Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte, who is portrayed as a man driven by an inscrutable fate and conscious of his ability to master Europe. He is a great leader, at times impatient with his subordinates’ abilities. Above all, he wants to found a new dynasty to rank with the established royal families of Europe. Disappointed in his negotiations with Tsar Alexander for the hand of a Russian princess, he turns to the defeated Emperor Francis of Austria, who gives him the hand of Marie Louise as his second wife after Napoleon has divorced the unfortunate Empress Josephine because of her failure to provide an heir. Even though he is defeated by the Austrians and Prussians at Leipzig, Napoleon does not lose his sense of destiny. Exiled to Elba, he returns for the famous Hundred Days, only to be defeated a second time at Waterloo. His efforts are finally compared by the Spirit of Years, who sees all of history, to the struggles of an insect on a leaf. Napoleon disrupted many lives and caused great slaughter, all for nothing.


Josephine, Napoleon’s first wife, who cannot believe it is truly her fault that she bears no children, even though Napoleon points to bastard children as proof of his own potency in the marriage bed. Despite her protests and tears, for she truly loves her husband, Josephine is forced to consent to make way for Marie Louise.

Marie Louise

Marie Louise, the princess of Austria and a pawn of circumstances and politics. She is married to Napoleon to help save Austria from conquest. Eventually, she bears a son to Napoleon, though almost at the sacrifice of her own life. After Napoleon is defeated and exiled to Elba, Marie Louise and her small son, styled as the king of Rome, go to her native Austria for asylum.

George III

George III, the king of England. He is shown first, in 1805, as a robust monarch watching preparations being made along the English coast to meet the expected French invasion. Later, King George is shown at the age of seventy-two, shortly before his death, at the mercy of his physicians,...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Bailey, James Osler. Thomas Hardy and the Cosmic Mind: A New Reading of “The Dynasts.” Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1956. Presents a strong analysis of Hardy’s philosophical views as expressed in The Dynasts.

Dean, Susan. Hardy’s Poetic Vision in “The Dynasts.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. A thorough and accessible discussion of Hardy’s epic vision and of his concept of the Immanent Will.

Maynard, Katherine Kearney. Thomas Hardy’s Tragic Poetry: The Lyrics and “The Dynasts.” Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991. Examines The Dynasts in the context of Hardy’s shorter poems and helps to define his sense of tragedy in a secular age.

White, R. J. Thomas Hardy and History. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1974. An invaluable study of Hardy’s treatment of history in The Dynasts and elsewhere.

Wright, Walter F. The Shaping of “The Dynasts”: A Study in Thomas Hardy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967. Especially useful in assessing Hardy’s verse forms, as well as his indebtedness to the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.