Andrea/Cara here, I recently finished a new Lady Arianna mystery—the first full-length addition to the series since its original publication by NAL—which was great fun, as I love writing these books. In Smoke & Lies, (it releases on May 15, and is available for pre-order now) the mystery takes Lady Arianna and Lord Saybrook to Elba, where the scheming and intrigue of Napoleon’s court in exile tests their mettle . . .
Now, weaving a plot line for this was an interesting challenge, given that we all know what ultimately happened! Since I wasn’t about to change history and have my intrepid protagonists stop him from returning to France, I had to figure out how to create tension and a compelling mystery within that context. I really enjoyed weaving together actual history with my own inventions to give them a compelling conundrum to solve (at least I hope readers find it compelling! You can read an excerpt here.)
In some ways, I found it required even more research than usual, as I wanted to find little details of life on Elba and at court that I could use for my own nefarious purposes! I found some surprises. I had assumed that his “court” would be grander than it was, given his fame and former splendor of Imperial France. But the restored Bourbon King reneged on the generous stipend that Napoleon was granted in the Treaty of Fontainebleau. The fact is, he was skating on the thin ice of poverty. His sister, Pauline, Duchess of Guastalla—who was notorious for her amorous affairs—proved to be his only loyal sibling. She liquidated all her assets, moved to Elba to be with him, and supported his during his exile. His “palace” was a rather shabby affair, and refreshments at the frequent soirees were modest at best. (Though the French wine seemed to flow quite freely.)
And while I didn’t want to make the Little Corsican himself too much of an element in the story (I try to keep real-life characters as small pops of color within the stories) it was hard to ignore him! And once I had figured out a plot thread that had Arianna matching wits with him (yes, over chocolate!) I found myself needing to go back and re-read about him, to refresh my memory.
I’ve done a fair amount of reading about Napoleon in the past, but in reviewing his life and achievements, I was once again struck by what an amazing figure he is in history. The French statesman Talleyrand said of him: “His career is the most extraordinary that has occurred in one thousand years . . . He was clearly the most
extraordinary man I ever saw.” (Napoleon didn’t return the favor—he called Talleyrand “shit in silk stockings” for his constant betrayals) And some historians have called Napoleon “the most competent man in history.”
No matter your opinion of his having embroiled half the world in war for nearly two decades, you have to admit his list of social and political accomplishments is mind-boggling: as emperor of France, he revamped the judicial system (the Code Napoleon is still the basis of the legal system in much of Europe today) reformed education, oversaw innovative agricultural reforms and established freedom of religion.
Personally, he was quite a polymath. He had a keen interest in science (his military expedition to Egypt included a bevy of scientists and naturalists) and law. His military prowess was impressive (as a young artillery officer, he helped win the very important Battle of Toulon.) And when he arrived in Elba, he promptly went too work rebuilding the roads and infrastructure as engineering was another passion. Dinner parties were apparently a lost cause with him—he rarely spent more than twenty minutes at the table, as he was chomping at the bit to get back to work.
I also learned that Napoleon was gifted in mathematics. As emperor he met regularly with Lagrange and Laplace, two of the greatest mathematicians of the era. In fact, there is a math theorem named for him—Napoleon’s Theorem, which has to do with equilateral triangles.
As I said, there aren’t many scenes with the emperor, but they were fun to write. As fiction would have it, I had made Lady Arianna a math whiz in the first book, so I do have a fun numbers duel between them!
“Boney” is an integral part of the Regency era, even if he simply looms as a shadow in many novels. It’s hard not to think of him in context of that world. So, what do you think of Napoleon? Love him? Hate him? Are there any other larger-than-life figures in history that capture your fancy? Please share!