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The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour:
A Novel of Waterloo
In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
|The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour
by David Ebsworth
historical fiction/ Napoleonic Wars
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MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
Whether one agrees with what he did or not, one can’t but recognize that Napoleon‘s character, life, and achievements are like a humongous fresco.
However, it ended in a final disaster two centuries ago, on June 18, 1815. That’s the setting for a fresco of similar proportion: The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour, where everything is lived and retold through the eyes of two extraordinary women. Some may think that women being part of the army is a modern fact. It is not. And Ebsworth chose to give voice to two of them. Unusual and brilliant.
First, it is obvious this historical novel is based on a huge amount of study. As the author explains in the preface (where he sets the larger historical background), it was inspired by the factual account of French Napoleonic canteen mistress Madeleine Kintelberger and Marie-Thérèse Figueur who joined the French Revolutionary army. Just as Madeleine, Marianne Tambour fights while protecting her child Florisette, 8 years old, who is with her on the battlefield. We know Madeleine was even awarded a military pension.
The book covers six days, where we follow the events almost hour after hour. They lead to the final disaster: the Battle of Waterloo, situated by the way in modern Belgium, not in France.
So the main characters are Marianne Tambour, canteen mistress, who strives to make a living by selling alcohol to the soldiers. And a certain Liberté Dumont, a spy actually working for Fouché, French Minister of Police.
The connection between the two women is mysterious for the characters themselves and for the reader. This was a nice added suspense element to the plot, and it took me a while before I started guessing. Everything is seen, lived, and remembered through them.
Marianne was already in a line battalion before The Emperor’s exile, so she remembers a lot. Her memories and nightmares allow the reader to be more familiar with what happened in the decades before in French history – great writing technique by the way.
Likewise, Dumont has been in Napoleon’s previous campaigns in Egypt and Italy, so her memories lead the reader to more glorious Napoleonic pages.
What’s really unique in this book is the feminine perspective. I have read some conversation about the difficulty or bad job some male authors do with female protagonists. I totally disagree with them for this specific book. Unless you think all women are sensitive-and-cocooned-à-la-Jane-Austen females, you have to admit Ebsworth did a remarkable job here with these tough women.
A few scenes come to mind: the great opening scene of fight and flight, fueled with female jealousies, the competition between the canteen mistresses, Marianne’s concern for the protection and future of her daughter (and how she will have to fight one day), and even helping a woman give birth practically on the front lines.
Marianne adequately represents what the soldiers thought about their leader, she shares their admiration, and sometimes also their doubts. And there are passages on the enemies, the Prussians and the English, doubly the enemy of Marianne, whose nightmares are haunted by an Englishman…
The military painting is of course rendered in all its complexity: the violence of the war of course, but also all the money involved, and many details on the campaign, the politics at play, the strategies (including encrypted documents), the topography, the ambiance of war, with amazing passages on the ambiance and the smell.
In the background, there’s also the famous Nostredame’s prophecies.
Another brilliant twist is the introduction of some literary characters in the plot: Fabrizio (from Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma, not too well known by American readers I’m afraid) and the better known couple Thénardier. Not surprisingly, you first encounter le Thénardier as he steals from corpses. But he is ready to do worse… Really neat à propos use of a fictional character in another work of fiction!
I also enjoyed the density of the retelling as events lead to the battle itself.
In a historical and literary note at the end of the book, Ebsworth explains what happened during and after Waterloo.
He also offers a wonderful glossary, online resources and books, as well as maps of the area and development, with lots of details as he made a trip to France and Belgium to check all the battlefield routes. So you can even buy your flight ticket, and go follow the story right there!
VERDICT: Choosing the unique and often forgotten perspective of women who fought alongside Napoleon, David Ebsworth offers a brilliant fresco of the emperor’s last battle in 1815. Remarkably researched, The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour makes you experience Waterloo on the front-line. A must for all interested in Napoleonic wars and French history in general.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
June 1815. Bonaparte has returned from Elba and marches with his army to defeat the Prussian and English enemies of France. Within his ranks is Marianne Tambour, a battle-weary canteen mistress for a battalion of the Imperial Guard’s Foot Grenadiers. Just one of the many cantinières who provide the lads with their brandy and home comforts, both in camp and also in the thick of the fight.
Marianne is determined that, after this one last campaign, she will make a new life for herself and her young daughter, since neither of them has ever known anything but the rigours of warfare. But she has not reckoned on the complications that will arise from a chance encounter with another of the army’s women, Liberté Dumont – Dragoon trooper and sometimes spy for the Machiavellian French Minister of Police, Fouché. And Marianne wonders what she really wants, this hawk-faced trooper with her visions, dreams and fancies.
Yet, for now, Liberté Dumont is the least of Marianne’s worries. Her position as canteen mistress has not been easily won and she has made enemies in the process. Lethal enemies. And creating a new life, breaking with the army, needs money. Lots of money. So when Hawk-face Dumont accidentally provides an opening for Marianne to rid herself of a dangerous rival and also extends the possibility of fortunes to be made, it looks like an opportunity too good to be refused.
The battles that both women must survive, however, at Ligny and Quatre Bras, create their own problems. The closer they come to the English Goddams, the more Marianne is haunted by the memory of the way her adopted mother was butchered at their hands just a few years earlier, in Spain. Thoughts of revenge torment her, distract her from her goals. But her daughter’s capture by the Prussians, and Liberté Dumont’s help in the quest to find the girl creates new and very different bonds, between mother and daughter, and between the two women themselves.
The climax will take place on the blood-soaked fields of Waterloo, where Marianne Tambour and Liberté Dumont must each confront their deadliest foes, their worst nightmares, find answers to the secrets of their respective pasts, and try to simply survive the slaughter. Yet the fortunes of war are not easily won, and the fates may, after all, only allow one of these women to see the next day’s dawn.
David Ebsworth’s story, The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour: A Novel of Waterloo, is based upon the real-life exploits of two women who fought, in their own right, within Bonaparte’s army.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Ebsworth is the pen name of writer, Dave McCall,
a former negotiator and Regional Secretary
for Britain’s Transport & General Workers’ Union.
He was born in Liverpool (UK)
but has lived for the past thirty years in Wrexham, North Wales,
with his wife, Ann.
Since their retirement in 2008,
the couple have spent about six months of each year in southern Spain.
Dave began to write seriously in the following year, 2009,
and The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour is his fourth novel.
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HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
What’s your favorite historical fiction
featuring Napoleon Bonaparte?
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I asked author David Ebsworth to say something about why he chose to write his latest novel from a French perspective, as well as whether there were specific French influences in his earlier books.
I was lucky enough to study French until I was 18 – though, to my shame, over the intervening 48 years I’ve managed to lose most of what I learned. I’ve still retained enough to “get by” though and, thanks to the fact that my French teacher was equally keen that we should also learn about French culture, history and literature, I spent several pleasant years studying Balzac, Guy de Maupassant, Hugo, Zola, Stendhal, Molière and a host of wonderful French poets.
I suppose it was inevitable, therefore, that I’d end up travelling a fair bit in France too. Yet I hadn’t really thought about the influence of all this on my writing until you asked me the question.
So, if I look back on my début novel, The Jacobites’ Apprentice (published in 2012), it’s basically a tale of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s supporters in Manchester and England in general – rather than the more familiar stories of his Scottish clan followers – but I now also find it riddled with references to the way in which French culture was shaping British society in the 1740s. And then there were all those exiled Irishmen, the Wild Geese, who were part of the French army but who volunteered to join the Prince’s Jacobite forces during his 1745 rebellion, and play such a big part in the book.
The second novel, The Assassin’s Mark, is a story set against the background of battlefield tourism during the Spanish Civil War, but it starts with an epic train journey across France on the famous Sud Express, the rail service from Paris to Lisbon which, in the 1930s, was the classic way for travellers to reach northern Spain.
For my third novel, I wanted to write about the Zulu War and particularly the story of the French Prince Imperial, Louis Napoleon, who was killed in a Zulu ambush while serving with the British army during 1879. The Kraals of Ulundi has this incident at its heart.
So, with the Battle of Waterloo bicentenary coming up, I suppose it was a bit inevitable that I’d choose this subject for my fourth book. As it happens, the Napoleonic era has always been one of my personal favourite periods of history. But from which angle was I going to tell the tale?
It became obvious to me quite early in the process that, while there’ve been several famous novels with Waterloo settings written by foreign writers (Les Misérables and The Charterhouse of Parma, to mention just a couple), I wasn’t really aware of any English-language tales of the battle from a French perspective.
Similarly, there are plenty of classic novels that put women at the centre of their Waterloo stories. These are typically plot lines about English camp followers, or aristocratic lovers of Wellington’s officers. Nothing wrong with any of that, but hard to see a “gap” that might need filling. Yet what about French women who may have actually fought in those battles? Historically, there were hundreds of them at Waterloo alone – cantinières, often found in the thick of the fighting. How might they have seen things? In the wake of the French Revolution, for example.
So the proposition was simple. What if two fictional women, but based on the real-life exploits of French cantinières and female troopers, were brought together by something more than a simple twist of fate during Bonaparte’s final campaign, in June 1815, that culminated in the Battle of Waterloo? And what if that “something” had a mystical element that would have been very typical of the age’s flirtations between the scientific and the spiritual? I knew this wasn’t the traditional way to tell the Waterloo story but I was sold on the idea that readers would enjoy it.
In addition, since I was thinking about the battle from a French perspective, I began to consider bringing into the tale some of those characters from French literature, as I’ve already mentioned, who also have a Waterloo connection. So you may find the Thénardiers (from Hugo’s Les Misérables) or Fabrizio del Dongo (from Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma) wandering through the pages.
The end result of all this has been The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour: A Novel of Waterloo. And I hope that those with an interest in all things French (as well as everybody else, of course) will enjoy it!
David Ebsworth has published three previous novels: The Jacobites’ Apprentice, Finalist in the Historical Novel Society’s 2014 Indie Award; The Assassin’s Mark, set during the Spanish Civil War; and The Kraals of Ulundi: A Novel of the Zulu War. Each of these books has been the recipient of the coveted B.R.A.G. Medallion for independent authors.
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