a winning campaign?
Napoleon in America on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Napoleon-America-Shannon-Selin/dp/0992127505
Napoleon in America on Amazon.co.uk: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Napoleon-America-Shannon-Selin/dp/0992127505
Napoleon in America on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19320518-napoleon-in-america
ABOUT SHANNON SELIN
Shannon Selin was born and raised in the small town of Biggar, Saskatchewan (“New York is big, but this is Biggar”). Her father was a history teacher, so she grew up immersed in history books and spent her holidays tramping around battlefields, graveyards and museums. Early obsessions included Vikings, the Tudors and the Statue of Liberty. Shannon has a master’s degree in political science and spent many years working in jobs that involved a lot of non-fiction writing. She now writes historical fiction full time. Her short stories have appeared in The Copperfield Review and CommuterLit. Shannon blogs about Napoleonic and 19th century history at shannonselin.com. She lives with her family in Vancouver, Canada, where she is working on the next novel in her Napoleon series.