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This article is taken from PN Review 233, Volume 43 Number 3, January - February 2017.

Pictures from a Library

30: ‘Slumbering Life’: Napoleon, Isabella Banks and The Manchester Man
Stella Halkyard
Napoleonic relics from Isabella Bank’s Collections of Keepsakes.

Above & below: Napoleonic relics from Isabella Bank’s Collections of Keepsakes. Images © University of Manchester, 2017.

WHEN NAPOLEON BONAPARTE died on the 5 May 1821 at the age of fifty-one, news of his death spread across Europe bringing shock and grief to friend and foe alike. After his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo and capture by the British in 1815, Napoleon was exiled to the island of St Helena. In a manner disproportionate with the outsize role he had played in shaping the history of the exciting times he lived through, he was laid to rest on a lump of volcanic rock in the South Atlantic Ocean remote from any centre of power. Yet, as time moved on and Orleans allies superseded Bourbon enemies, the people of France began to agitate for their Emperor’s return to French soil.

The exhumation of Napoleon’s body, still intact, unleashed a frenzied hunt for souvenirs. Coming into the English language from the French in the late eighteenth century, the word ‘souvenir’ denotes the emergence of a new kind of commodity. As its definition suggests, souvenirs often took the form of a ‘vestige’ that was ‘given or kept as a reminder of a place, person or event’. As Susan Stewart has observed, souvenirs were objects that ‘served as traces of authentic experience’. So in Napoleon’s case it is unsurprising to see how souvenirs were made of any kind of object, morbid or otherwise, with which he ...

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