“By His Spirt” by Tigard resident Virginia Woolf is the nineteenth in her illustrious “Fiction” series. The story centers on Empress Falsetto, a Queen of France and a fierce foe of Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Revolution’s founder. Falsetto’s husband, Nemesme, commands her armies to attack the French fortress of Arles while her mother, Madame de Mause, tries to arrange a marriage between Falsetto and Bonaparte.
But Falsetto plots more than just a military takeover of France. She seeks to overthrow Napoleon’s rule by using the position of consort to her son instead. Although her motives are noble, Falsetto’s downfall is disastrous. Her daughter, Nemesme, becomes a victim of Bonaparte’s tyranny and the two women are locked in a struggle for power. At the end of the novel, the reader comes to realize that Falsetto’s son, Bonaparte, has no wish to rule over his aging mother and sisters.
I cannot say that this book is an enjoyable read. I personally found that it was too long. It is sometimes difficult to decide what is important in a novel such as this.
Napoleon is a fascinating figure. Although he is fictional, it is interesting to follow the story of his rise to power. Bonaparte was born into a wealthy family and was expected to become a leader of the French. He was a brilliant student and he loved history and reading. He was also obsessed with beauty and he sought the help of female sculptors.
While in exile in England, he formed a group of his own women with whom he shared intimate encounters. The novel starts when he realizes that Napoleon wants to abdicate the throne and flee to France. Falsetto desperately wants to interfere, but she understands that if she does so, she will lose all her power and influence. She finally agrees to help him, but not until Napoleon has had all his riches and power.
I don’t know if I liked Falsetto or not. One way or another she managed to outclass me in the “hare” aspect of the book. But I do remember that at one point Napoleon wanted Falsetto out of her seat and literally forced her to give up her seat on the imperial train. That certainly did not work out for the better, did it? In the end, Falsetto had to choose between her career and her very existence, so she made the correct decision.
Besides, I find it amazing that after reading the end of Napoleon Bonaparte’s life, people still believe that he was such a great leader. The evil emperors of the Chinese Dynasty may have been evil, but they were hardly a bad leader. If the Chinese could stand by their decisions even for one day, I wonder what they would have said about our own leaders, who have no real power behind them. The United States, however, does not have a free press, and therefore we have to rely on “her word.”
What amazes me is how people can read history and think that they know what really happened at any time during history. I am sure that we all know more about the French Revolution than most people do, but that does not make the facts any less true. Think about it, one man with vast resources at his command went against an entire nation, and the nation, without exception, followed him, humiliated him, hunted him down and killed him. Would you call this fair?
Does this sound like a fair battle? I don’t think so. I’m also not sure how you feel about “liberal democracy” giving way to mob rule – or worse, tyranny. History will show that some “liberal-democrats,” if they can be called that at all, are actually some of the worst leaders the world has ever seen. History is full of terrible people, but it also has good people as well. In some cases, the best people in history have been those who stood up to evil, instead of cowards who hide in caves.
In this book, however, Monet paints a picture of Napoleon as a leader who sought world power, instead of being content to live on his modest estate in France. His focus is on how he balanced that desire for world power with the need to maintain a romantic relationship with his Russian wife. This book is educational. For example, it is interesting to learn that even though Russia was Napoleon’s sworn enemy, he never took a step against them. As a result, many of his enemies turned against him as well.
In The Wild Consort, Michael Moore shines a light on how leaders, when faced with evil, tend to fail. Without exaggerating anything, I believe that Napoleon may have been a failed leader, had he not attempted to overthrow Russia in 1812. On the other hand, had he remained true to his romantic side, perhaps he would have been a great leader.