Category Archives: Writing Links

The Man Writing Links

Toothbrush and Slippers

We’re home from our March travels to Paris and Corsica.   First, I had to catch up all I’d missed while away; now I’m struggling to prepare for our month-long St Helena voyage in May.  Meanwhile, there’s tons more to write about Paris and Corsica.  So stick with me—the adventure has just begun!

One of my early posts (Personal Details, March 8, 2011) described the writing process as a search for details that bring a character to life.  The Napoleon Museum in Chateau Fontainbleau outside of Paris supplied artifacts along that line.  For example, here’s Napoleon’s traveling kit the French eloquently call a nécessaire, containing his surprisingly modern toothbrush and all the conveniences of a bathroom cabinet neatly packed for battlefield excursions.

And the slippers I wondered about in that early blog post?  Here, too, in the Fontainbleau collection, are the elegant slippers he wore when emperor.  He often claimed to find small hands and feet attractive in a woman, and was reportedly vain about his own.  These slippers are long and narrow, in fact, almost feminine in shape.  They reminded me by contrast of what I’d read about French soldiers’ boots.  In Napoleon’s time, they were made in just three sizes—small, medium and large—and there was no distinction between right and left foot.  Yet, these hardy men tromped twenty miles a day over the Alps and even to Moscow.

Ultimately, for me, Napoleon’s bicorne hat floating above his signature gray overcoat was Fontainbleau’s most disconcerting display.  It drove home the job I’ve set myself:  to render this elusive ghost into a flesh-and-blood man.

The Man Writing Links

Personal Details

As a writer, especially a fiction writer, I collect details and search for interesting, memorable ways to describe them.  My quest to capture the essence of Napoleon requires recreating, first in my mind and then in my readers’ imaginations, a sense of his everyday life.  For example, when he got out of bed, did his bare feet touch the floor or did he immediately put on slippers? When on campaign, what did he use to brush his teeth?  We know he often soaked for hours in a tub, but did he prefer the water steaming hot or merely tepid?  Does anyone still make the type of licorice he liked to chew or the snuff he took?  What was the view from his room at military school in Brienne? It’s often easier to find the details of his battles than the minutia of his daily life, but these are facts I must collect to write this book.

We’re told he was overly sensitive to odors and liked to rub eau de cologne over his body.   In exile on remote St Helena, his personal staff had to replicate the scent he liked from locally-available materials.  Now, a French perfume laboratory has reconstituted what they claim is the authentic formula as “the only olfactory recollection we have from the Emperor.” It has a masculine, outdoors tang, with heavy overtones of pine and a hint of something similar to crushed bay leaves.  I’m reminded of Old Spice.


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