Referred to in his time as “the Pretender” and “the sphinx of the Tuileries,” Louis Napoléon Bonaparte the nephew of Emperor Napoleon I of France and himself ruler of the Second Empire (1852-1870) — so managed the manufacture of his public image and the masking of his private self that he is, ultimately, unknowable to this day. From the mysterious circumstances of his conception in 1807 to the strange events of his downfall in 1870 and death in 1873, he lived, loved, and reigned in an extraordinary aura of myth and fantasy under the shadow of his more famous uncle.
Taking a highly innovative approach to this intriguing historical figure, David Baguley entertains sources in a mélange of media and forms — pictures, music, fiction, poems, plays, as well as Louis Napoléon's own writings — to explore how the ruler was represented, invented, and interpreted by detractors and defenders alike. In the process examining works by, among others, Victor Hugo, Karl Marx, Émile Zola, Honoré Daumier, Jacques Offenbach, Gustave Flaubert, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
While most historians consider Louis Napoléon’s coup d’état of December 1851 to be his boldest endeavor, Baguley shows in this expansive and eloquent work that his most extravagant venture was to found a second Napoleonic empire balanced upon the precarious power of his name and image.
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