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Napoleon in Russian Cultural Mythology

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Molly W. Wesling

Beginning with the earliest days of his meteoric rise to power at the turn of the nineteenth century and continuing into the post-soviet era, Napoleon Bonaparte has maintained a peculiar grip on Russian popular and literary imagination. Heralded as the Messiah, condemned as the Antichrist, and lauded as the spirit of the Revolution, Napoleon invaded Russia at a critical period in its historical development, when ideas about nation and identity were beginning to take form in literature and public debate. Using traditional methods and tools of literary analysis, this book examines the figure of Napoleon in the context of uniquely Russian paradigms and myths. It analyzes the motifs, images, and plots that underlie the ongoing process of the mythologization of Napoleon and demonstrates how the speaking terms in which Russians regaled this outsider, at various moments and in different contexts, expose strategies Russians used in common to fashion their own self-image and that of their nation.