Napoleonic Friendship: Military Fraternity, Intimacy, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century France
by Brian Joseph Martin
University of New Hampshire Press. 379 pages, $39.95
THE FIRST THING I liked about this book was its interpretative honesty. It is a work of solid historiography and level-headed literary analysis. The first third is devoted to a well-documented historian’s presentation of how Napoleon, with his widely publicized egalitarian treatment of subordinate soldiers in times of crisis and grief, radically changed French cultural images of what the relationship between soldiers of even different ranks could and should be. The remaining two-thirds is a clear, jargon-free study of how such friendships between military men were depicted by several important 19th-century French novelists. Although Martin is himself gay, he never tries to force a document or a literary text to speak of homosexuality when there is no convincing evidence. Rather, he shows how, during the course of the 19th century, the understanding of the erotic possibilities of those military friendships changed, developed, and varied with different authors and different texts.