napoleon: romantic muse and not amused

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. So said Dickens. But it was. As Napoleon began his rather blood-soaked, chaotic  and passionate rule of France he met the force of two women , “femmes fatales” who were to torment him with calls for constitutional government,liberty, and an encouragement of the romantic movement. When Napoleon disdained them, their ideas began circulating in print, both found themselves banished from Paris. The emerging romanticism of the nineteenth-century embraced the grand alliance of these contrasting women: Mme de Stael, tempestuous, dominant and attainable, and Juliette Recamier, pure, gentle and unattainable. …

Read More: prepared this flattering portrait of Mme. de Staël wearing an Empire-style dress with a rather wide waist band in 1810.---

While the first threads of the friendship between Mme de Stael and Juliette Recanier were being woven, French destinies were reaching fulfillment. General Bonaparte suddenly landed from Egypt. Mme de Stael was at her chateau in Coppet, Switzerland. Realizing the importance of the general’s return at a critical moment in the fortunes of the government, she hurried back to Paris. At the last stage, at Charenton, she heard only one name on every lip, from the stableman to the postilion, from the townsman to the peasant and the lackey. This was the eve of Napoleon’s coup d’etat- what came to be known by the revolutionary calendar as the 18th Brumaire.

After burning through over $400,000 in preproduction and research, Stanley Kubrick’s opus on Napoleon was scrapped. It was to be an epic of both carnal slaughter in the killing fields and carnal lust between the emperor and Josephine. Perhaps the real story of Napoleon is this antagonistic and  unusual relationship with two women who were almost proto-feminists and recalled the Bloomsbury group. Yet, neither name is to be found in Kubrick’s ill-fated screenplay.

Read More: ---Bonaparte as First Consul Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres This was done in 1804, after Napoleon became First Consul of France.

Alex Godfrey:Kubrick thought Napoleon was the most interesting man to have ever walked the Earth. He called his life “an epic poem of action”, thought his relationship with Josephine was “one of the great obsessional passions of all time”, and said, “He was one of those rare men who move history and mold the destiny of their own times and of generations to come.” Getting to work on the film in the mid-60s, after 2001 was released, he sent an assistant around the world to literally follow in Napoleon’s footsteps (”Wherever Napoleon went, I want you to go,” he told him), even getting him to bring back samples of earth from Waterloo so he could match them for the screen.Read More:

Read More: ---There are a number of great unmade films that have made it in to the lexicon of film lore. Be it Alfred Hitchcock’s Kaleidoscope, David Lean’s Nostromo or Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis, the world of cinema is full of ‘what if’s', yet none of these projects have reached the level of notoriety that Stanley Kubrick’s abandoned take on the life of Napoleon Bonaparte did. Thanks to a new book from notable Kubrick academic Alison Castle and the fine folks at Taschen we are now a step closer to seeing just how Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon might have panned out.---

Faced with the new master, in the early days of the Consulate, Mme de Stael was torn between anxiety and admiration. The man of destiny was going to save the country, but what would be the price? What would become of liberty? She wanted to put him on guard against himself. What ecstasy it would be if in some measure she were his counselor and inspiration! She therefore sought every opportunity to meet him, but he avoided her like a bad rash. She harried him, for he had guessed her plan, and he had no need of an Egeria.

As a result of Mme de Stael’s extensive political activity on behalf of elements hostile to Bonaparte, their relations were embittered from the early weeks of 1800. To defend herself in this unequal struggle, Mme de Stael had only the power of ideas and the brilliance of her mind. She hoped that her writings, by forcing the master’s respect, would reestablish her in his favor. Her book, On Literature, was denounced by her critics as trying to maintain what was now considered the dangerous spirit of the eighteenth-century.

Read More: Franz Kruger. Prince Augustus William of Prussia and Mme Recamier...1817.

Delphine, Mme de Stael’s first novel, was no more fortunate; it had some success in Paris, but this itself irritated the redoubtable First Consul. In its secondary characters, malicious people recognized more than one notable personage of the consular regime. Such allusions displeased the supreme judge, and he was even more displeased by the tendenc

of the book, with its apologia of love, which it set above all social rules, and its excessive eulogy of divorce. In December 1802, she was banished from Paris and remained interned on the shores of Lake Geneva. She had left Paris early in May, taking with her a sick and ruined husband, who died from an apoplectic fit at an inn on their way through the Jura. For sixteen long months she made no further move.

Madame de Recamier. Antoine Jean-Gros. Read More:

In that same spring, Mme Recamier, too was exiled from the capital, but for a shorter period. Had she received, as seems to be the case, discreet advice to make herself scarce? Or did she move from a spontaneous desire to escape the interest which the First Consul had shown in her on several occasions? In any event, after numerous assertions of Mme Recamier’s “invincible repugnance” to Napoleon’s various offers, she found herself listed with her husband in the Great Book of Suspects, and worse, her features and her name remained engraved in the implacable name of the Emperor. She preserved her good name, but defiance was costly.

Meanwhile, in that same autumn of 1805, Mme de Stael had fled from him across the Alps. She had wanted to spend winter close to Paris, but Napoleon made known he wanted her no closer than forty leagues away. She made arrangement to rest forty-two leagues from Paris with a plan to nibble, league by league, at the prohibited terrain, finally pushing forward to the gates of the capital. During this period she completed her novel Corinne; forced to flee back to Switzerland after an indiscreet appearance in Paris, she left Corinne behind her, thinking that this great book would assure both revenge and salvation. This was an illusion which events were to destroy pitilessly.

Portrait of Madame Recamier (1777-1849), c.1798-9 (oil on canvas) by Morin, Eulalie (fl.1798-1800) Read More:

Napoleon was not impressed with the book, believing the novel disparage the French people. She had chosen a Scotsman for her hero, and lost no opportunity of praising Anglo-Saxon ways. The heroine, Corinne, went so far as to bewail the abasement of character in a social system from which liberty had been banished, which might be regarded as an open attack on the Emperor, his goverment, and his glory. Far from soothing the anger of Napoleon and his henchmen, Corinne sealed it.

Politically, it was a dangerous setback and it made her exile a certainty, touching as it did on approximating the romantic sensibilities of all countries. For a quarter of a century, until the arrival of George Sand, Corinne symbolized for women all the emotions of the romantic muse.


Napoleon, Screenplay:

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