A Corsican in France, A Frenchman in Corsica

In 1778, nine-year-old Napoleon left Ajaccio, Corsica to attend French military academy. In France, his fellow students mocked his foreign accent and chip-on-the-shoulder Corsican patriotism.  Eight years later, when he returned home for the first time, the locals thought him “Frenchified.” He struggled to relearn his childhood language and sought out old friends and places, no doubt trying as I am to “Find Napoleon.”

For several years, he vacillated between loyalty to Corsica’s independence movement and his new duty as a French army officer. In 1793, Pasquale Paoli, the Corsican leader who had been his childhood hero, declared him an outcast.  Age twenty-four, destitute, he fled to France with his entire family. After that, he returned to the island only once: in 1799, as a heroic French general on his way home to Paris after invading Egypt. Throughout his life, regardless of his successes, enemies and supporters mocked his accent.

Today, in Corsica, Ajaccio proudly promotes itself as Napoleon’s hometown. Here’s a slide show from my March 2011 visit when I got a real sense of Napoleon’s childhood.


  • November 10, 2011 - 8:12 am | Permalink

    Wonderful video, Margaret! It brought back lovely memories of our own visit to Corsica in 1992. I also enjoyed the post. Napoleon’s accent has always intrigued me – having arrived in France so young he should have lost it….have you heard any theories about that?

  • mrodenberg
    November 12, 2011 - 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Alix, I haven’t heard any theories as to why Napoleon, arriving in France at nine, wouldn’t have lost his Corsican accent. Supposedly German was his poorest subject at military school in Brienne, and later, on St Helena, he struggled to learn even a bit of English, so perhaps he didn’t have a good ear for foreign languages. I’ve read that his mother spoke imperfect French, also with a strong Corsican accent.

    However, I’m inclined to believe that, as a young man, he stubbornly clung to his Corsican identity until an age when his accent would have been more difficult to lose. By then, he would not have had the patience to change something he considered unimportant. Let me know if you read any other theories or have one of your own.

    Glad you enjoyed the video! Watching it makes me want to go back to Corsica for another visit.

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Copyright © 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 Margaret Rodenberg