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The Economy of Glory

From Ancien Régime France to the Fall of Napoleon

From the outset of Napoleon’s career, the charismatic Corsican was compared to mythic heroes of antiquity like Achilles, and even today he remains the apotheosis of French glory, a value deeply embedded in the country’s history. From this angle, the Napoleonic era can be viewed as the final chapter in the battle of the Ancients and Moderns. In this book, Robert Morrissey presents a literary and cultural history of glory and its development in France and explores the “economy of glory” Napoleon sought to implement in an attempt to heal the divide between the Old Regime and the Revolution.
Examining how Napoleon saw glory as a means of escaping the impasse of Revolutionary ideas of radical egalitarianism, Morrissey illustrates the challenge the leader faced in reconciling the antagonistic values of virtue and self-interest, heroism and equality. He reveals that the economy of glory was both egalitarian, creating the possibility of an aristocracy based on merit rather than wealth, and traditional, being deeply embedded in the history of aristocratic chivalry and the monarchy—making it the heart of Napoleon’s politics of fusion. Going beyond Napoleon, Morrissey considers how figures of French romanticism such as Chateaubriand, Balzac, and Hugo constantly reevaluated this legacy of glory and its consequences for modernity. Available for the first time in English, The Economy of Glory is a sophisticated and beautifully written addition to French history.

272 pages | 7 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2013

History: European History

Literature and Literary Criticism: Romance Languages


“Robert Morrissey’s brilliant The Economy of Glory is a literary and cultural history of glory in France, focused on Napoleon, but taking in a great deal more. It engages profitably with cutting-edge cultural and literary history of the period, and it adds a great deal to our understanding of the history of glory in general, Napoleon’s regime, and the literature written in Napoleon’s shadow. This book is an enormously original, sophisticated, and beautifully written piece of work.”

David Bell, Princeton University

“In this intellectual epic, which charges across centuries and cultures, Robert Morrissey shows how, in Napoleonic times, glory was not simply a selfish pursuit, but the very spring of a regime struggling to synthesize revolutionary equality and aristocratic distinction.”

Dan Edelstein, Stanford University

“Napoleon is usually seen as marking a break with the past and as heralding a glorious new beginning. But, as Robert Morrissey shows in this absorbing study—beautifully translated from French by Teresa Lavender Fagan—Napoleon’s assertive modernity drew strength in great part from his strategic use of France’s glorious past. The concept of glory, gloire, has deep roots in the heroic traditions of Ancien Régime aristocracy, and by reinventing it in a meritocratic mould, it became possible in the Napoleonic era to bridge the political divide between Ancien Régime and Revolution. This is a study less of Napoleon the man than of his function within the French cultural landscape; as such, this brilliant analysis of the ‘Napoleon effect’ will be of interest to scholars of modern France as well as to those of the Ancien Régime.”

Nicholas Cronk, University of Oxford

 “A fundamental addition to the scholarship on the Consulate and the First French Empire. . . . The Economy of Glory is a necessary read for French scholars.”

Nineteenth-Century French Studies

“The Economy of Glory is a gift to all readers interested in the endlessly fascinating Napoleonic saga, an erudite though never pedantic journey through the French past, seeking to uncover the lineage of glory, that quintessential Napoleonic attribute. . . . One closes [this book] with the grateful feeling of having been part of a sparkling, learned conversation. . . . The elegant and deeply thought out reflections on the development of key French cultural concepts make this essay a pleasure to read and a valuable contribution to our understanding of Napoleon’s profound imprint on the French cultural consciousness.”

H-France Review

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments (2010)
Translator’s Note
Introduction. At the Confluence of Reality and Myth
Beyond the Uniqueness of the Individual
Reconciling the Ancients and the Moderns
1. From Pagan Antiquity to Christian Thought
Between Dependence and Autonomy: From Homer’s Achilles to Aristotle’s Magnanimous Man
Between Cupiditas Gloriae and Republican Glory: Cicero and the Disconnect of Glory
The Courage of the Warrior and of the Christian: Saint Ambrose
The Romans on the Verge of Human Greatness: Saint Augustine
Between Glory and Vainglory: Saint Thomas Aquinas
2. Kings, Warriors, Poets: On the Cusp of Modernity
From Charlemagne to Saint Louis
Heroic Peoples: From the French to Cannibals
The Return of the Magnanimous
From the Brilliance of the Sun King to “Enlightened Self-Interest”: A World without Glory
From Amour-propre to Pure Love and Disinterestedness
3. Motivation and Leadership in the Enlightenment
Distinction and Emulation
The Power of Imagination and the Secular Marvelous
To Conquer and Enlighten
A “Mirror of the Prince” for Modernity
The Measure of a Man
4. An Economy of Glory
Ancients and Moderns: The Final Battle
The Marengo Moment
Turenne at the Temple de Mars
The Fête de la République of Year IX
Constructing the Self as a Self-Regulating Model
5. New Sensibility, New Knowledge, New Institutions
Madame de Staël and Girodet
Honor Rediscovered and Institutionalized
Moral Enrichment, Continual Growth
6. Toward a Poetics of Fusion: The Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène
A Successful Publication
The Amalgamated Voice of Las Cases/Napoleon
A Struggle to the Death for Recognition
Heroism in the Everyday
Napoleon Effects in Literature: A “Beautiful Modern Death”
Imagining an Incontestable Legitimation
The Ebbing of Glory
The Polyphony of Passeurs

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