Illustrated history of France. T. 14 La Folie Napoleon – Author (…)

In the script Aurelien Liniereprofessor of modern history at the IEP of Grenoble, one of the best contemporary specialists of the First Empire and painting Ivan Pavlo Krasinsky : a strike team to blow up the Napoleon myth! Black Legends and Golden Legends are combed through historical criticism to try to make the most accurate assessment of the First Empire.

To be successful in this pair, it was necessary to move some distance away from your subject. What better way to do this than to use the image of a fake Napoleon who has escaped from a mental hospital and wanders the streets of Paris to give his own account of an unusual fate? At meetings of admirers and detractors, a portrait of an authoritarian regime, often brutal, born of civil war, which was also for many a regime of peace and prosperity, before collapsing in the maelstrom of European war, for which it was far from solely responsible.

No issue will escape, be it the restoration of slavery, the execution or imprisonment of opponents, the deadly wars, but this dark picture is balanced by the undeniable administrative successes of the Great Empire, which created many more members in Europe than we think today. The reader is, of course, free to form his own opinion, and from that point of view, the last dish that sows doubt is quite successful!


Jean-Paul Krasinski uses a very effective caricature line to capture a fanatic in boots (Aigle, of course!), a tri-corner hat and a tracksuit speaking to passers-by to remind them of the Empire’s great hours. The finds of the script are numerous to make the story lively and entertain the reader, such as the priceless war game scene, which allows us to easily talk about the inevitable Napoleonic battles and the European geopolitics of 1800-1810.

This Paris itinerary is an opportunity to reminisce about the Empire in detail through monuments, literary works, and countless derivative works created since the early 19th century in honor of the great man. A ubiquitous, suffocating memory, the subject of continuous controversy, the authors of which recall recent events, such as the project, finally rejected by a vote of the inhabitants, to replace the statue of Napoleon in Rouen with the statue of Giselle Halimi.


As in other albums of the series, the subject matter is dense, the boards are very verbose in order to place a maximum of information, which sometimes makes reading difficult. Teachers and buffs of Napoleonic history will be delighted, especially by the university symposium scene or the many allusions to classic Napoleonic iconography taken from historical paintings, caricatures and movies. For others it will be necessary to hold on, even though, I insist, the subject is never difficult, and the intelligence of the subject, which is rarely met with on such a subject, deserves a detour.


The work concludes with a traditional historical notebook, which offers a very good synthesis of the history of the First Empire, illuminated by recent research, particularly Aurelien Liniere’s work on imperial administrators. A very balanced bibliographic approach will allow those who wish to learn more about the hero and his time. The only thing that is a pity: there is not enough study, by the way Natalie Pigot on Fake Napoleons (CNRS, 2018) that really existed, not just comic book characters!

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