Napoleon and three literary horrors

trio of terror

The year 1815 was a difficult time in Europe. The Napoleonic Wars not only took a lot of lives but also subjected the surviving ones to extreme penury. Wherever the army of Napoleon Bonaparte went, they used entire harvests to feed themselves. The farmers had nothing to sell which hampered the entire economic chain. Simultaneously, a volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora, Indonesia, damaged the weather of Europe. With heavy rainfall destroying crops and summer appearing like winter, the people were staring at doomsday. In such a scenario, Mary Shelley introduced to the world a landmark novel of horror and dread. While this dystopian story of violent double presented an iconic character, the work’s narrative style was pioneering as well.

This book is Frankenstein. Its narrative style inspired two other great pieces of literature. These works are Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer and James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Written in the same order, these three novels together stand as a landmarking trio of terror novels inspired by Shelley’s father William Godwin.

a frightened soul

The style of narration of Frankenstein was a result of the catastrophic events that the United Kingdom faced in the early years of the 19th century. Through a dystopian tone, the work featured a narrator who was a frightened soul. Because Shelley had seen so much horror, these experiences rendered the accursed protagonist to tell the tale in such a way that amplified the horror. A new language of horror was thus established. Maturin and Hogg utilized this formal technique of narration in their own ways.

Each such dystopian story of violent double develops in a way that undermines the traditional faith that the reader has on the honesty of a narrator. Instead, the reader questions the veracity of the facts. This occurs essentially because a mischievous protagonist is narrating the story. We understand what he is communicating, but have reservations in fully trusting him and empathizing with him. The works thus also question our limits regarding the extent to which we are willing to trust someone.

But it is not that they are not welcoming us to sympathize with the protagonist. Each of the three works challenges our perceptions and judgments. They do give enough reasons to develop sympathy for the protagonist, but they also provide ample backdrop information that motivates us to feel otherwise. The presence of such an antihero has significance in modern pop art as someone who nevertheless drives some of our emotions. By doing so, he emerges as his own icon with characteristic layers richer than the traditional hero.

Napoleon and the literary antihero

The downfall of Napoleon Bonaparte came in 1815. By the time these three novels were created, the life of Napoleon appeared to the world like an elegy written by a braveheart who has made a pact with the devil. A courageous man who’s military conquests would stand the test of time, yet bound by the treaty to become someone dreaded.

The trio of Godwinian terror visualizes the other as such a personality that meets disapproval but garners significance. Through such, they introduce a new route for connecting the reader with the story. They challenge the way we identify with the story. Our relationship with what we are reading attains a veiled accreditation whose tangentiality enables us to observe the work critically. We observe Napoleon Bonaparte in the same way, remaining distant with critical eyes but simultaneously never forgetting who he was.


rare books: the private memoirs and confessions of a justified sinner

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