Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jane Austen and Napoleon - 1812 - Two People Who Changed the World

Jane Austen spent most of the year 1812 making extensive revisions to First Impressions, but while Jane toiled away on her manuscript, events were taking place in Russia that would change the world. However, not a word about the Napoleonic Wars would appear in her masterpiece, the renamed Pride and Prejudice.

The Battle of Borodino, fought on September 7, 1812, was the largest and bloodiest single-day action of the French invasion of Russia, involving more than 250,000 troops. While Napoleon won the battle, Borodino proved to be a Pyrrhic victory which ultimately cost him his army. Believing the campaign to be winnable, Napoleon pressed his exhausted and greatly depleted troops on to Moscow. Although Napoleon eventually took Moscow, he found that the deserted city had been set on fire by its inhabitants, destroying desperately-needed provisions for his Grand Armee. During the retreat from Moscow, the French suffered enormous losses from harassing Russian troops. Snow, starvation, and typhus ensured that only 23,000 men crossed the Russian border alive. In documenting the Russian campaign, Napoleon’s wrote: “Of the fifty battles I have fought, the most terrible was that before Moscow. The French showed themselves to be worthy victors, and the Russians can rightly call themselves invincible.” But can the French really be victors if the Russians remain invincible?

Miss Austen, whose two brothers served in His Majesty’s Navy, certainly was not ignorant of what was taking place on the Continent; she just chose to ignore it. She did what Jane Austen did best: write about the intricate personalities and social mores of a country neighborhood. She left the wars to the historians.

(Statistics gleaned from Wikipedia and other web sources)

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