March 19, 2004


I can't figure out why I never got around to reading Anthony Burgess' novel Napoleon Symphony. It's a wonderful book, and Burgess, I think, manages to capture all the grandeur and squalor of his subject, while at the same time deploying the irregular forces of the English language with tactical and strategic brilliance. The scenes Burgess has chosen to illuminate his symphony are wonderful -- to give one example, there's the family dinner with the Corsican's rather Corse family, at which the First Consul and emporer to be has to discuss the succession with his siblings -- which of them will inherit Napoleon's empire. His elder brother, Joseph, is passed over immediately, which leads Joseph to prostest that his rights have been violated. Napoleon's responds with exasperation,

"Rights? Rights? Under what law or system or contract or covenant do you have rights? Is there some old Corse tradition which says that if your younger brother is made emporer of the French you then -- by rights -- become his heir?"

Burgess places side by side all the petty jealousies of a not particularly nice family with the destiny of Europe, which, come to think of it, is more or less what happened.

Posted by Ideofact at March 19, 2004 11:53 PM