Napoleon III and Eugénie (Magill's Literary Annual 1981)
In his Foreword to this mammoth study of two important figures of the French Second Empire, Jasper Ridley states, “This is not a history of the Second Empire, but a biography of Louis Napoleon and a biography of Eugénie.” He further points out that he has included much historical background merely to “show the significance of Louis Napoleon’s and Eugénie’s reaction to them,” and has omitted others on the basis that they were of little importance to the biographies with which he is concerned. The reader of the book may question this judgment because, for the most part, the book does read like a history. Such an approach is necessary, however, in that the Second Empire is a time filled with complex and relatively little-known events, negotiations, and conflicts, and any writer dealing with the period must fill in massive gaps existing in our twentieth century understanding of the minutiae of the political situation in nineteenth century Europe. As expected, those portions of the book devoted to Eugénie, who was not involved in politics except through her husband, concentrate instead on accounts culled from gossip and recollections of her contemporaries. The result is a book in which Napoleon III emerges as the central character despite the several early chapters devoted entirely to Eugénie. It is not until Louis Napoleon’s death that she takes on much of a life of her own in these pages.
Ridley informs the reader that his interest in...
(The entire section is 2402 words.)
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