That, for those of you who are interested, is the sound of self bashing head against desk.
And why, you ask politely (or cautiously, if you’ve met me before), is Bennetts thumping that brainful head on the desk?
Because of narrowmindedness. Because of incuriosity. Or perhaps smug ignorance.
Or all of the above.
I am at the moment researching the history of Europe circa summer 1813 to autumn 1814 in preparation for my next novel.
(And no, I don’t know exactly what it’s about yet. That’s why I’m researching.)
But the problem with this exercise has been a notable lack of resources and information.
Because you see, although the sellers and writers of history (and historical fiction if it comes to that) cover the subject of the Peninsular Wars and the Royal Navy and the war at sea with the generosity of a sycamore tree sending forth her seeds–because those are the bits the British were involved in–they are remarkably silent on the subject of the Napoleonic wars elsewhere. In places where there were few if any Brits.
This difficulty doesn’t actually start in 1813 though. It starts earlier. Much earlier.
I have been, for example, quite interested in the Napoleonic take-over of Italy which began in 1796.
I mean, they robbed the place blind. They imposed a French imperial government on a land of independent and remarkably individual principalities. They were fiercely anti-Catholic and imposed their anti-clerical views on a devoutly Catholic population and took the Pope hostage. None of this have gone down well one would have thought.
But are there books on this?
One would have thought there should be many.
(This is, after all, Italy we’re talking of here–that warm, cultural oasis where so many of us like to holiday…)
But until recently–chiefly through the pioneering research of Michael Broers–I have been unable to find anything that remotely resembled a history of Italy during the period.
And within minutes of reading the Introduction of Broers’ work, The Napoleonic Empire in Italy, I encountered for the first time an acknowledgement of the catastrophe that was the cultural imperialism which France imposed on Italy during the period. It was a bloody nightmare by any standard.
So why isn’t there more about it? Why?
Equally, until recently, there’s been this same blinkered approach to the main theatre of the war in 1813-14.
The main arena was not, as we might wish to believe, Spain.
(You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you look at the shelves of history books on the period–or indeed at the focus of historical fiction in the period.)
But believing that the central actions of the war occurred in Spain and nowhere else mattered is a bit like focusing solely on North Africa and ignoring Europe in a study of WWII.
The main arena of Napoleon’s failed endgame was central Europe where–in addition to places like Bautzen, Katzbach and Dresden–there was a little battle at a place called Leipzig. A battle so little in scope that it went on for three days–16-19 October 1813–and was called the Battle of the Nations.
Yes, Salamanca was big. But at Leipzig, the allies had 52,000 casualties and Napoleon’s losses were somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000.
And it was this cataclysmic battle which conclusively drove the Napoleon out of Germany and back over the Rhine into France, once and for all. And as he retreated, thousands more of his troops died of typhus. It was a flaming disaster for him and signalled the end of the French Empire.
But are there books on this? Are our shelves creaking with the weight of the tomes dedicated to the analysis of this Napoleonic central European checkmate? They are not.
So, why I ask, why are we so determinedly ignorant? So smug in our arrogant incuriosity? So criminally narrowminded? So blinkered?
What am I doing about it?
Reading everything I can find on this period of history. Poring over the encyclopaedic works of Dominic Lieven. Trawling through the very academic studies by Dr. Broers. And wondering how on earth I am going to weave a gripping story through a period of history which is at once so vast and yet so ignored as to be virtually virgin territory in the realms of historical fiction.
Is it time for tea yet?