When I was twelve, my father was a US Navy officer stationed on the Sixth Fleet flagship homeported in Villefranche-sur-mer, then and now a lovely town on France’s Cote d’Azur. I remember standing on the waterfront in nearby Golfe Juan, hearing the story of how Napoleon Bonaparte landed on the beach, escaping his exile on the isle of Elba to reconquer France with a thousand soldiers and four cannon. Later that year when we visited Paris, the marvelous sarcophagus under the grand dome of Les Invalides made an even greater impression on me.

My family leaving for France

Thus a twelve-year-old American girl joined the legions whom Napoleon has fascinated for two hundred years.  Life went on, and the Emperor was forgotten, although the girl grew up a Francophile.

Most of us get sidetracked in unpredictable ways:  in my case, French and Russian studies at Georgetown University gave way unexpectedly to an early career in retail management; a sales job with Xerox provided the computer training that segued into the position with a start-up company that led to my becoming Vice President of Marketing at a public company and, later, ownership in a software distribution firm.  It all culminated in a wonderful second marriage and the freedom to follow dreams that had nothing to do with 70-hour work weeks, financial statements or the computer industry.  And so back to Napoleon.

Twelve years ago, I decided to write a novel about Napoleon told from his own point of view, but first I had to learn how to write fiction–any fiction. Like every avid reader, I believed I could do it, but the task turned out to be much harder than a novice could imagine.  (In fact, it’s a wonder so many of us continue to try.) I enrolled in college courses, attended writing seminars, wrote short stories, and joined a writers’ group.  Life interrupted with new business opportunities and a year caring for my dying father, but even when I put the writing aside for a couple years at a time, I never stopped dreaming.

Inspiration for my novel LITTLE SONG

Finally, I completed my first novel–but it was not about Napoleon.  In the Vancouver airport, on the way home from kayaking and bear-watching in British Columbia, a set of characters bolted into my head.  I found I had to write their story. In 2010, that novel, now titled LITTLE SONG, won the San Francisco Writers Conference Fiction award and the Good Reads contest from A Woman’s Write.   You can read about it and my award-winning short story, “Mrs. Morrisette,” on the “Other Writings” page of this website and on my website LITTLE SONG. Unfortunately, like many first novels, it didn’t find a publisher.

But it was time to tackle the Napoleon novel.  By now, I’ve read book after book about him; I’ve seen the movies and watched TV documentaries.  I can tell you facts, dates, and places.  I’ve studied paintings and marble busts.  I’ve read the memoirs.  Still, as I sit down to write, I struggle to find the man behind that opaque mask of a face.  Who was this improbable upstart, this Monster of Europe?  Was he the just lawmaker and egalitarian, or the power-mad tyrant who could not stop making war?

Napoleon's famous hat

We’ll never all agree on an answer.

But this I know: he was a lover, a father, a husband, and a son. He had dreams and disappointments, hopes and fears.  He was one of us, a human being.  To tell his story, I need to know what made him uniquely himself.

This blog details my quest to find that inner man: the feeling, thinking person who wore the famous hat.


  • Rick Cameron
    March 15, 2011 - 8:33 am | Permalink

    As someone who has known Margaret through a large part of her above-mentioned journey through life, I believe that Finding Napolean will turn out to be the best-yet expression of the wide-ranging talents of this extraordinary woman. An exceptional intellect, focus on details, dedication coupled with discipline, an innate capability for organization of information, and a real talent for writing (honed by many years of hard work and learning) will provide the foundation for a great book. Overlay Margaret’s passion for Napolean and all things French, and we can all expect something magnificent.

    Margaret, we all eagerly await what I expect to be the culmination of your life’s work (so far!)

  • mrodenberg
    March 15, 2011 - 11:59 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your generous comments–I only hope I can live up to your expectations!

  • March 29, 2011 - 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Your life story is so interesting and we have so much in common! I will be following your adventures in search of Napoleon and have no doubt you will find him and produce a fascinating book. I have been mesmerized by Napoleon and the Napoleonic epic ever since I read Emil Ludwig’s masterful biography when I was ten or eleven. Decades later I am still learning! I’d be delighted if we could share our mutual passion, resources, and insights on this most amazing man.

  • mrodenberg
    March 30, 2011 - 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Alix. I look forward to enjoying many future Napoleonic adventures together.

  • Keith Bevan
    April 27, 2011 - 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations on the start of another successful career. Can’t wait to read more of your blog posts on Napoleon. Enjoy your travels and your research. I am glad I stumbled on your site.

    Give my best to Bert!


  • mrodenberg
    April 27, 2011 - 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Keith! Hope you are doing well. Bert and I leave next week for our trip to St Helena via South Africa so I expect to have some interesting posts and photos to put up on the site.

  • Pragna
    May 18, 2011 - 8:20 pm | Permalink

    The voyage details to St. Helena were absolutely captivating. I really enjoyed the details as to why other fellow passengers were headed there. Would love to hear even more detail on that (perhaps even some mini stories about them) and island residents you meet along the way. I am completely enthralled by your adventure…looking forward to reading even more.

  • mrodenberg
    May 19, 2011 - 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Yes, each passenger had an interesting story as to why they are off on this grand adventure. Also, because of its location in the sea “roads” between Asia, Africa and Europe, this island has a lot history beyond Napoleon. If I have time, I’ll write a blog or two about the specifics.

  • July 27, 2011 - 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Is there an email I can contact you at?

  • mrodenberg
    August 10, 2011 - 2:05 pm | Permalink

    You can contact me at m.a.rodenberg@gmail.com.

  • deana cox
    August 9, 2012 - 8:47 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just read the Josephine Trilogy. Do you really believe that Josephine was unfaithful all through the marriage? I’ve become very fascinated with Napoleon and Josephine – and all the contrasting information around. Very frustrating!

    I think she was so overwhelmed with his wildly romantic and serious letters and actions in such a short period of time, she didn’t know what to make of it all.

    Anyway, I like to lean towards the side of the “benefit of the doubt.” Besides, he was certainly not always faithful.

  • mrodenberg
    August 15, 2012 - 10:04 am | Permalink

    Hi, Deana,

    I think you have to take into account Josephine’s life before she married Napoleon. First, she was treated badly in her first unhappy marriage. Then she succumbed to the loose morality of the moment when imprisoned during the Revolution. While she came to be devoted to Napoleon, she married him on the advice of her former lover, General Barras, and at a point when her age and financial condition limited her choices. There’s almost no question she was unfaithful in the early days of their marriage while Napoleon was in Italy and Egypt. On the other hand, she became his best friend, the inspired creator of Empire style, and his most loyal supporter. It’s best to avoid imposing today’s morality on historical figures, especially one with a such vibrant, passionate character.

    All the best,

  • Randy Jensen
    August 16, 2012 - 12:05 am | Permalink

    I’d like to share my research with you if you would be so kind as to read it.
    I think you will find it interesting and worth going over.

    Thank you for posting this blog, it’s been a wonderful read and I can tell your heart is in the research as mine has been with the Talisman.

    To sent you the .pdf file you can email me at: classicgolf@hotmail.com and just request the document called Napoleon’s Talisman.

    The best to you always,

  • crk
    November 8, 2012 - 5:13 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate your comments on early efforts at writing. I’m just beginning my own, a historical fictional account of the 1812 Campaign. I’ve been reading and researching for 3 years now – that was the easy part. Putting pen to paper and making history come alive is not! Any tips?

  • mrodenberg
    November 13, 2012 - 3:15 am | Permalink

    Find a writing group who will read and comment on your efforts, take seminars or read books about the craft, and start by writing a few short stories because they are easier to structure and the time commitment is shorter. But in the end, you just have to take the leap and write. Good luck to you!

  • Henricus Welvaarts
    December 17, 2012 - 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Greetings from a Dutch speaking Belgian, living not very far from Waterloo, the site of Napoleon’s lost, and final, battle.
    I discovered your blog while reading “Napoléon mon aïeul, cet inconnu” (Napoleon my unknown forefather, published in 2009) by Charles, Prince Napoléon, direct descendant of Napoleon’s brother Jerome. As the author states in his work, the difference between him and other historians is that he writes about his own family.
    My interest in Napoleon was further awakened, not to mention your exciting blog, by a recently (in 2012) published work from a Belgian author: Johan Op de Beeck “Napoleons nachtmerrie” (Napoleon’s Nightmare). This (bottom up) historical account is a narrative of Napoleon’s campaign in Russia and its horrors, based upon the written memories of three Belgian soldiers who where drafted into the French Grande Armee and lucky enough to survive its misery and being able to leave a first hand account of what happened to them and the many others who were not as lucky to make it to their homeland ever again.
    I will definitely buy your book when it is published.

  • mrodenberg
    December 30, 2012 - 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Greetings to you! Those books sound fascinating. Believe it or not, although I have been to remote St Helena, I haven’t been to Waterloo. Perhaps in 2013, when I expect to return to Europe. I’m glad you have become interested in Napoleon. Isn’t it amazing how much new material is written about him every year?

    All the best,

  • Henricus Welvaarts
    January 1, 2013 - 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Happy New Year and I hope to be able to read your book in 2013.

  • June 29, 2015 - 10:38 am | Permalink

    It was a real pleasure to meet you at HNS Denver 2015, Margaret – and hope to see you next year in Oxford. I thought the dialogue reading of your book was superb (and knocked the others out of the park). I can’t wait to read the book. Best wishes

  • mrodenberg
    August 4, 2015 - 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Hello, Clare. It was a pleasure to meet you, too, and I hope we’ll see each other again next year in the UK. It was an unbelievable thrill to have my words (well, the words I gave Napoleon and Hudson Lowe!) brought to life by two actors. I couldn’t stop grinning all day! Thanks for the compliment on the writing. I love writing dialogue. Good luck to you, too! Margaret

  • Elizabeth Page
    January 21, 2017 - 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Dear Ms. Rodenberg –
    In our attic, we have come across several portfolios from L’ Exposition Universelle in Paris, 1889. These portfolios contain reproductions of various works of art, some of which are simple photographs, and others are oversize reproductions made from plates which appeared to be hand painted. Most of are of common themes and others depict significant historical events such as J. L. Davids’s painting of “the Coronation of Josephine”.
    It appears as though they were acquired by my grandfather or great grandfather.
    We were wondering if you might have any further information about these items.

    Elizabeth Lewis Page
    100 Linden Lane Farm
    Keswick, VA 22947

  • mrodenberg
    January 26, 2017 - 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Dear Ms Page,

    Those sound very interesting. I wish I could see them myself (and that I had an attic stuffed with similar artifacts. Unfortunately, I’m not an expert at evaluating art or photos so I can’t really help you. Good luck!

    All the best,

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