At Waterloo, Seeking Glory at the Margins

Exactly two centuries since they came to a close, the Napoleonic Wars have lost much of their significance to us, though they shaped the entire course of the 19th century, including the era’s art and literature. The “Napoleonic Idea,” for example, provided the backdrop to the great flowering of realism in the 19th-century novel, from Austen to Thackeray, Balzac to Tolstoy. Their work brings within our grasp some of the enthusiasms, ideals and horrors of these wars.

For pure exhilaration, however, no Napoleonic novel…

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