It’s all in the detail…

It appears, as happens to all of us, that I deeply offended someone recently by having a less than rose-tinted pair of glasses on when I wrote a new blog about Napoleon.   Why this should have been, I don’t rightly know.  It’s not like his atrocities are news or anything anymore.  But so it was.

And anything I said in support of my argument was, er, dismissed by this individual and then, going for the kill, she advised me that I needed to learn what a good historian does.  (Which as far as I was aware was something about taking all the information in–even the bits that don’t support one’s pet theory.  Or have I read Dorothy L. Sayers’ fine novel about the subject, Gaudy Night, too many times? And believed it.)

Favourite bootsHence, in my personal defense, I wish to say this.  Once upon a time there was a little boffin named MM Bennetts.  (No, the MM does not stand for Montmorency, whatever certain people may tell you…)  And this creature, Bennetts, was not perhaps cut out to be an historian.  No, the heart and soul of this child were in music–a pianist first and Beethoven the first and great love.  

But history was what our little boffin read, fascinated by the lives and hopes and losses of all those fabulous artists and poets and people who had lived before.  (And the novelist part is all Dorothy Dunnett’s fault–a great friend and mentor, as it happened.)

strathtyrumNor did Bennetts arrive at Napoleonic controversy by a straight path.  Indeed, for a long time, our boffin was immersed in the glories of the Italian Renaissance and specialised as a mediaevalist.  But, these twists and turns happen…and through Beethoven and the architecture of the brothers Adam and all sorts of other things, this Bennetts became immersed in this world of early 19th century Britain.  (To be fair, I would have liked to have been frivolous and write immensely successful somethings or other…but the research, you see, it always drew me in further and further.  Like down Alice’s rabbit hole.)

conciergerieI had been to a huge exhibition of Goya’s etchings of the atrocities of war, from the Peninsula, you see.  And then I was in Paris at the Conciergerie.  And if you’ve not been there, well, all I can tell you is that it’s one of those places where the cries of the innocent condemned still weep from the very stones.

Anyway.  At the end of the tour, I asked about atrocities against the population committed after the Reign of Terror.  And the tour guide–after assuring me I couldn’t be English, my French was too perfect–was emphatic that there had been no atrocities committed by the Napoleonic regime or any other regime after the Terror.

Obviously, the party line.

But I knew it wasn’t true.  I had seen the evidence.

And this was shortly before the French celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution–wherein curiously I noted that there were no mentions of the September Massacres, no mention of the  genocide against the aristocracy nor the clergy…it was all a great party.

napo-creepAnd as the years have gone by, and I have relied more and more on first hand accounts of events, more and more turned to other countries’ non-partisan views and accounts, as the accounts which for 100 years were kept from us by the Berlin Wall’s presence and no sharing, and now all the forensic examination of Napoleonic grave sites, I find I am in a world of quotidienne atrocity, about which I have become, with no little reservation, an expert.

In my defense, it’s not what I like.  I like cakey, horses, poetry and antique roses.   I adore P.G. Wodehouse, Shakespeare and Donne.  I still play the piano and fill my world with music–it’s what we’re here for.

But I cannot turn aside from the sufferings of others and pretend they didn’t happen because Napoleon had the best air-brushing artist and propagandists the world has ever known.  And if that’s what you’re wanting, well, look elsewhere I guess.

I don’t, I hope, court controversy.  But I’m not going to lie.



21 comments on “It’s all in the detail…

  1. You go, M.M!!! I thought your previous post was excellent. Maybe this person is like all those individuals who go wild and crazy when RIII/HVII is discussed, i.e. incapable of intelligent discourse and discussion. After all, we may not always agree (except for the cakes and the roses) but urely we should be broadminded enough to listen to another’s opinion? Must tweet asap!

  2. M M Bennetts says:

    Thank you, Anna. As ever, you restore my faith in humanity. I’ll have your cake now, just this once…

  3. Jann England says:

    Being true to yourself is just as important as being confident in one’s convictions. Too often we shy away from those that shout the loudest even though they may or may not be right. In this instance, your.expedient knowledge is something we can all proudly aspire to.( I am also with Anna on this one – takes a bite of cake and sticks the kettle on!) Thanks for sharing. MM! Jann xx

  4. Katherine says:

    It seems people suffer from a simmering anger these days. That deeply offended person must have been that way, and had to strike out at something. It’s like having a boss scold you, which you must take on the chin with your tail between your legs, but then once away, kick a waste basket, or a dog, yell at a shop person. Through no fault of your own, you may have been that poor, maligned shop person. Since the world is so wide open nowadays, we can locate a great deal while research digging. One cannot deny the truth, and you were right to expose it.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Thank you, Katherine. Thank you for soothing my sensibilities. It’s just that people seem to imagine I get my jollies out of this kind of research and knowledge. I don’t. It’s cost me months of sleepless nights and grief for these lost souls whose hands I cannot hold, whose sorrows I cannot soothe. The least I can co is tell their truth.

  5. prue batten says:

    Say what you see, tell it the way it should be told. No one should ever doubt the efficacy of your research, M.m. A cogent and coherent argument to the nay-sayers and well done!

  6. Brava! Truth must be told. Well said, M.M.!

  7. Mignon says:

    Well, I really liked reading this, and that with everything you know DNA linked to the rather playing members of the NB parties. . .however in New Orleans, I believe those links were forged post-humous, and to the protection of many actually escaping the Reign of Terror rather than vice-versa vices. Thanks, MM! And glad to know ya.–mm

    • Mignon says:

      oops! Should have reread the above for error. Meant, my ancestry connected to the offending parties–to wit, Desiree and all that. . .C’est la Vie? No, c’est la Guerre. Not love, which we are. Keep writing from the cuff.

  8. M M Bennetts says:

    I’m not sure at this point I know any other way, do you, M? So I guess we’re stuck with off the cuffs. Mine are blue today. Yours? x

  9. chasbaz says:

    I’d love to know who the ‘offended party’ is. Can you point us at these remarks?

    • M M Bennetts says:

      You know me, Chaz. I should never divulge such a thing. Suffice it to say it was a person who has taken issue with me previously and whose comments here on this blog were so crassly ignorant yet superciliously arrogant (a tough combo to pull off) that I had no recourse but to remove them–they reflected so badly on her. I did at that time point her in the direction of recent research coming out of France about Napoleonic atrocities–which when this recent thing blew up and she deigned to lecture me about what a good historian does–and I asked if she had read the works in question which she was disparaging, of course, she sidestepped the issue as she obviously hadn’t done the work. I’m not surprised. My copy cost £70 and was from Paris, and this person would appear to suffer from ego rather than terminal researchitis…if you see what I mean. So, live and learn. Do you not think?

  10. chasbaz says:

    Ah, I understand. My research has been very narrow and specialised so anything I had the temerity to blog about hasn’t been challenged much because nobody else would have bothered to do the same work. Yours on the other hand is very broad (which I admire) and there are always going to be ‘experts’ out there who think that knowledge of a certain area is their exclusive property, when they haven’t researched it as thoroughly as you have. More power to your elbow! The truth must be told.

  11. M M Bennetts says:

    Chaz, it’s people like you who make my job worth doing. Thank you. Bless you.

  12. Dominic says:

    People have a curious attachment to certain opinions about history in order to justify their political or cultural viewpoint, which defy facts and well-constructed arguments. It’s frustrating to say the least.

  13. dawnharris5 says:

    A great blog – I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Everyone has their standards, and I prefer yours any day of the week!

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