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When the barracks were bursting with poets

David A. Bell: Napoleon, 6 September 2001

Napoleon the Novelist 
by Andy Martin.
Polity, 191 pp., £45, December 2000, 0 7456 2536 3
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... Andy Martin is unlikely to convince many readers that Napoleon conquered Europe only as compensation for his inability to write a sentimental novel. His attention to the Emperor’s literary ambitions is, however, not unreasonable. Napoleon dreamed of literary as well as military glory, wrote copiously at various moments in his life, and had real talent for it (Sainte-Beuve called him ‘a great critic in his spare time’, while Thiers elevated him to ‘greatest writer of the century ...

Mother’s Boys

David A. Bell, 10 June 1993

The Family Romance of the French Revolution 
by Lynn Hunt.
Routledge, 220 pp., £19.99, September 1992, 0 415 08236 6
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... of printed works, paintings and engravings. For instance, she makes much of the fact that while David’s great 1785 work The Oath of the Horatii features three brothers taking an oath in front of their father, a 1793 engraving depicting an oath-taking by three revolutionary soldiers shows no father, only a fallen comrade. The comparison perfectly ...

The Potter, the Priest and the Stick in the Mud

David A. Bell: Spain v. Napoleon, 6 November 2008

Napoleon’s Cursed War: Popular Resistance in the Spanish Peninsular War 
by Ronald Fraser.
Verso, 587 pp., £29.99, April 2008, 978 1 84467 082 6
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... In March 1962, the German far-right intellectual Carl Schmitt visited Spain. It was a homecoming of sorts, for while Germany now shunned this brilliant jurist, who had given enthusiastic support to the Nazis, the land of Franco still revered him (he spoke fluent Spanish, and his daughter was married to a prominent Franquista). Schmitt was there to give lectures at Pamplona and Saragossa in connection with something apparently remote: the 150th anniversary of Spain’s 1808-14 War of Independence against Napoleon ...

Enlightenment’s Errand Boy

David A. Bell: The Philosophes and the Republic of Letters, 22 May 2003

Calvet’s Web: Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters in 18th-Century France 
by L.W.B. Brockliss.
Oxford, 471 pp., £55, July 2002, 9780199247486
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The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon 
by Colin Jones.
Allen Lane, 651 pp., £25, August 2002, 0 7139 9039 2
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... The French Revolutionaries identified the Enlightenment as the work of a small, brave band of 18th-century philosophes, whom they rushed to entomb as heroes in the gloomy crypt of the Panthéon. In the corrupt and desolate wasteland of the Ancien Régime, the Revolutionaries proclaimed, the philosophes had cast welcoming rays of light and reason, stirring the dull roots of popular discontent ...

Un Dret Egal

David A. Bell: Political Sentiment, 15 November 2007

Inventing Human Rights: A History 
by Lynn Hunt.
Norton, 272 pp., £15.99, April 2007, 978 0 393 06095 9
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... If you want to understand the origins of modern human rights legislation, Lynn Hunt claims, the place to start is not the philosophical background, or the crises that the legislation addressed, but 18th-century fiction. The path she follows is not obvious, by any means – particularly as she has not chosen the fiction that most directly confronted issues of injustice (Candide, say, or Montesquieu’s Persian Letters ...

Further, Father, Further!

David A. Bell: ‘The Wanton Jesuit’, 17 November 2016

The Wanton Jesuit and the Wayward Saint: A Tale of Sex, Religion and Politics in 18th-Century France 
by Mita Choudhury.
Penn State, 234 pp., £43.95, December 2015, 978 0 271 07081 0
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... In the autumn​ of 1730, a 20-year-old woman in the southern French port of Toulon claimed that her spiritual director, a middle-aged Jesuit, had repeatedly forced her to have sex with him. When she became pregnant, he made her drink a potion that induced an abortion. He denied everything and accused her of slander. The case went to trial before the sovereign court of Aix-en-Provence, and lawyers for both Catherine Cadière and Father Jean-Baptiste Girard published dozens of accusatory briefs that circulated freely, sometimes with print runs in the thousands ...

Shameless, Lucifer and Pug-Nose

David A. Bell: Louis Mandrin, 8 January 2015

Contraband: Louis Mandrin and the Making of a Global Underground 
by Michael Kwass.
Harvard, 457 pp., £35, April 2014, 978 0 674 72683 3
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... The 18th century​ was a great age for criminals. Western European countries were awash with more private wealth than ever before, but their police forces remained weak, at least by modern standards. Communications were slow and unreliable, and only the most rudimentary means existed for tracking individual malefactors. Especially in remote towns, a determined band might carry out a brazen robbery, and it would be days before the constabulary responded, by which point the perpetrators had long since disappeared ...

The Future of the Labour Party

Barbara Wootton, 18 December 1980

Healey’s Eye 
by Denis Healey.
Cape, 191 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 0 224 01793 4
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The Role of the Trade Unions: The Granada Guildhall Lectures 
by James Prior, Tony Benn and Lionel Murray.
Granada, 96 pp., £1, August 1980, 0 586 05386 7
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Rank and File 
by Hugh Jenkins.
Croom Helm, 179 pp., £9.95, September 1980, 0 7099 0331 6
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The Tragedy of Labour 
by Stephen Haseler.
Blackwell, 249 pp., £7.95, September 1980, 9780631113416
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Labour into the Eighties 
edited by David Bell.
Croom Helm, 168 pp., £9.95, September 1980, 0 7099 0443 6
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... much and no more than the weight of evidence adduced in support of them. So with relief we turn to David Bell’s collection of essays by ten academics and the secretary of the Fabian Society, most of whom have had a good deal of varied practical experience at home or abroad. Their names may not be household words even in Labour circles, but without ...

Peasants in Arms

Geoffrey Hosking: Russia v. Napoleon, 3 December 2009

Russia against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814 
by Dominic Lieven.
Allen Lane, 618 pp., £30, October 2009, 978 0 7139 9637 1
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... book will undoubtedly become the standard account of the Russian aspect of the Napoleonic wars. David Bell has recently argued that Napoleon introduced ‘total war’ to Europe. Following the 1789 Revolution, all male Frenchmen, on reaching a certain age, were called up as citizens to the armed forces. As a result of the levée en masse the French ...

Global Moods

Peter Campbell: Art, Past and Present, 29 November 2007

Mirror of the World: A New History of Art 
by Julian Bell.
Thames and Hudson, 496 pp., £24.95, October 2007, 978 0 500 23837 0
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... Julian Bell has written a tremendous history of world art, one that will inevitably be compared with Gombrich’s The Story of Art, published nearly sixty years ago. Since then image-making technologies that seemed mature have changed and expanded their reach. In 1950 we lived in an image flood. We are now, as Bell puts it, in an image jam ...

Six French Frizeurs

David A. Bell, 10 December 1998

The Perfidy of Albion: French Perceptions of England during the French Revolution 
by Norman Hampson.
Macmillan, 210 pp., £40, June 1998, 0 333 73148 4
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Poisoning the Minds of the Lower Orders 
by Don Herzog.
Princeton, 472 pp., £18, September 1998, 0 691 04831 2
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... The moment in the 18th century when Anglo-French relations reached their lowest point was probably 29 May 1794 – 10 Prairial, Year II, as the French then styled it. On that day, the Jacobin Bertrand Barère delivered a typically long-winded and overheated speech to France’s National Convention on his favourite subject, English perfidy. He accused English soldiers of unprecedented atrocities in Europe, North America and India ...

Violets in Their Lapels

David A. Bell: Bonapartism, 23 June 2005

The Legend of Napoleon 
by Sudhir Hazareesingh.
Granta, 336 pp., £20, August 2004, 1 86207 667 7
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The Retreat 
by Patrick Rambaud, translated by William Hobson.
Picador, 320 pp., £7.99, June 2005, 0 330 48901 1
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Napoleon: The Eternal Man of St Helena 
by Max Gallo, translated by William Hobson.
Macmillan, 320 pp., £10.99, April 2005, 0 333 90798 1
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The Saint-Napoleon: Celebrations of Sovereignty in 19th-Century France 
by Sudhir Hazareesingh.
Harvard, 307 pp., £32.95, May 2004, 0 674 01341 7
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Napoleon and the British 
by Stuart Semmel.
Yale, 354 pp., £25, September 2004, 0 300 09001 3
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... France, it has often been said, is a democracy with the manners of an absolute monarchy. Think of the ceremonial splendour with which French presidents surround themselves, the haughty, distant style they tend to adopt, or the way relationships within their entourages tend to mimic, with delicious self-consciousness, patterns of favouritism and intrigue developed long ago at the court of Versailles ...

At Tate Britain

Julian Bell: ‘Migrations’, 8 March 2012

... buoyancy of a gratuitous passing intervention. The ethos might be traced back to the Filipino-born David Medalla, who contributes to the display a sweetly daft 1963 bubble machine and to the catalogue an equally absurd extravaganza of name-dropping. (He meets everyone from James Dean, ‘one of the first people to encourage my art’, to Elias Canetti, ‘the ...

At Dulwich

Alice Spawls: Vanessa Bell, 17 May 2017

... It​ seems to be a foregone conclusion that Vanessa Bell isn’t much good. There are those devoted types, of course, for whom the sensibility of her paintings, as well as their subjects, makes them windows into a beloved world. But perhaps they are seeing something more than this. If so, it shouldn’t be surprising; they have been looking the longest ...

All This Love Business

Jean McNicol: Vanessa and Julian Bell, 24 January 2013

Julian BellFrom Bloomsbury to the Spanish Civil War 
by Peter Stansky and William Abrahams.
Stanford, 314 pp., £38.95, 0 8047 7413 7
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... Julian Bell returned briefly to England in the spring of 1937. He was 29; he had been teaching in China for 18 months and was now determined to fight in Spain. Everyone knew this was his plan, or rather everyone except his mother, Vanessa, whom Julian had told that he might not go, that ‘of course it would depend on my persuading you ...

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