We first meet Napoleon in the very first chapter of the novel.
Napoleon is an ambivalent figure in French history. He is neither a villain nor a hero. Or rather, he is both, depending of which aspect of his legacy one considers. It is quite amazing to consider the amount of monuments, institutions, administrative divisions and laws existing today in France that date back to Napoleon Bonaparte's rule. Still revered by a small fraction of the population, especially in his native Corsica, the French government preferred to keep a very low-key profile in the very modest celebrations of the bicentenary of his rule. Napoleon is full of complexities. It is difficult to summarize his influence on the course of history with a one-sided simple statement.
Born in 1769, Napoleon Bonaparte was a very young officer of artillery in the French army at the beginning of the French Revolution. He enthusiastically espoused the causes of the Revolution and progressively rose to fame and in stature thanks to his military genius and numerous victories on the battlefield. In many occasions, he was the Man of the Hour. Napoleon didn't seize power by force. People sought him out for help. In 1799, he was elected as one of the three consuls, the new executive power of the young republic. However, Napoleon Bonaparte manages to take hold of more and more executive powers. In May 1804, he finally overthrows the French Republic and declares himself to be Emperor of the French. In December 1804, he has himself crowned in a majestic ceremony. In the subsequent years, he will continue fighting the other European monarchies, very successfully at first, ostensibly in order to promote the values of the Revolution. Yet, at the same time, he is grooming his son to succeed him one day, in what would look more and more like another hereditary monarchy.
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