Napoleon Symphony is an intricate book that deals with the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, beginning with his marriage to Josephine and ending with his final days in exile on St. Helena. Much of what Anthony Burgess presents in the interim is witty, sardonic, intellectually demanding horseplay. The novel is structurally modeled after Ludwig van Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the Eroica, which Beethoven originally wrote to honor Napoleon but which finally, when he became outraged at Napoleon for declaring himself emperor, he dedicated instead to Prometheus.
The Eroica is written in four movements with an overture and a coda. Burgess wrote his novel within this symphonic structure, adhering closely to the demands that such a structure placed upon him. His overture presents Napoleon waiting for Josephine on their wedding day and ends with the word “Begin,” which leads into the first part of the book’s four major sections, parallel to the first movement of the Beethoven symphony, marked allegro con brio, a passage whose tempo is light and rapid.
The first part of the book begins with Napoleon’s campaign in Italy, carries through to his campaign in Egypt, and chronicles his election as First Consul General of France. After his election, Napoleon gathers together for a dinner such members of the Bonaparte family “as were willing to come.” Josephine manages to avoid attending the dinner, offering the excuse that she has a headache, and in this quite uproarious section, Napoleon shows that although he may be First Consul...
(The entire section is 645 words.)